Scottish Lib Dems warn that prisons are ‘fit to burst’

Across the prison estate, 1206 prisoners are reportedly 'doubled up' in cells designed for one person.

Scottish Lib Dems warn that prisons are ‘fit to burst’ SNS Group

Scotland’s prisons are “fit to burst” with activity levels for inmates plummeting, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said.

The party says nine of Scotland’s 15 prisons are over capacity, with Barlinnie housing 200 people more than it was built for.

Across the prison estate, 1206 prisoners are “doubled up” in cells designed for one person, while levels of meaningful activity have fallen during the pandemic, they said.

MSP Liam McArthur, the party’s justice spokesman, said he received data on prison occupancy in response to a parliamentary question.

He said: “Prisons are fit to burst once again. People are being held in conditions akin to solitary confinement.

“Cells built by the Victorians for one person are seen as fit for two by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). Experts say that human rights are being breached.

“On top of that, more than a quarter of the people being held haven’t even been convicted for a crime. The remand population is completely out of control.

“Shutting down purposeful activity means no route to rehabilitation. It scuppers any chance of helping people to contribute to their communities on the other side.

“Short-sighted thinking on prisons puts communities at risk. Locking people up when there are better alternatives available is counterproductive and increases the risk of future crimes being committed through reoffending.

Howard League Scotland, which campaigns for prison reform, said: “Why has it taken a parliamentary question to reveal this data?

“We know that the situation is extremely difficult for SPS to manage, but it’s not helped by an obvious reluctance to share such important information on a regular basis.

“Our human rights obligations state that all prisoners should receive at least two hours of meaningful human contact each day and daily outdoor exercise of at least one hour.

“We are falling way below these standards, and that amounts to prolonged solitary confinement.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The wellbeing and safety of all those who live in our prisons is a priority for the Scottish Government and the prison service.

“Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons continues to provide independent oversight and monitoring of conditions in prisons as a result of the pandemic and praised the Scottish Prison Service’s handling of Covid in our prisons.

“The SPS offers a range of opportunities for those in custody to attend work, education or participate in purposeful activities on a daily basis.

“With the easing of restrictions, the aim will be to maximise these opportunities whilst ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all those living and working in prisons.

“We continue to monitor the prison population and we are actively considering what further action is required to both reduce the use of imprisonment.

“Last year we extended the presumption against short sentences to 12 months or less, which is intended to help enable a further shift to community-based interventions and we have been clear of our commitment to progress replacements for Victorian-era prisons HMPs Barlinnie and Inverness.”

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