Fears raised over soaring Scots prison population
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.”