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Prisons inspector raises concerns over lack of capacity

22 August 2019

Scotland's Chief Inspector of Prisons is "very concerned" that the total number of inmates is starting to exceed prison capacity, she states in her newly published annual report for 2018-19.

In her first annual report, the chief inspector, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, records that the prison population rose by 709 during the year, from 7,413 to 8,122 - a 9% increase that is the equivalent of one additional large prison. That includes a rise of more than 16% in the number of prisoners on remand awaiting trial, who account for nearly one in six prisoners.

With Barlinnie Prison operating at more than 40% over capacity, and some prisoners being forced to share cells, she warns that the extra numbers are putting extra pressure, and "immense" financial pressures, on the system, and that planned investment in infrastructure must not be delayed.

She also calls for urgent action to replace the Victorian jails at Barlinnie, Greenock and Inverness, saying they are "costly and no longer fit for purpose".

Factors behind the rise include longer sentences for serious of crimes, more people being convicted of sexual offences, and more serious and organised crime being successfully prosecuted, as well as fewer prisoners being released on home detention curfew and those subject to an order for lifelong restriction seldom achieving parole.

In June the Scottish Parliament approved an extension of the presumption against short prison sentences from three months to 12 for offences committed on or after 4 July, a move welcomed by Ms Sinclair-Gieben - though she states that this "may not be enough to bring the prison population back in line with design capacity".

Ms Sinclair-Gieben commented: "The additional number of prisoners and an increasingly complex population places a heavy burden on an already overstretched prison service in Scotland.

"I am very concerned that the number of prisoners is starting to exceed design capacity, resulting in not only additional pressures on staff, the prison regime and activities, but also on the essential programme and through-care activities designed to reduce recidivism."

However she also states: "I continue to be hugely impressed with the commitment of staff and their ability to care for and protect prisoners, a substantial proportion of whom are vulnerable"; and "As a country, we can take pride in how our prisons are run. Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant to the risks posed by continued overcrowding as there is currently no clear timetable for relief."

Click here to view the report.

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