BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Action urged on overcrowded jails
Prisoner in cell
Overcrowding and slopping out were criticised
Immediate action has to be taken to end overcrowding in Scotland's jails, according to the prisons watchdog.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned that there would be no improvement in conditions until the problem was addressed.

Dr Andrew McLellan also called on ministers to do more to curb drug taking among inmates, which he said was the main cause of violence and ill health in prison.

Dr McLellan spoke out following the publication of the prison inspectorate's latest annual report.

The report shows Scotland's prison population reached an all-time high of 6,723 in May last year, in a prison system that had a capacity of 6,055 places.

Conditions, safety and the ability to address offending behaviour through provision of work, education and programmes are all affected by this overcrowding
Dr Andrew McLellan
Ten years ago, the total number of prisoners was 5,395 in accommodation meant for 5,731 - and 50 years ago there were 1,548 prisoners, filling barely half the available accommodation at that time.

Dr McLellan described in the report how he was "shocked" to find that more than 500 prisoners in Barlinnie - nearly half the Glasgow jail's total population - were on remand.

"Nobody to whom I have spoken since, except people with expertise in the subject, had any more idea than I that only about half of the people in Scotland's biggest prison were there because they had been convicted of a crime," he said.

The number of people arriving at Scottish jails on remand had risen by 37%, from 14,117 two years ago to 19,390 last year.

In 2002-2003, 49% of all receptions into Scottish prisons were on remand.

Barlinnie Prison
Half of the population of Barlinnie are on remand
Dr McLellan told how he had been struck by the "impossibility" of providing decent conditions at Barlinnie for many people who were detained but not convicted of a crime.

And of Scotland's prisons in general he said that whatever the reasons for overcrowding, the effects were "stark, bleak and unhappy".

He also condemned the continuing practice of "slopping out", saying: "Hundreds of prisoners are living in profoundly unsatisfactory conditions.

"In particular, the combination of toilet arrangements and eating arrangements in shared cells for far too many prisoners in Scottish prisons is a disgrace and a cause for shame."

Dr McLellan said he believed much of the central management of the Scottish Prison Service is driven by the need to accommodate ever-growing numbers of prisoners.

Drug addiction

"Conditions, safety and the ability to address offending behaviour through provision of work, education and programmes are all affected by this overcrowding," he said.

"I see no prospect of any significant improvement in either the conditions in which prisoners live and the treatment prisoners receive until the problem of overcrowding is dealt with."

Overcrowding and staff shortages caused inmates to be locked up for too long and meant there was not enough time devoted to preparing prisoners for the outside world, Dr McLellan said.

The inspector also said prison life was "dominated" by drug addiction.

"It can affect levels of violence, the health of prisoners and the security of the prison," he said.

Dr Andrew McLellan
The only way to have permanently better prisons is to have a better Scotland
Dr Andrew McLellan
"Testing for drugs consumes a great deal of staff time.

"Whether or not this is the most productive way of responding to addiction is at least a question to be asked."

In a clear rebuke for ministers, Dr McLellan also said it was not the job of prisons "to solve the problems of Scotland".

He said prisoners were most likely to have been taken into care as a child, be single teenage parents, have no qualifications, be unemployed, have a mental disorder, or be homeless.

"It is mere scapegoating to blame prisons when they are not able to solve the problems of society," he said.

"The only way to have permanently better prisons is to have a better Scotland."

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson insisted the Scottish Executive was committed to dealing with overcrowding while improving the conditions of inmates.

Ms Jamieson said: "Progress is being made - not only in terms of the bricks and mortar of the prison estate but also the education and rehabilitation programmes provided by a highly trained, professional and dedicated workforce."

But Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon said the report was a "damning indictment of the Scottish Executive's continuing failure to reduce prison overcrowding."

She added: "This is a vicious circle that the Scottish Executive and, indeed, the Scottish Prison Service must do more to break because, on the evidence of Andrew McLellan's report, they are currently failing badly."

Tory justice spokeswoman Annabel Goldie said the way to cut prison numbers was to reduce crime but insisted that the executive had "completely lost control of crime".

Morag Kinniburgh reports
"The problem of overcrowding is getting worse"

Prison numbers hit record high
11 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Jails record rise in violence
28 Jul 03  |  Scotland
Jail overcrowding 'unacceptable'
03 Jun 03  |  Scotland
Peterhead Prison to stay open
05 Sep 02  |  Scotland
Churchman becomes prison inspector
22 Jul 02  |  Scotland
Peterhead Prison: Granite fortress
21 Mar 02  |  Scotland

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific