HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland: Annual Report 2018-19

9. Thematic Reviews

Independent Assessment of HDC in the SPS and the subsequent Progress Review


In June 2018, a prisoner was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a member of the public, a crime committed while he was unlawfully at large having breached his HDC conditions. This crime gave rise to HMCIPS being asked by the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, to undertake an independent assessment of the processes that the SPS operated when considering applications for HDC, to provide assurance for Ministers, the Parliament and the public. The request was made in accordance with section 7(2)(d) of the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice wrote in similar terms to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) asking them to carry out a review of Police Scotland’s role in HDC.

Both reviews were duly completed and on 25 October 2018, the Scottish Government published the HMIPS HDC review report, which contained 21 recommendations covering a range of suggestions for improvement across operational processes, strategic direction and national guidance.

Further, in November 2018, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf MSP, wrote to HMCIPS requesting that HMIPS carry out a six-month review of the progress that the SPS had made towards implementing the recommendations from the review. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice also wrote in similar terms to HMICS asking them to carry out a review of progress against the Recommendations for Police Scotland’s role in HDC.


The HMIPS progress report, published in May 2019, found that the SPS and the Scottish Government had made good progress with the delivery of the 21 recommendations. We determined that 16 of our recommendations had been fully met and were considered closed. Of the remaining five recommendations, HMIPS recognised that more time was needed to fully satisfy all the requirements of our recommendations. We noted, however, that steady progress had been made on these recommendations over the previous five months, and they were on track to be completed within a reasonable timeframe.

The effects

The revised guidance in response to the review introduced four additional presumptions against granting HDC. Since then, the numbers being granted HDC have significantly reduced, adding to the overcrowding pressures experienced by the SPS. It is important to place this in context. Since the introduction in 2006 of the HDC policy, until the changes in the criteria in 2018, more than 20,000 prisoners had been released on HDC by the SPS with an 80% success rate.

HDC was considered a potentially transformative tool that contributed to a prisoner’s reintegration back into the community. For most prisoners eligible for release under the policy, HDC was a routine progression through their sentence allowing testing in the community before sentence expiry.

In 2018 there were approximately 300 prisoners living in the community on HDC. There are now less than 60.

It is HMCIPS view that there would be merit in engaging with agencies - such as the Judiciary and the Parole Board for Scotland - that have an interest in evaluating HDC and its potential benefits. This may deliver a new and equally credible model that would allow the numbers released on HDC or electronic monitoring to increase. Such a development might restore the transformative potential that HDC still offers and help ease at least some of the pressures facing the SPS from a rising prison population.

The Expert Review of Provision of Mental Health Services at HMP YOI Polmont


This review was instigated in accordance with section 7(2)(d) of the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989. Following two deaths at HMP YOI Polmont, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf MSP, wrote to HMCIPS on 23 November 2018 and asked HMIPS to investigate the provision of mental health services for young people entering and in custody at HMP YOI Polmont. He requested that the review be led by a healthcare professional with relevant experience, but with full input from HMIPS and other agencies as appropriate. Dr Helen Smith, Consultant Forensic Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, was appointed to lead the review.

The review looked at what arrangements existed within HMP YOI Polmont, and what information was available when a young person entered custody, to inform the reception and management of that young person.

It is important to note that the review explored the wider issues of young people entering custody; HMIPS were not asked to consider the specific circumstances or details of individual cases.


When considering the methodology, HMIPS were clear from the outset that a key focus of the review should be to draw directly on the views and lived experiences of staff (both NHS and SPS), young people and their families. HMIPS and Dr Smith completed a number of informative focus groups and one-to-one interviews. In addition, a mapping exercise of current reviews, policy and legislation was completed and we commissioned a comprehensive evidence review, completed by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research. We established short life working groups, involving subject matter experts across the justice landscape in Scotland, looking at information sharing, health and wellbeing and a review of two key processes in the SPS; suicide and self-harm prevention, and the audit and learning review following a death in custody.


What became clear in the evidence review and accompanying academic research was that being traumatised, being young, being held on remand and being in the first three months of custody increased the risk of suicide.

Two high level strategic issues merited specific attention:

1. The lack of proactive attention to the needs, risks, and vulnerabilities of those on remand and in their early days in custody.

2. The systemic inter-agency shortcomings of communication and information exchange across the justice landscape that inhibits the management and care of young people entering and leaving HMP YOI Polmont.

Seven key recommendations were made and a wide range of supporting recommendations, all of which are detailed in the Report. The seven key recommendations were:

1. Social isolation should be minimised with a particular focus on those held on remand and during the early weeks of custody.

2. To support more effective risk management the Scottish Government and other agencies should work together to improve the sharing of information for young people entering and leaving custody.

3. A bespoke suicide and self-harm strategy should be developed by the SPS and NHS Forth Valley for young people.

4. A more strategic and systematic approach to prison healthcare, with accompanying workforce capacity review and improved adolescent specific training.

5. An enhanced approach by the SPS to their Talk to Me Strategy, with more intensive multi-disciplinary training and a more gradual phased removal for those placed on Talk to Me.

6. Enhanced Death in Prison Learning Audit and Review.

7. Further work by the Scottish Government to improve co-ordination of reviews, with further analysis of comparative data on suicides, and consider international evidence about maturation and alternative models of secure care.

Many of the conclusions built on recommendations made previously to the Scottish Government, the SPS and its partner agencies. For some issues, like the capacity to share information electronically between agencies, previous work may have been initiated, but ambitions were not yet fully realised. Other recommendations sought to offer fresh perspectives on longstanding challenges that faced the many dedicated, caring, and compassionate individuals in the NHS, SPS, and partner agencies who work so hard to help our young people, some with the most complex mental health needs, levels of distress and challenging behaviours.

The Scottish Government is taking forward an ambitious penal reform programme that includes increasing the use of community sentences and reducing the use of short-term sentences and remand. HMIPS welcome this initiative, but to support progress in penal reform, Scotland will need to make further strategic and cultural shifts. These include maximising support for those held on remand, information sharing to inform the management of young people, and recognising the growing evidence about maturation.

We welcome the Scottish Government’s response to the Mental Health Review. In particular, the intention to address the data sharing issues, and to pilot the use of in-cell technology, which was raised in one of the supporting recommendations.