26 October 2006

(S2F-2500) Prisoners (Home Leave)

4. Marlyn Glen (North East Scotland) (Lab): To ask the First Minister what guarantees can be given that public safety will not be compromised by the proposed home leave for inmates of open prisons at Christmas. (S2F-2500)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): All prisoners in open prisons must have been assessed as presenting a low risk to the public before being transferred there. Almost all will have some entitlement to home leave throughout the year as part of their rehabilitation programme. However, no one will be allowed home leave without a rigorous safety assessment.

Marlyn Glen: I thank the First Minister for his reassurance. Does he agree that all political parties should be consistent in supporting that policy, instead of having a knee-jerk reaction to misleading press reports?

The First Minister: I agree absolutely. There are members who claim to support systems for rehabilitation but who are quick to criticise them as soon as there is an opportunity to get themselves in the headlines. I would hope that all members would desist from such practices.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am sure that the First Minister agrees that one of the most important elements of rehabilitation that the prison service can deliver relates to drug abuse, which takes the majority of prisoners into prison.

The Presiding Officer: Is this a question about home leave, Mr Stevenson?

Stewart Stevenson: In that context, in relation to open prisons, does the First Minister support my view that prisoners who are being released for home leave should be tested for drug abuse before they leave and after they return, to ensure continuity of rehabilitation from drug abuse?

The First Minister: If we were to implement the Scottish National Party's policy on prisons, that would be difficult to achieve. The SNP published its policy proposals, entitled "Our policies for a safer Scotland", in which it says clearly that it would introduce new sentencing options, including weekend prisons. For Mr MacAskill, who is Mr Stevenson's boss, to say last week that society has deemed that those people should be punished but that they are not being punished over the festive period because a limited number of prisoners are being allowed home, when, in fact, the SNP wants many more prisoners to be allowed home every single week of the year, is sheer hypocrisy. The Scottish National Party's policies would have more credibility if it was consistent and did not jump from having one policy statement in its policy document to grabbing headlines on another occasion.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): Does the First Minister agree that the home leave system is an important part of rehabilitation services, but that there are flaws with regard to services that begin in prison—open prisons in particular—but do not carry on in the community? Will he develop the proposal to establish in the community setting the equivalent of link centres in prisons, which are designed to co-ordinate and ensure that rehabilitation services are properly administered, given that there is currently a gap in such services in the community?

The First Minister: I understand that that matter is being considered by justice services and I am sure that the Minister for Justice would be happy to provide details as discussions progress and reach conclusions.

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