Too many people being held on remand in Scottish prisons, say inspectors

HM Inspectorate for Prisons in Scotland believes the prison estate 'is not adequately equipped' to contain the growing population.

Too many people being held on remand in prison, say inspectors PA Media

Inspectors have raised concerns about the number of people being held on remand in Scottish prisons.

HM Inspectorate for Prisons in Scotland (HMIPS) believes “too many” people are being detained on remand at present and the prison estate “is not adequately equipped” to contain the growing population.

In a new report to be published on Wednesday, the body also said the number of people being handed short sentences is too high and overcrowding is having a negative impact on internal regimes.

HMIPS said in its latest mid-year monitoring report covering the period between April and September 2023: “Overcrowding caused more prisoners to double up in cells, some of which are not suitable for sharing.

“The remand population remains stubbornly high, and people continue to receive short sentences. The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) estate is not adequately equipped to deal with this rising population.

“Related to the issues of overcrowding, the regime available for many prisoners is not acceptable. Prisoners are spending too long locked in cells without access to purposeful activity. This is a particular concern for those held in on remand who wish to work.”

HMIPS also raised concerns relating to the movement of prisoners outside of jail, and medication management.

“The current delivery of the prisoner escort contract is failing,” it said. “Transfers between prisons are routinely being cancelled.

“In the worst instances escorts to funerals and hospital appointments are cancelled at the last minute.

“Across nearly all prisons evening medication is being issued at inappropriate times. Independent prison monitors (IPMs) have reported that some prisoners are given medication to help them sleep in the late afternoon.

“There also appeared to be shortages of healthcare staff in most prisons.”

Summing up the state of Scotland’s prisons, HMIPS said in its report: “Too many people are held on remand, and too many continue to be given short sentences.

“The regime in many prisons is inadequate, with too many prisoners spending far too long confined to their cells.

“There is not enough meaningful activity, and the opportunities for prisoners to access rehabilitation and progress towards release are poor.”

Commenting on the prison population, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Wendy Sinclair-Gieben told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “The reality is that Covid put a backlog in the courts, the courts are being very efficient in dealing with that backlog and, as a result, the prison numbers are rising – that’s one of the reasons.

“One of the other major reasons that we’ve got increased prison population is because the police are getting very good at catching and convicting.

“But also historic legacy sex offences… so we’ve got a rising population, but the rise in remand is definitely partly due to Covid.

“It’s worrying. We’ve got a prison estate that, despite significant investment in the last few years, has actually not been fit for purpose.”

She added: “The reality is it’s overcrowding, and I think it’s important to remember that overcrowding has a direct impact on the safety of the community.”

HMIPS has recommended the SPS and the Scottish Government review the resources provided to prisons so inmates stand a better chance of being rehabilitated while serving their sentence.

The body said in its report: “SPS senior managers and the Scottish Government urgently need to look at the resources available to prisons if they truly want to offer rehabilitation, reduce the prison population, and end the cycle of crime and imprisonment that blights so many lives.”

An SPS spokesman said: “We welcome both the important role of independent prison monitors and the findings of this report.

“We have a population that is not only rapidly increasing, but also far more complex, which continues to put significant pressure on our establishments, staff, and those in our care.

“Despite this, our staff work hard to offer the best possible regimes, with access to programmes, work, and activities; opportunities for progression; and meaningful rehabilitation, which will give those in our care the best possible chance of a successful return to the community.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The mid-year report highlights areas of good practice, including the rollout of in-cell technology and the excellent work of Recovery Cafes, while also highlighting some important challenges.

“Despite a real-terms cut to Scotland’s budget following the UK Chancellor’s autumn statement, we have increased the SPS resource budget by 10% to £436.6 million. This has enabled the SPS to continue to provide a safe and secure prison system and address pressures including a rising and increasingly complex prison population.

“£167m capital funding will be invested in the prison estate to allow the SPS to progress the construction of HMP Highland and HMP Glasgow, continuing the modernisation of the prison estate to better meet the needs of staff and prisoners.”

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