Scotland’s largest prison is “no longer fit for purpose” to deal with the number of inmates it houses, inspectors have said.
An inspection of Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow found that holding cells in the reception area which were “first condemned 25 years ago” remain in use – with concerns that they breach the human rights of prisoners.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland also highlighted the “outdated and antiquated building design”, with inspectors noting the “severe state of disrepair” of medical rooms.
Their report said while “strenuous efforts were being made to maintain hygiene and cleanliness” throughout the prison “inspectors were concerned to see rats in the grounds”.
At the time of their visit, Barlinnie housed 1489 prisoners – 45.8% more than the maximum number it was designed for.
Scottish Prison Service (SPS) bosses have bought a 22 hectare site in north-east Glasgow, where it is hoped a new prison will be built – but SPS chief executive Colin McConnell has previously told MSPs he does not expect this to be ready until 2024 at the earliest.
In her report, HM chief inspector of Prisons for Scotland Wendy Sinclair-Gieben said that “given the length of time before a new HMP Glasgow will open, interim solutions must be sought”.
Inspectors have now made eight “key recommendations” for the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Government.
With inspectors having visited the prison before the coronavirus pandemic, the report said some of the actions taken by the SPS in response could have “exacerbated” some of the issues they raised.
The report stated: “The Inspectorate had deep concerns about the adverse environmental conditions in the healthcare facility, compounded by the impact of the high population numbers on the delivery of care.
“The severe state of disrepair of the rooms used to deliver healthcare that were seen throughout the inspection, and the consequent risk posed to both patients and staff requires urgent attention.”
The damage in medical rooms prevented them from being cleaned “in line with infection prevention and control guidelines”, according to inspectors.
With regard to the holding cells in reception, the report told how the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment had severely criticised the holding cells as breaching the human rights of prisoners.
The inspectors were also “concerned that over two thirds of prisoners were sharing cells designed for single occupancy, with many being offered very little time out of their cell”.
They also noted there were only five cells accessible for disabled prisoners, branding this “inadequate” – with the Scottish Human Rights Commission concerned the treatment of disabled prisoners, who have only limited opportunity to take part in either work or rehabilitation, could amount to “cruel and degrading treatment”, breaching the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ms Sinclair-Gieben said: “The pressures of overcrowding meant that significant numbers of prisoners were constrained to the minimum requirement of one hour’s exercise in the open air with very little additional out of cell time.
“Insufficient activity opportunities were available for the very high numbers incarcerated in Scotland’s largest prison, with inadequate opportunities for social interaction or rehabilitative focused activity.”
She said inspectors supported the Scottish Government’s commitment to reducing the prison population, but added: “There is an urgent need to also address the capacity pressures and ageing accommodation in the short to medium term.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said that while they were impressed with the positive attitudes of the staff, they took seriously the concerns of the inspector.
She added: “In March, we announced the provision of £3m of additional funding to the prison service in 2020-21 for remedial work at HMP Barlinnie.
“This will see the refurbishment of the prisoner reception areas, including removing existing reception holding cells and the partial refurbishment of the healthcare facility and additional work to the healthcare and addictions facilities in the accommodation halls.
“This remedial work will directly address some of the concerns raised in this inspection report.
“A total of £68m has been committed to improve the infrastructure of the Scottish prison estate this year and we remain committed to the development of a new fit for purpose replacement for HMP Barlinnie.”