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Scottish Penal Reform since Devolution: Reflections and Prospects for Change

Dr Katrina Morrison, is a Lecturer in Criminology at Edinburgh Napier University and Board Member at Howard League Scotland. This blog is reposted with permission from the Scottish Centre for Criminal Justice Research

The 20th anniversary of the opening of the Scottish Parliament allows us to pause and reflect on the progress of penal reform in this time. While criminal justice was under the jurisdiction of Scottish administrative structures prior to devolution, the establishment of the Scottish Parliament created policy instruments which could enable more radical change, and the political and civic arena in which to affect them.

Assessing anything, including penal reform, is ultimately a comparative endeavour, everything is relative. In Scotland, our inevitable comparison is with England and Wales, where we like to compare ourselves (often favourably). We do much less comparison with Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, our Celtic neighbours, or with mainland Europe – we know many of the same assessments we make of ourselves would be less favourable if we did, whether in rates of imprisonment (that most dominant penal metric), or in numbers under penal supervision, a less visible, yet still powerful indictor of Scotland’s approach to punishment. Whilst not ignoring the perhaps justifiable comparison with England and Wales given geographical proximity and shared histories, we could be more ambitious and seek a different measuring rod in our efforts of comparative analysis.

What assessment can we make around Scottish penal reform over the past 20 years?
Over the past twenty years, Scotland can rightfully be proud of:

  • The Whole System Approach, which has diverted young people out of the justice system, though gaps between policy and practice remain.
  • The fact that statutory probation continues to be delivered by qualified social workers, with an emphasis on collaboration with the third sector – much celebrated (certainly when viewed in comparison with marketisation and decimation of probation in England). However…

Continue at the SCCJR site


Image by Klaus with K licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.