Inside Out, our steering group of care experienced young men at HMYOI Polmont have responded to the Scottish Government's consultation on Bail and Remand. It makes for fascinating and important reading for all those who support young people with care experience and who have experience with the justice system.

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Key messages 

Consultation Process 

  • The members of Inside Out were disappointed to find that there were no targeted approaches to include children, young people and adults affected by imprisonment in this consultation.
  • Consultation was not accessible, easy to read and no child friendly versions were available.
  • If we are to improve Scotland’s approach to justice, then we must include those most affected who have invaluable insight and knowledge as to how we improve the system for others.

“You need to have a law degree to understand it”.

Impact of Being on Remand

  • Remand is really damaging. You can be on remand for a really long time sometimes up for a year and you haven’t even been found guilty.
  • They spoke of feeling like they were refused bail because the judge didn’t like them often because they knew who they or their family were or because they were known to “judged for being a runaway”.
  • Young people felt there should be more supports in the community to prevent this and not to be a reason a child or young person is put into prison.
  • They spoke of a lot of people being really vulnerable with learning disabilities in Polmont and it was their view that it was not the right place for them to be for example when some of their offences were for Covid fines.

    “Judges don’t take things into consideration”

    “Your whole life is f*cked by the badness of jail – need to look at the circumstances”

    “If someone isn’t likely to receive a custodial sentence then putting them on remand, where liberties are restricted further, compared with sentenced inmates. Then that shouldn’t happen”

“When you keep them in too long they become institutionalised. It’s hard to get out because you can get into trouble [just being in the prison environment]. It would be better for your mental health. It’s hard to see family especially when they are far away. Covid means you get less visits and see less of your family. Family help you move on and reintegrate”.

  • Young people spoke in detail about the negative impacts of prison. How it was really hard for a child or young person not to get swept up in “jail life”, not to fight, not to react and not to get in more bother. This often meant they picked up more charges then were in longer. It was felt that this often wasn’t fair that their time was judged on this when it was really difficult not to get involved in further offending.

Consideration of Victim in Bail Decisions 

"I think the judge should certainly consider the victim in regard to granting bail. But think there would need to be extraordinary evidence presented, to suggest the victim was at risk if bail was to be refused. Or concerns of the accused re- offending” 

  • Young person felt judged and the decision was based on their history.
  • Young people felt that changes should be made so the judge gets basic facts of the case before making a decision as opposed to being on remand for a really long period of time which is even longer because of Covid.
  • There should be proper consideration of the potential impact of being on remand “mixing with people who are convicted and sentenced” or losing out on support, relationships and being stuck in limbo lacking opportunities to do certain activities and programmes.
  • The negative impact of not knowing when or if you will be sentenced. This is important not just for under 18s but all young people who may be in Polmont or adult prisons.

Involvement of Social Work in Bail Decisions

It was of some of the young people’s understanding that the court must do this for under 21s. Although they weren’t sure if this was for everyone and whether it mattered if you were care-experienced or not. It was their view that this really should be the case for young people up to the age of 25, recognising their social, emotional and developmental needs as young people. However, concerns were also raised about “what if you don’t get on with your social worker?” Young people felt advocacy could play more of a role here. They also felt that information from Social Work should be considered along with lawyers, youth justice social work and so on.

They also believe that Social Work should have to produce a “fresh report for every potential sentence, take into account what’s happened. 3 month report. So they get your circumstances for the report.”

Use of Electronic Tagging as an Alternative to Remand

  • They thought it was a good idea for this to be considered.
  • They felt that a Social Work report would help the judge to decide if EM would work, what supports young people might need around this and how it was monitored. 
  • They strongly agreed that any reasons behind decisions not to use EM and refuse bail needed to be recorded and that legislation should be introduced to ensure it is implemented consistently and it's effectiveness recorded. 

Young people felt that it was important to emphasise just how much of an impact being deprived of your liberty in prison or secure has on your lives when on remand. They felt that being on bail at home was no comparison to the time spent and lost in prison. They felt passionate about emphasising this due to their current experience of this. However, they did strongly agree had they been able to spend time on bail with electronic monitoring they would want this to be considered and taken into account at sentencing, particularly if you have stuck to the conditions.

Should Courts Be Obliged to Consider Age When Making Decisions About Bail?

They strongly agreed with factoring in age when making decisions around bail

"Young people’s minds are developing. Your brain isn’t fully developed [when you are under 25]. You might want to fit into the crowd. Why wouldn’t you want to give them bail? You don’t how to care yet. Going to the jail or secure is traumatising. Going off to the jail at 16 isn’t right. Some people are terrorised and scared to come out of their cell. They can be bullied. Bad behaviour is normalised. You don’t know what to ask for, what your entitled to and you can go back out with no support”.

Impact on Children 

"It can have a really negative impact on you and your family. Your caring responsibilities should be considered. You also need to realise the impact if the person has children or children on the way. Not being able to help your partner can have negative impacts on everyone. Both parents need to be thought about and the impact of the environment”.

Support for Reintegration Into the Community

“Housing should be set up before release. There should be more trials of work parties outside. You should get to be in the open side more before release. Setting up jobs before you got out would help. Changes needed around convictions and disclosure. More family contact. Have other organisations involved not just Social Work. Help you get ID and a bank account before you leave”.

good behaviour, or completing education, training and rehabilitation programmes, prisoners should be able to demonstrate their suitability for early release?

  • Young People agreed but also said there were not enough programmes available. They felt their needed to be more for this to be fair.
  • They felt only a certain amount of people could access this.
  • They also raised it was really hard to stay out of trouble when you were a young person in prison so it often was setting them up to fail.
  • Their age, level of development and cognitive ability to consider consequences could make it difficult to make the right decisions in such a stressful environment so feared this would impact on a lot of young people being regarded as suitable for early release.
  • If they were able to complete their sentence in the community they would be getting involved in “jail politics” and their mental health would be considerably better.

Automatic Early Release Changed to Earlier in the Sentence

As a result of young people’s negative experiences, often experiencing the revolving door of the justice system they felt disillusioned that this would happen. In principle they were for this but “it’s no gonna happen. No faith it would work”.

Throughcare and Aftercare Services

The young people spoke of the difference between Throughcare and Aftercare support for care experienced young people and those in the justice system. They wanted aftercare to be available to all prisoners, regardless of sentence and for it to be made available earlier, including those on remand.

“it should be offered to everyone. On remand you aren’t offered anything…no lib date. Nothing”.

They spoke about the importance of the relationship with their Throughcare Worker and those who had longer sentences spoke or relationships with those in Polmont and how they helped transition to adult prison. 

Thank you to all the members of Inside Out who contributed to this consultation response. We await the final report and will share any findings and subsequent legislation amendments.