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Legalised police cells not good enough

4 July 2008

Legalised police cells are not good enough for detaining prisoners, according to the latest report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Dr Andrew McLellan's report describes an inspection of Scotland's legalised police cells in 2007-08. Legalised police cells are cells in which prisoners can be detained for up to 30 days. They are based in nine police stations which are not near prisons - Lerwick, Kirkwall, Thurso, Stornoway, Lochmaddy, Oban, Campbeltown, Dunoon and Hawick.

Dr McLellan's report highlights a number of concerns:

  • cells do not contain even basic furniture when they are being used
  • toilets in cells aren't screened
  • prisoners aren't always able to exercise in the open air
  • copies of the prison rules and other information notices aren't always available
  • information on how to access the relevant visiting committee or how to make a complaint is not always available.

The report noted that during the inspection of the nine stations only one prisoner had been actially held, which meant that much of the evidence gathered was supplied by the police.

Dr McLellan said: "Prisoners form only a very small proportion of people detained in police custody. The conditions and treatment of prisoners being held in the cells are therefore likely to be similar to those being detained in short-term police custody.

"The conditions are very bleak. Prisoners do not even have a chair on which they can sit and eat a meal. Toilets in cells are also unscreened. Boredom is a real problem.

"A lack of available information means that prisoners may not know how to access the visiting committee or make a formal complaint. Although responsibility for supervising these prisoners remains a matter for the police, the Scottish Prison Service also has a responsibility and as far as can be achieved within the constraints of police cells, prisoners being held should have access to conditions similar to those in a prison."