Human rights concerns over prisons and police

prison officer

Overcrowding in prisons and Police Scotland's use of new technology are among 200 concerns being raised by the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

It has compiled a report for the United Nations into Scotland's implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The commission said some progress had been made since its report in 2015.

But chairwoman Judith Robertson said there were "serious gaps" in how some of rights are upheld in Scotland.

Among the concerns highlighted were:

  • overcrowding in prisons and the impact of this on conditions for inmates
  • the use of 1m-squared holding cubicles ('dog-boxes') in HMP Barlinnie
  • suicide and self-harm rates among female prisoners and children in secure care
  • insufficient legal frameworks and oversight for Police Scotland's use of new biometric technologies such as facial recognition and "cyber kiosks"
  • disproportionate police use of strip searches on women and children
  • the need to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 in line with international recommendations.

Ms Robertson said she was concerned at the state of Scotland's prisons, particularly HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow.

She said it was 30% over its capacity, which meant that people were doubling up in cells and did not get access to recreation facilities.

The Scottish Prison Service said it was committed to maintaining and modernising the prison estate.

It pointed to plans for replacement of HMP Barlinnie by 2025 and the redevelopment of HMP Highland to replace HMP Inverness.

Ms Robertson said it was "not acceptable" for prisoners to be living in the current conditions for another five years.

She also highlighted the use of small cubicles of less than one metre squared in Barlinnie Prison's reception area, which are referred to as "dog-boxes" by prisoners.

Ms Robertson said prisoners could be waiting in them for up to two hours.

"Our international colleagues looking at these things from outside deem them to be not acceptable," she said. "They could be removed this week."

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Image caption The "cyber kiosk" technology gives police the ability to override passwords on mobile phones

In looking at the police, the SHRC raised issues with the possibility of facial recognition software being used by Police Scotland, though the force said it had no plans to trial the technology in the near future.

It also raised the issue of the new "cyber kiosks", which would allow officers to assess someone's phone to see "if it contains information which may be of value to a police investigation or incident".

Ms Robertson said: "The data you might have on your mobile phone would be some of the most sensitive data you might have."

She said a warrant was required to search a house so it should be the same for phones.

A Police Scotland spokesman said Scotland's prosecution service had "affirmed the existence of a legal basis for the use of cyber kiosks".

In terms of the wider justice system, the lack of justice for victims of sexual crimes and problems accessing advocacy for those with mental health problems were also highlighted.

A spokesman for the Scottish government said: "We want to ensure Scotland is a modern, inclusive nation which protects, respects and realises internationally-recognised human rights.

"We actively engage with international human rights monitoring mechanisms and value the expert insight they provide on human rights issues and in ensuring we meet our ambitions for Scotland in upholding human rights in all places of detention."

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