Following on the heels of a study commissioned by the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee into the disproportionate imprisonment of Roman Catholics in Scotland, which confirmed suspicions there are higher numbers of Catholics in Scottish jails than from other sections of the community, Scottish anti-sectarian campaigners today claim the Scottish justice system is jailing more Catholics in comparison to the rest of the population than even in Northern Ireland.
The claims come after a new report on the religious breakdown of the prison population in Northern Ireland confirmed a disproportionate number of Catholics are behind bars in Northern Ireland, showing that while Catholics make up 44% of the general population, around 55% of inmates are drawn from the Catholic community.
The new report from the Northern Ireland Prison Service, available for download here : Owers review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.pdf (PDF 670 KB) if taken in comparison with the report prepared for the Scottish Parliament by Dr Susan Wiltshire, available for download here OFFENDER DEMOGRAPHICS AND SENTENCING PATTERNS IN SCOTLAND & UK does appear to show via the statistics that Scotland’s justice system appears to be jailing more Catholics than Northern Ireland.
The prospect Scotland’s justice system is itself sectarian in its verdicts & sentencing will make grim reading for First Minister Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government’s latest plans to combat sectarian offences at football matches and attacks on other minorities via the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill, which features in earlier coverage HERE
Speaking today to Scottish Law Reporter, the petitioner of Petition PE 1073, Thomas Minogue said : “The reported disproportionate number of RC‘s in prison in Northern Ireland is troubling; as is the fact that they seem to be treated more harshly once in prison. Given Northern Ireland’s troubled history where the Unionist, and mainly Protestant majority have until recently quite openly practised discrimination against the RC and mainly Nationalist population these stats are hardly surprising.
However things are changing in Northern Ireland and the two communities who have fought each other for hundreds of years are now working together to build bridges, and this is reflected in the concern voiced in the Report at the prison statistics and the determination of the NI government to examine and learn from this imbalance.
Contrast this with Scotland where since 2001 when the much worse disproportionate figures for RC’s—showing them twice as likely to be imprisoned as their Protestant peers—were first highlighted by Pauline McNeil MSP. Since 2001, and despite the then Justice Minister Jim Wallace promising to investigate this, nothing has been done.
In fact it is worse than that and having gone through the motions of examining my petition (PE 1073 Link) on this subject—which also included the equally disproportionate number of Muslims in Scottish prisons—the Scottish Parliament has decided to take no action on this shameful reflection on the Scottish justice system.
The highly-respected Ulsterman, Kenny Shiels, the Kilmarnock FC Manger, recently stated that sectarianism in Scotland is worse than in Northern Ireland, and these figures would seem to show that discrimination against RC’s in the justice system is also worse here than “over the water”.
Following on from the jury verdict on Neil Lennon’s attacker, what shame on the “best wee country in the world”.
Scottish Law Reporter previously reported on Dr Susan Wiltshire’s report, which the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee had initially refused to publish but later met in secret, agreeing to publish, here : Report published by Holyrood Committee says justice system may be prejudiced against Catholics, confirms higher numbers in Scots jails. However it should be noted the Scottish Parliament have pulled all the links to the petition, the report and all discussion about the petition & its written submissions.
A REPORT commissioned & subsequently published by the Scottish Parliament's Petitions Committee in response to a public petition, has endorsed the view of the Catholic Church that Scotland’s justice system is still prejudiced against Catholics. Petition PE1073, by Mr Tom Minogue, calls for the Scottish Parliament to investigate and establish the reasons for the apparently disproportionate number of Catholics in Scottish prisons. Written submissions for Petition PE1073 can be found HERE
The research, undertaken by Dr Susan Wiltshire of Glasgow University for the Petitions Committee, can be downloaded from the Scottish Parliament’s website, here : Offender Demographics and Sentencing Patterns in Scotland and the UK: Research commissioned by the Public Petitions Committee in consideration of PE1073 (203KB pdf) (link has been updated with an online document)
Dr Wiltshire’s report confirmed there are a disproportionate number of Catholics in Scottish jails, concluding : “There is certainly no available research on sentencers’ attitudes to sentencing faith groups in Scotland, however, the statistics do confirm that there are a disproportionate number of Catholics in Scottish jails, which is especially pronounced in the west of Scotland, and further that this disproportionality is evident in long term sentence length.”
