MORE inmates should be released early and electronically tagged to cut Scotland’s jail population, according to the chief inspector of prisons.
David Strang, a former chief constable of Lothian & Borders Police, said there was potential for increased use of home detention curfews, with evidence showing they also helped reduce the risk of re-offending.
Strang will also conduct a review of solitary confinement in Scotland’s prisons and will look at whether there is a justification for its increased use.
In his first annual report since taking up the post, Strang said the size of the prison population was a “cause for concern”.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, he said the use of electronic tags, which monitor whether curfew hours are being kept, could help reduce the number of those seeing out their sentences behind bars.
“I think there’s potential for it to be used more,” he said. “The advantage of it is that it helps prepare people for their release and is part of their rehabilitation.
“People’s risk of re-offending is reduced if they have been released gradually back into the community rather than being kept in closed conditions and then suddenly released without supervision. If someone is released under a home detention curfew there are licensed conditions, so there’s still some element of control. That’s what I’m arguing, that it’s a good way of preparing people for eventual release back into the community.”
There are currently nearly 8,000 prisoners in all sections of the Scottish penal system, but just over 400 people with home detention curfews.
Despite occasional falls, the Scottish prison population has continued to rise over the past decade.
Strang added: “Tagging is absolutely not appropriate for everyone. My encouragement would be to take a longer-term view – to say that, with appropriate people, this is a good way of preparing them for eventual release.”
Strang has also announced plans to carry out a “thematic inspection” of solitary confinement in Scottish jails.
Figures uncovered by Lib Dem justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes in May showed a marked increase in the use of “separation” over the past few years. According to the prison service, the number of times male inmates were separated for a period of up to 72 hours increased from 1,238 in 2012-13 to 1,785 in 2013-14.
“I will be looking at the statistics about the use of separation and I think it will be interesting to make comparisons over the years to see if there has been an increase, and from the prison service’s point of view they have to be able to justify it,” said Strang.
McInnes said: “I applaud the HM chief inspector’s decision to conduct a review into the use of solitary confinement by Scotland’s prisons. I have been alarmed by the increasing use of extended solitary confinement orders over the past year. In December last year, I revealed one woman in Cornton Vale was kept in solitary confinement on six occasions over a 17-month period, totalling 387 days in this environment.
“It would be wrong for these orders to be used to cope with overall pressures on the prison service. Long-term solitary confinement does little to support rehabilitation efforts. It could compound the serious mental health problems which some prisoners face.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We would expect to see the use of home detention curfews, where appropriate, continuing as part of the work to reduce the prison population in Scotland and to support successful reintegration into the community.”