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Frances Crook's blog · 27 Apr 2017

Lessons from Scotland

Frances Crook in front of office bookshelves

There is rarely much to applaud in the criminal justice system, so it was exhilarating to spend two days in Scotland hearing about good practice and principled leadership.

We met with lots of key people and visited Edinburgh prison.

Colin McConnell, CEO of the Scottish Prison Service, told us he saw it as a ‘citizen recovery service’. They are trying to move the perception of what a prison should be, including moving towards all prison officers gaining higher qualifications that will take two years. The service has not carried out the draconian staff cuts seen in England and Wales and has only a 4 per cent turnover of staff.

The prison population has dipped and is currently around 7,500 and a recent government commissioned report recommended it be reduced to 5,000. Indeed, when we met the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, he said that his vision was to reduce the number of people in prison.

Scotland did not split the probation service or introduce private companies, but instead has involved prison officers in developing through-the-gate support. They say it is starting to work well and has given prison staff a better insight into the challenges of reintegration and resettlement.

There are some of the same problems that we experience south of the border, including too many people serving indeterminate sentences, and we saw poor conditions in Edinburgh prison even though it had only recently been rebuilt.

I thought it was interesting that leaders are looking to the Dutch and Scandinavian systems for inspiration and ideas. The Scots are looking at outcomes, asking difficult questions about what the system achieves rather than supinely repeating old mistakes.

I encountered enthusiasm for change, for new ideas and for radical re-thinking. What a breath of fresh air and optimism. Such a contrast to the misery down south.

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