Prison reform scheme offering extra support to Scottish inmates suspended

A scheme offering inmates extra support when they leave Scottish prisons has been suspended as the system was described as being under “immense pressure”.

General view of HM Prison Barlinnie. Picture: John Devlin

Prison overcrowding and changes for staff helping offenders reintegrate into communities after they are released show the need for urgent policy reform, Howard League Scotland has said.

The prison reform group warned prisons were under “immense” strain as demonstrated by the reassignment of all throughcare support officers (TSO) staff into general prison officer roles.

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All TSO workers in Scottish prisons have been reassigned to general duties, rather than the specific job of supporting prisoners who are being released back into society to adapt to their life on the outside.

“It paints a picture of a service that is being forced to concentrate on internal, day-to-day operational issues at the expense of managing the effective transition of prisoners back into their local communities,” a Howard League Scotland statement said.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) admitted it would be suspending its throughcare service due to the “significant challenges it is facing”. The scheme to give additional help to released prisoners is suspended for the foreseeable future. All staff seconded to the scheme will move to prison officer duties.

An SPS spokeswoman said the throughcare programme would be regularly reviewed and that “it is our intention to relaunch the service when it makes operational sense to do so”. She said: “The increasing prisoner population, together with the increasingly complex needs of those in our care, means that our capacity and capability is stretched.

“To respond to these current and emerging challenges, we have to ensure that our frontline staff are deployed where they are needed most; at this time, this is in our prisons and that is why the SPS has taken the difficult decision to temporarily suspend our throughcare support service.”

Figures obtained by Howard League Scotland found that, as of 12 July, there were 8,190 people jailed in Scotland, but the maximum capacity of the Scottish prison estate was about 7,564 places.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s reconviction rate remains at its lowest level in 20 years and we are committed to ensuring that people leaving prison are supported to reintegrate into their communities and not reoffend, which is why we provide £3.4 million annual funding to the third sector to support mentoring services for men and women leaving custody.”