'Emergency measures' needed as prison population soars beyond capacity

Action must be taken to tackle an already overstretched prison service, the Scottish Government has been warned.

‘Emergency measures’ needed as Scottish prison population soars beyond capacity Getty Images

“Emergency measures” must be taken to urgently reduce the number of people in Scotland’s prisons, ministers have been told.

It comes amid warnings that the country’s prison population has soared in recent weeks despite levels that are already too high.

HM chief inspector of prisons for Scotland Wendy Sinclair-Gieben said prisons are now operating beyond capacity.

Her warning comes ahead of a ministerial statement from justice secretary Anglea Constance on the number of prisoners in Scotland.

It comes as ministers in England prepare to extend an early release scheme for a second time, in a move which could see some criminals freed from jail up to 70 days before their release date in a bid to reduce prison numbers there.

According to reports, Scotland’s prison population reached 8,365 this week – the highest level since 2012.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said prisoner numbers in Scotland were already too high and that the recent increase was “not anticipated”.

“The reality is with over 8,300 people in prison we run a risk,” Sinclair-Gieben told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

“There is a short-term issue, which is numbers are too high, and we do need to take emergency measures.”

‘Scotland’s prisons are already above capacity’

She made clear her view that prisons are operating above capacity and said that while not every space is currently filled she believes some of the cells being used to accommodate two inmates are not large enough for this.

The prison inspector said: “I think we are above capacity, there is a difference in our understanding.

“I recognise that every place filled would be at capacity, but I would argue there are a number of cells that are too small for two people that are having to hold two people.

“So I think we are already above capacity.”

She added that the number of prisoners was so high that it could impact on rehabilitative work by the SPS

Ms Sinclair-Gieben said: “We are certainly above the ability of the Scottish Prison Service, with the limited resources and facilities and buildings they have to give people the rehabilitative agenda that the public has a right to expect.”

A spokesperson for the SPS said: “Our population, which was already very high and extremely complex, has increased rapidly in the past few weeks, in a way which was not anticipated. 

“This is putting significant pressure on our staff, our establishments, and those in our care.

“The complexity is driven by the high numbers of individuals who may require to be accommodated separately, for example because they are on remand, have links to serious and organised crime, or due to their offending history, all of which exacerbates the challenges faced.”

The SPS said it had also seen increased demand for health and social care services in the country’s prison estates which was caused in part by an ageing population behind bars.

The spokesperson added: “Many of our establishments are full beyond their design capacity.

“This increasingly restricts our staff’s ability to do the quality work that supports people’s personal development, rehabilitation, and chances of a successful reintegration into the community upon liberation, which is key to reducing the risk of reoffending.”

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