Lib Dems In Plea For Entire Prison Estate To Be Family Friendly

4 January 2017, 05:25

Prison cell block

More should be done to ensure Scotland's prisons are family friendly, the Liberal Democrats have said.

The party released figures obtained from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) showing children visited jails on 21,027 occasions in the last three years.

Lib Dem justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP welcomed reforms designed to improve the links between female inmates and their families but questioned whether the remainder of the prison estate would follow suit.

The Scottish Prison Service said it is committed to ensuring family links are developed and maintained across the prison population.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson scrapped plans to replace Scotland's only female jail at Cornton Vale near Stirling with a new 300-cell prison for women in 2015.

Instead he announced plans for a smaller 80-capacity prison based on the current site at Cornton Vale with five units each accommodating up to 20 women set up across the country.

The smaller units for female offenders aim to place them closer to their families and provide targeted support to address issues such as alcohol, drugs, mental health or domestic abuse.

The announcement followed a report into how best to deal with female offenders by former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.

She reported that around 30% of children with imprisoned parents will develop physical and mental health problems, and there is a higher risk of them also ending up in prison.

Describing children as the ''hidden victims'' of crime, Mr McArthur said: ''It is welcome that the female estate is finally in the process of being brought into the 21st century. Now that the Scottish Government has agreed to take the Angiolini Commission's proposals seriously, we are set to see a more family-friendly system in future.

''However, question marks remain about the extent to which these principles and reforms will be extended to the male and young offenders estates. Every effort should be made to ensure children feel comfortable visiting loved ones in prison.

''The Scottish Prison Service must ensure every establishment is properly equipped to facilitate the 7,000 visits children make each year. SNP ministers should also bring an end to the senseless short-term sentences which break up families unnecessarily, replacing them with robust community-based sentences which are more effective at reducing reoffending.''

A prison service spokeswoman said: ''The SPS recognise the importance of parent and child relationships and we are committed to ensuring that family links are developed and maintained.

''We promote positive relationships across our prisons with dedicated children's visits and family contact officers. Our standards for encouraging family contact were published in 2013.

''Prisons hold various sessions and work with community partners to help those in our care engage in meaningful activity with their children during visits, such as Scout and Guide sessions at Low Moss, interactive parenting visits and a parenting course at Polmont, and homework clubs across the estate.

''Family and children visits are available to men, women and young people in our care.''