Scotland’s main young offenders institution could hold adult men in cells for the first time as the Scottish Prison Service looks to curb overpopulation.
A decreasing number of youngsters being sent to prison due to Scottish Government policy means HMPYOI Polmont is now under capacity.
The facility near Falkirk holds young males under 21 and some adult female prisoners.
Chiefs say they’re discussing how best to ease the burden on other jails – among the options is the potential of introducing adult male prisoners.
HMPOI governor Gerry Michie told STV News “there are a number of different population options being considered” with a new inspectors’ report confirming Polmont is preparing for the “possibility of accommodating adult men”.
There is currently only one inmate aged under 18 in the prison as of December 2023, compared with 12 in July 2022.
The drop in numbers is a result of a Scottish Government pledge The Promise to remove anyone under the age of 18 from the prison estate by 2024.
Instead, those in the system will be given “care-based alternatives” to rehabilitation and alternatives to custody such as electronic monitoring.
Mr Michie said: “The Scottish Prison Service are facing significant challenges in terms of the ultimate population.
“There are a number of prisons in Scotland at this moment in time that are overcapacity. And there are a small number of prisons, including myself, that are under capacity.
“[Polmont] does have the capacity to take a new population. And there are a number of different population options being considered by the chief executive and senior leaders in the organisation. I am a part of that.
“If it’s adult males, that is the end result, then then that’s a new population for us.
“But I think that our philosophy, how we treat people is exactly the same whether you’re a child, a young person, a female or an adult male. We will try to treat them in a particular way.
“Design capacity means that we’ve got lots of space with a very well-resourced prison. We particularly focus on young people and women at this moment in time on education, a life skills and vocational training.
“So there are lots of opportunities here for a new population to get involved in that.”
A report published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) said Polmont chiefs have “fully embraced the need to make best use of spare capacity” amid a rising population across the estate,
But it acknowledged there was “understandably anxiety” that transfers do not destabilise the existing population or affect the progress achieved by the prison.
It added: “We endorse the need for a sensitive change management process that does not interfere with the smooth running of a vital national facility for young people and others.”
Polmont’s latest inspection ranked it one of the best jails in the country. The prison inspectorate found significant improvements in the care and wellbeing of prisoners, praising work to prevent inmate isolation and seclusion.
But the report also made a number of other recommendations to prison chiefs.
It found Polmont to be “clearly breaching” prisoners’ rights to an hour of outdoor exercise a day and called for investment in creating extra outdoor exercise areas.
Inspectors have urged the SPS to use technology for ‘intelligence-led searching’ instead of body searching to avoid re-traumatising female prisoners who may have been experiences of abuse.
An SPS spokesperson said: “This is a really positive report which praises the establishment for strongly moving forward, and the vision, purpose, energy, and direction shown by the leadership team.
“It is particularly pleasing to see staff recognised for their work in identifying people with additional needs and ensuring support is in place, and for the care and compassion they show with vulnerable individuals in ‘Talk To Me’ case conferences.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While prison is needed for those who pose a risk to public safety, we recognise that the imprisonment rate is too high and rising. We are taking action to address that, including more widespread use of community-based interventions which are more effective than short-term imprisonment at reducing reoffending and assisting rehabilitation.
“The way the prisoner population and the prison estate are managed is an operational matter for the SPS. They are maximising use of the prison estate, including the possibility of making fuller use of HMP &YOI Polmont – which has capacity due to progress that has been made in keeping children and young people out of custody.”
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