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Overcrowding a serious concern, says prisions inspector

5 November 2008

Overcrowding, the imprisonment of children under 16 years of age and the continuing lack of work are the main problems with Scottish prisons, according to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dr Andrew McLellan.

Published today, the Chief Inspector’s annual report highlights:
•    the continuing use of imprisonment for some children
•    the difficulties in improving the quality of food
•    a lack of work for most prisoners
•    the impact of high levels of overcrowding
•    the poor conditions in which remand prisoners live
•    problems in reducing re-offending
•    the poverty, social exclusion and inequality from which nearly all prisoners suffer.

However, the report also emphasises improvements in sanitation, the safety of prisons, good links between prisons and community and plans to improve healthcare.

Dr McLellan said: "It is very frustrating that children under the age of 16 are still being sent to prison - despite the Cabinet Secretary's announcement that it should stop. This practice should be abolished.

Lack of opportunity

"There are just not enough prisoners working, learning useful skills, developing self respect and acquiring industrious habits. When we compare this situation to what was available to prisoners in 1986 it is even more frustrating.

“Part of this is a result of overcrowding – which continues to get worse – and part of it might be to do with having to make savings. Whatever the reason, prisoners should have the opportunity to work.

"Remand prisoners are once again living in the worst conditions and have the worst regime in any prison. They hardly ever have the chance of a job to break up the day and may well spend 22 hours out of 24 locked up. This situation must not be allowed to continue.

"The unchanging poverty, social exclusion and inequality from which almost all prisoners suffer is the most powerful factor in inhibiting transformation and rehabilitation among prisoners. Prison can only do so much.”

However, the Chief Inspector praised the work being carried out to tackle alcohol abuse, saying: “Many crimes are committed by drunk people. So many victims of crime are victims because of alcohol abuse. It is encouraging that renewed attention is being paid in prison and in society to the destructive power of misused alcohol."

Looking for payback

Responding to Dr McLellan’s report, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that while crime had fallen, more offenders than ever were being locked up – a situation he called “absurd”.

He said: “We need to punish severely those involved in serious crime and lock up those offenders who are a danger to our communities.

"Less serious offences need to be dealt with by tough community punishments. They should pay back the damage they've done in their community through the sweat of their brow, rather than having free bed and board at the taxpayers' expense.”

Three new prisons are currently being built, the first of which at Addiewell, will open in January.

Mr MacAskill added: "I agree with Dr McLellan that prison is no place for children and share his frustration that a small number of children under 16 were in prison custody over the last year. I am pleased to report that there are currently no under-16s in prison in Scotland.

"We are also developing plans to ensure that more children who are placed in secure care following conviction remain there beyond their 16th birthday rather than being transferred to the prison estate – most often a young offenders' institution."

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