Human rights in the UK: Universal Periodic Review, 2017 – Scottish Government position

Scottish Government position statement on Scotland’s performance against key international human rights obligations.

5. Treatment of detainees

Conditions of detention

Scotland's prison population has continued to fall over the past few years. The average daily population in 2015-16 stood at 7,675, roughly 6% lower than the equivalent figure in 2011-12 (8,178). The Scottish Prison Service ( SPS) continues to invest in the modernisation of the prison estate and implement its transformational change agenda, which has an emphasis on building a person-centred, asset-based approach in order to invest in rehabilitation and reintegration services.

In March 2015, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland ( HMCIPS) published 'Standards for Inspecting and Monitoring Prisons in Scotland'. [40] A new system of independent monitoring of prisons in Scotland came into effect on 31 August 2015. Around 150 volunteer members of the community have responsibility for monitoring the care and treatment of prisoners and there is a statutory requirement that at least one independent prison monitor must visit each prison once a week. The HMCIPS 2015-16 annual report [41] notes that prisons in Scotland fulfil their responsibility to work with those in prison to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and to prepare them positively for returning to the community to a high degree. The reintegration of people leaving custody remains a priority for the SPS, including investment in the maintenance of family relationships and contact in prison, a review of purposeful activity provision and an emphasis on respectful relationships between staff and prisoners. Approximately 40 Throughcare Support Officers across the prison estate provide support to people to help prepare for release and work with them beyond release in the community.

The Scottish Government is committed to reducing the use of short-term imprisonment through the greater use of robust community sentences. Community sentences have accounted for a greater proportion of all penalties handed down by Scottish Courts every year since 2011-12 and the differential between the two has increased steadily over that time. In 2015-16, community sentences accounted for 19% of all penalties; whereas custodial sentences accounted for only 14% (fines were the single most common penalty in each of those years, accounting for over 50% of all penalties). The fall in the use of custodial sentences has been most pronounced among young people - the number of custodial sentences involving 16-20 years olds (or under 21s) fell by 61% between 2006-7 (3,270) and 2015-16 (1,262). [42] The reduction in the number of under 21s receiving custodial sentences has been driven by the adoption of the Whole System Approach ( WSA), which aims to achieve positive outcomes for young people by helping various statutory and non-statutory bodies to work together to build a more consistent approach to prevent and reduce offending by children and young people through early and effective intervention.

Women prisoners

Scotland has established standards for treatment of women in a custodial and non-custodial setting, which comply with the broad principles set out in the Bangkok Rules [43] . Following a period of consultation in 2015, the Scottish Government announced the decision to build a new national prison for women on the current site of HMP and Young Offenders Institution Cornton Vale and up to five small community based custodial units across Scotland. All aspects of the custodial estate will be run and managed by the SPS but services will be delivered through multi-disciplinary teams working together to provide a consistent and holistic approach to the management of women who are held in custody and, importantly, linking them to the services they will need on their release back into the community.

The Scottish Government has also provided local justice and third sector organisations with additional funding to develop local community justice services for women. This includes funding for female mentoring services, Bail Supervision, and Early and Effective Intervention services.


In considering the possibility of placing a child in secure accommodation, a chief social work officer needs to identify the aim and objectives of such a placement in terms of the child's assessed behaviour and needs, and the capacity of the establishment to meet those aims and objectives. Placement in secure accommodation is designed to rehabilitate the child and, where necessary, protect the public, and can only take place when:

  • the child has previously absconded and is likely to abscond again and, if the child were to abscond, it is likely that the child's physical, mental or moral welfare would be at risk
  • the child is likely to engage in self-harming conduct
  • the child is likely to cause injury to another person

No child in Scotland under the age of 16 years is detained in a prison. Young people aged 16-17 who are not subject to a compulsory supervision order can be sentenced or remanded by the court to a YOI. Those young people do not mix with the adult population. Young people in secure accommodation are never held in solitary confinement. Each unit has its own written policy on the use of single separation/segregation, which is an extreme measure to be taken only when other appropriate measures have been tried and have been unsuccessful. Segregation is never used as punishment and should only be used as a last resort. Young people in secure care will only be physically restrained by trained care staff when:

  • they are behaving in an unsafe or dangerous way
  • there is a serious risk of harm to themselves or another person, and
  • there is no other effective way of keeping the young person or others safe

Mechanical restraints or spit hoods are not used in secure accommodation services in Scotland. If it is necessary to physically restrain a young person they will only be restrained for the shortest time possible, using as little force as necessary. The Holding Safely guidance [44] was amended in 2012 to encourage all secure services to develop clear plans for reducing the use of physical restraint. The Care Inspectorate is responsible for the regulation of secure care services for children and young people in Scotland. It ensures children and young people in these services are kept safe and that their rights to privacy, choice and dignity are promoted.

Children of persons in custody

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 [45] introduced a provision which will require the SPS to ask prisoners whether they are a parent or guardian of a child. If this is the case, the parent must be asked for information that will help SPS identify the child's Named Person service provider (in terms of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014). A commencement date for the Named Person provisions and the SPS provision is still to be confirmed.


Email: David Holmes

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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