Inmates at Scotland's oldest prison living in 'cramped conditions'

A report found parts of HMP Perth were cramped and not up to modern-day standards.

An inspection has revealed prisoners are living in “cramped conditions” within two areas of Scotland’s oldest prison.

Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, HM chief inspector of Scotland’s prisons, said in her latest report that seven of nine standards for inspecting and monitoring prisons at HMP Perth were “assessed as satisfactory”, and the remaining two were “generally acceptable”.

The prison, which opened in 1840, is the oldest in Scotland.

Ms Sinclair-Gieben said her new report is “sound and encouraging”, noting that parts of the prison were built in the 19th century with other areas built more recently.

However, the inspector noted some areas of the prison were cramped and other parts were not up to modern-day standards due to the age of some of the prison buildings.

In her report, she said the prison buildings were “well-maintained but the fabric of the older buildings reflected their age, and in some cases did not provide fit-for-purpose facilities”.

She added: “There were two areas where the age and design of the building raised deep concerns; the small cells in A and B Hall that housed two prisoners in cramped conditions.

“The Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) prescribes a minimum cell size (excluding sanitation) for a double cell with two people as eight square metres.

HMP Perth is the oldest in ScotlandGoogle Maps

“This is the internationally recognised minimum standard to ensure that the conditions of detention themselves do not constitute a form of ill-treatment.

“By this standard, shared cells, for example on B Hall, were well below the minimum standard of space.”

Prison inspectors measured the double cells in HMP Perth’s B Hall at 6.74 square metres after deducting 0.82 square metres for the toilet area, which Ms Sinclair-Gieben described as “barely meeting the requirements of a single cell”.

She added: “This is an urgent issue that must be addressed.”

Additionally, management, staff and prisoners reported to inspectors their concerns of drug use among some of the prison population.

Ms Sinclair-Gieben said: “The recent introduction of drone technology to deliver large quantities of contraband was a step change and clearly reversing the positive effect felt with the introduction of photocopying mail.”

The inspector went on to praise the “proactive approach” of the prison’s Governor and Health and Social Care Partnership, which she said was “robustly” addressing “both the supple and demand elements of substance misuse”.

She added: “Seen as good practice, HMP Perth had been a pilot site for implementing the Medication Assisted Treatment Standards to ensure safe, accessible, and high-quality treatment.

“The recovery hub was a welcome initiative and had a number of groups and resources that prisoners could access, delivered in partnership with agencies led by individuals with a lived experience of substance use.

“We were impressed by the data correlation between violence and those being managed or considered at risk of substance misuse, supported by the daily ‘Person of Concern’ meetings that involved multi-stakeholders in managing vulnerable prisoners.”

Prison inspectors were “encouraged” by new employment opportunities, which they say offer “real life training, accreditation, and the possibility of employment on release and look forward to hearing updates on its success”.

Ms Sinclair-Gieben’s report concluded by commending the prison’s senior management team, the prison’s “family-centred approach to visits”, and the prison’s support for inmates with addictions.

She added: “However, the lack of accredited programmes and scope to improve the capacity for bespoke interventions that would support a prisoner’s transition was of concern.

“In conclusion, despite the issues mentioned, HMP Perth was an establishment that did many things to a high standard.

“Relationships throughout the prison were largely positive and respectful and contributed the sense of safety and good order that was evident during the inspection.”

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “We welcome this report, which praises the ‘strong management’ and ‘committed’ SPS and NHS staff working at HMP Perth.

“It is pleasing to see so many areas of good practice recognised, including efforts to tackle the harm of substance misuse and the ‘safe, accessible, and high quality treatment’ for those affected, as well as the recovery hub, employment initiatives, and pilots of officers leading groups of individuals in evening activities.”

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