Page last updated at 23:36 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 00:36 UK

'Better' prison planning needed

Thousands of prisoners are in Scotland's jails

Ministers have been urged to produce "clear plans" for coping with Scotland's growing prison population.

Auditor General Robert Black's report said numbers had already risen by 20% since 2000, and could rise by the same again by 2016.

Eleven of the country's 14 prisons are overcrowded, with Aberdeen the worst with a 158% occupancy rate.

The exceptions were Peterhead, Perth and Shotts. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said it was being addressed.

The auditor general's report said the highest ever prison population, 7,700, was reached last month in a system designed for 6,600.

For every prison being built, it means one less hospital or school for our communities
Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

The report said that while almost 300m had been spent in recent years on improving conditions in Scotland's jails, the rising prison population meant this made little difference to overcrowding.

Nearly half of prisoners were said to be sharing cells, and about a fifth share cells designed for one person.

The prison service should also assess the risk of legal challenges from inmates held in crowded conditions, collect information to give a clearer picture of prisoner activities, and do more to analyse costs at each prison in order to find efficiencies, the report said.

And the Scottish Government should seek ways of making future projections more accurate, and produce "clear plans setting out action to be taken" to accommodate future prisoner numbers.

'Record investment'

The report said it should also ensure that non-custody penalties are widely available, and study the relative effectiveness of prison and community sentences in cutting re-offending.

Mr MacAskill said the Scottish Government was addressing many of the recommendations as a matter of "urgency".

He said: "I have always believed that prison should be for serious and dangerous offenders, which is why we are building three new prisons and committing record investment to our prison estate.

"However we can't just build our way out of the problem.

"For every prison being built, it means one less hospital or school for our communities."

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