Here follows a report from the Mail on Sunday newspaper, Feb 06 2011
THE Catholic Church is demanding action from Scottish ministers after an academic endorsed its long-held view that followers still endure prejudice in Scotland.
A report commissioned by an influential Scottish parliament committee suggested there could be prejudice within the justice system - which may account for the disproportionate number of Catholics serving jail terms. The research paper was written by Dr Susan Wiltshire of Glasgow University for Holyrood's public petitions committee. The report's findings will be discussed by MSPs after May's Holyrood election.
Dr Wiltshire, an expert in criminal justice, was commissioned to produce the report after a petition submitted four years ago by Tom Minogue. The retired engineer from Dunfermline, Fife, was concerned about the disproportionate number of Catholics in Scottish jails. At that time, Catholics made up 13 per cent of the Scots population and 26 per cent of prisoners.
Some committee members have pointed out that Catholics tend to be over-represented in deprived areas with high crime rates. Data from the 2001 Census showed that Catholics were the largest religious group in Scotland's poorest neighbourhoods, with 19 per cent living in the 10 per cent most deprived areas, compared with 8 per cent of Church of Scotland members.
Dr Wiltshire said in her report: "The question should shift from asking why Catholics are disproportionately represented in Scottish jails to why so many Catholics continue to live in areas of deprivation in Scotland." She added: "Discriminatory and prejudiced attitudes continue to feature in Scots society. It might be expected that such attitudes could manifest in the criminal justice system, accounting in part for disproportionality."
Catholic Church spokesman Peter Kearney said the problem was rooted in past Irish immigration. He pointed out that Irish migrants who went to the US in the 1840s and 1850s achieved occupational and economic parity in 1901. But he added: "In Scotland, Irish immigrants achieved parity in 2001. It took another 100 years in this small country, where some, including most politicians, have insisted for years that we don't have a problem."
Last December, only three months after the Pope visited Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of the country's Catholics, warned that sectarianism was still limiting religious expression here. A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While we have a range of initiatives to tackle sectarianism,we are also working to support the whole of society and tackle poverty."
The Belfast Telegraph reports on the newly released report on Northern Ireland’s prison population, here :
New figures on the religious breakdown of Northern Ireland's prison population have shown that a disproportionate number of Catholics are behind bars. A major review that recommended overhauling the prison system, also raised concerns over the monitoring of inmates' religion, race and disability. Figures compiled for the report showed that while Catholics make up 44% of the general population, around 55% of inmates are drawn from the Catholic community. The report said it could find no clear explanation for the disparity, but said it may be the case that there are higher numbers of Catholics among younger age brackets in Northern Ireland.
The figures showed that 56% of prisoners in Hydebank Wood Young Offender Centre were Catholic, while 54% of prisoners at Maghaberry prison were Catholic, with 56% of inmates in Magilligan being Catholic. Prisoners held on basic privileges, as opposed to enhanced status, were also more likely to be Catholic with a 74% figure for Hydebank, 66% in Maghaberry and 82% in Magilligan.
The report found: "Overall, Catholics were also disproportionately represented in matters relating to prison discipline - adjudication, use of force and segregation. "In Hydebank Wood and Maghaberry, Catholics were disproportionately unlikely, and Protestants disproportionately likely, to be granted temporary release, for healthcare, emergencies or resettlement reasons. "It also appears to be the case at Maghaberry that Catholic prisoners are over-represented in the poorer accommodation on the 'square houses' and Protestants over-represented in the newer and better units."
The review team said it was "very disappointing" that some of the discrepancies identified were also picked up in a report in 2008. It added: "But monitoring is pointless if it does not highlight problems and lead to action to investigate and if necessary rectify them. Given the importance of being able to demonstrate equal treatment in Northern Ireland, this is a significant gap."