An opportunity to rethink reoffending

MaryFeeMSPPortraitMary Fee MSP, Shadow Housing Minister and MSP for the West of Scotland, says that justice is about a lot more than headlines and statistics, and with political will we can deliver significant change.


Throughout the race for Leader and Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour I will remain neutral; however I want to bring to attention a problem that Scottish Labour can tackle by having the political will to do so. Whilst we rightly discuss our social justice credentials and ambitions, we must also look at justice, and what we should aim to achieve within this portfolio, that rarely gets mentioned outwith the headline crime and police staffing statistics.

Reoffending is a continuing problem in Scotland. The Scottish Government estimates that the total economic and social costs of reoffending are about £3 billion a year, while £128 million is spent on services to reduce reoffending. Researchers believe that level of funding does not encourage reducing re-offending.

The next Scottish Labour Leader must address this issue if we are to truly be the party that changes lives and communities. What I want to address here are some of the links between imprisonment and re-offending and the effects these have on the offender and their family.

When I entered the Scottish Parliament in 2011 I started the Cross Party Group on Families Affected by Imprisonment with the support of many charities and organisations within the third sector, as well as support from families of offenders and ex-offenders. Over the last three years we have discussed a wide range of topics connected with imprisonment such as media reporting, how women and children are affected and the support available to them, and next month we will be looking at the issue of kinship care.

It has been clearly demonstrated since the group’s inception that there is demand for change in how we tackle the issues of reoffending and that keeping people out of prison, where possible, better serves the family and the community, and of course the public purse.

Research from the University of Cambridge in 2007 reports that “Crime runs in families” (Farrington et al. 1996) and that “parental imprisonment predicted boys’ own antisocial and delinquent behaviour through the life course” (Murray and Farrington 2005). So from this we know that the children of current prisoners are too often the prisoners of the future.

We can’t pretend that this issue will resolve itself, or indeed is unique to this generation. Children experience mental health problems, bullying and difficulties in educational attainment while a parent serves a custodial sentence and for the family, imprisonment can cause financial difficulties and stigma within the community.

Whoever wins the race for leader must also look at how drugs are a massive problem in our communities and prisons. In 2010 tests were carried out on prisoners on arrival and 73% showed positive signs of drugs use. In 2011 the Prison Survey showed that 21% (866) of respondents reported drugs use within the previous month; of the drug use reported, 68% was heroin and 18% non-prescribed methadone.

Drugs are a serious problem in prisons and in fact Colin McConnell, Scottish Prison Service Chief Executive, has admitted that drugs will always be a problem within our prisons. Mr McConnell recently attended one of the Cross-Party Group meetings and I know that as long as he heads the SPS then we will make strides in some of these issues that have been identified.

We know that in our most deprived communities drugs are rife. On a regular basis I have constituents approach me on the street or in surgeries about problematic drug users in their neighbourhoods.

The issue of re-offending and drug use go hand-in-hand all too often. What Scottish Labour needs is an approach that will look honestly at these issues, deal with problematic offenders, support families and truly tackle drug use.

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