Fears raised over soar­ing Scots prison pop­u­la­tion

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By GINA DAVID­SON

Scot­land’s prison pop­u­la­tion stands at a record high due to a rise in con­vic­tions for se­ri­ous crimes, in­clud­ing historic sex­ual of­fences, and an end to au­to­matic early re­lease.

An in­crease of 709 in­mates, be­tween March last year and this, was equiv­a­lent to a large prison, ac­cord­ing to the Chief In­spec­tor of Pris­ons for Scot­land.

As a re­sult, Wendy Sin­clair-gieben warned pris­ons are strug­gling to cope with in­mate num­bers, put­ting pres­sure on staff and po­ten­tially un­der­min­ing pris­oner care.

In her report, she says Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment moves to cut short prison sen­tences would not “be enough to bring the prison pop­u­la­tion back in line with de­sign ca­pac­ity”.

A rise in con­vic­tions for se­ri­ous crimes, in­clud­ing historic sex­ual of­fences, and an end to au­to­matic early re­lease have driven Scot­land’s prison pop­u­la­tion to a record high.

An in­crease of 709 in­mates, be­tween March last year and this, was equiv­a­lent to one ad­di­tional large prison, ac­cord­ing to the Chief In­spec­tor of Pris­ons for Scot­land.

As a re­sult, Wendy Sin­clair­gieben has warned that pris­ons are strug­gling to cope with in­mate num­bers, put­ting in­creas­ing pres­sure on staff and po­ten­tially un­der­min­ing the care of pris­on­ers.

In her an­nual report, pub­lished to­day, she also says that Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment moves to cut down on short prison sen­tences would not “be enough to bring the prison pop­u­la­tion back in line with de­sign ca­pac­ity”.

Her fears were echoed by the Scot­tish Prison Of­fi­cers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, which said no more staff had been re­cruited to deal with ris­ing pris­oner num­bers, and as a re­sult “sick lev­els had never been higher”, adding to “front­line” pres­sures.

Scot­land has 15 pris­ons which have a com­bined de­sign ca­pac­ity of 7,918 pris­on­ers. The in­spec­tor’s lat­est report states that in March the num­ber of in­mates stood at 8,122 – with 15.4 per cent of them on re­mand – com­pared with 7,413 in April 2018.

How­ever, Scot­tish Prison Ser­vice spokesman Tom Fox said num­bers had risen again, with the prison pop­u­la­tion yes­ter­day stand­ing at 8,308, “the high­est ever”.

Ms Sin­clair-gieben said: “Scot­land’s in­car­cer­a­tion rate is one of the high­est in Europe. 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 through­care ac­tiv­i­ties de­signed to re­duce re­cidi­vism.”

Mr Fox said the fig­ure was the high­est in 20 years, adding that new pres­sures in deal­ing with elderly pris­on­ers and in­creased num­bers of sex­ual of­fend­ers, which have tre­bled over two decades, is fu­elling a prison pop­u­la­tion time­bomb.

He said: “The fig­ures don’t even show the whole story in terms of ca­pac­ity pres­sures be­cause a space on pa­per does not au­to­mat­i­cally equal a place in real­ity. We have had to deal with a rise in sex­ual of­fend­ers from 500 peo­ple 20 years ago to 1,500 to­day, and these pris­on­ers can­not be mixed with others, so even if there was space avail­able among them we can­not just place any pris­oner there.

“Sim­i­lar­ly­po­liceare­far­more suc­cess­ful at se­cur­ing con­vic­tions for se­ri­ous and or­gan­ised crime, and these pris­on­ers bring a level of vi­o­lence which means they can­not au­to­mat­i­cally be placed any­where there is deemed to be a space. Then there are is­sues such as be­ing un­able to mix young of­fend­ers with adult pris­on­ers, and women pris­on­ers too are sep­a­rate.

“It’s a con­stant jug­gle, while at the same time the gen­eral prison pop­u­la­tion is ris­ing, and we have pris­on­ers serv­ing longer sen­tences.”

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