Prison capacity pressures in Scotland mean 'temporary' reoffending policy cannot be revived

Prison bosses have confirmed they cannot bring back a reoffending policy put on hold in 2019 because the prison service continues to be under pressure.

Prison bosses have warned they cannot revive a key measure to halt reoffending that was temporarily paused five years ago while they continue to combat a “rising prison population”.

The throughcare support service that helped 100 prisoners a month move on and away from reoffending was ”temporarily” suspended in 2019. The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has warned inmates could be released early to help ease the pressure on overcrowded jails.

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Around 8,000 prisoners are in jails across Scotland, but prison bosses have warned that inmates may have to be released early if the prison population continues to rise.

Warnings have been raised about Scotland's prison capacity. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA WireWarnings have been raised about Scotland's prison capacity. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Warnings have been raised about Scotland's prison capacity. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Scottish Lib Dems justice spokesperson Liam McArthur is calling on the Scottish Government to explain how it will support rehabilitative measures in prisons, after it was revealed there are no plans to bring back the throughcare system.

The throughcare service paired prisoners up with a support officer who helped them make arrangements for housing, medical provision and benefits, both before and after release. The service was suspended “temporarily” in summer 2019, but it was never restarted as pressures on the prison service have not eased.

Mr McArthur said: “Our prison population is at worryingly high levels, but that should be the argument for, not against, throughcare. Support like this makes all the difference between a life rehabilitated, or a life of reoffending.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have been warning for years about the impact of overcrowding. The response to date from ministers, however, has made no difference. Indeed, the problems only appear to be getting worse.

Teresa Medhurst, chief executive of the Scottish Prison ServiceTeresa Medhurst, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service
Teresa Medhurst, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service

“We are now seeing prison bosses making decisions they don’t want to make and third-sector organisations are having to step in to plug the gaps.

“Our justice system needs to be able to strike the right balance between punishing, supporting and, crucially, rehabilitating. To do that, it needs to be properly funded.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see prisons used as an opportunity to provide new skills and a means of making a positive contribution upon release. That requires a basic standard of support and continuity both before and after an individual leaves prison. That's the best way to keep communities safe."

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SPS chief executive Teresa Medhurst said the suspension of the service in 2019 was “a temporary measure in response to operational pressures within establishments, which necessitated the need to redeploy operational prison staff”.

She said a “commitment was made at the time that this position would be kept under regular review, and this has not changed”.

Ms Medhurst said: “However, the rising prison population, together with the increasingly complex needs of those in the care of the SPS, means that it is unlikely that SPS will be able to resume a throughcare support service whilst these pressures continue.

“SPS will therefore look to continue to complement the distinctive throughcare support roles of third sector and community partners in order to meet the needs of those in our care, whilst transitioning from custody back into their communities.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government continues to fund throughcare services to support people leaving prison which are delivered by both local authorities and the third sector. A total of £148 million will be invested in community justice services in 2025-25 to reduce re-offending and support alternatives to custody an increase of £14m.

“The Scottish Government is continuing to invest in community interventions which are more effective than short prison sentences at reducing reoffending. The Bail and Release from Custody Act 2023 will also improve support for people leaving prison, helping them to successfully resettle in their communities and reduce re-offending.”