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McInnes reveals 41 per cent increase in solitary confinement orders

June 2, 2014 11:41 AM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes has called on the Justice Secretary to introduce new safeguards after she revealed that the number of prisoners being held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time has risen by 41 per cent in the last year.

Parliamentary questions lodged by Ms McInnes have revealed that the number of orders granted rose from 1368 in 2012-13 to 1929 in 2013-14. They also showed a 44 per cent rise in the number of occasions approval has been given to isolate male prisoners and an 11 per cent rise in orders to remove female prisoners from the general prison population.

The orders, made under section 95 of the Prison and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011, allow for the initial isolation of a prisoner for 72 hours but can be extended for a month. There is no limit on the number of extensions that can be applied for and no independent review system.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have previously raised concerns that these orders are being inappropriately to deal with prisoners with serious mental health problems. In December 2013 Ms McInnes revealed that women were being held in Cornton Vale's separation unit for months on end with the worst case, she argued, involving one woman placed in in solitary confinement on six occasions over the 17 month period, for a period totalling 387 days.

Commenting on the new figures, Ms McInnes said:

"It is deeply concerning that there has been a 41 per cent increase inAlison McInnesAlison McInnes the number of occasions on which prisoners have been isolated in the last year. I'm worried that these figures show a prison service under extreme pressure. It would be inappropriate for there to be a growing reliance on these orders simply to manage the problems of overcrowding.

"There are occasions when offenders need to be locked up alone in a prison cell and kept under close supervision to protect themselves and others. In the majority of cases, people are reintegrated into the main prison very quickly and separation can be considered a useful safety valve.

"But I am alarmed that some prisoners are being kept in solitary confinement for months on end. This does nothing to address the root of their problems and could only serve to compound the serious mental health conditions that underpin some of the prisoners displaying dangerous behaviour. Only last year I learnt that one woman spent 387 days over a 17 month period locked up alone.

"We should be ashamed if solitary confinement is being relied upon as a management tool for prisoners with serious mental health problems. This seems out of step with a 21st century criminal justice system.

"It seems ludicrous that neither the Justice Secretary nor the chief of the Scottish Prison Service can tell us who exactly is signing off these orders, or even if any have ever been declined or revoked for example following the advice of a doctor.

"Currently these orders can be renewed indefinitely with no external review. The Justice Secretary must amend prison rules so an independent panel can consider whether back-to-back orders are appropriate and ensure that basic human rights are being protected.

"The Justice Secretary can't keep fobbing this off as an operational matter. Ultimately, he is responsible for ensuring that Scotland has a well-disciplined yet humane prison regime."