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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 12:13 GMT
Peterhead Prison: Granite fortress
Peterhead Prison
Peterhead Prison houses a sex offenders' unit
A transformation from an infamous riot-torn jail housing the country's most hardened criminals into a centre of excellence dealing with sex offenders, has failed to save Peterhead prison from the threat of closure.

Scottish National Party MP Alex Salmond said it would be a "disaster" to shut the jail, which he described as "the jewel in the crown of the prison service".

The jail, which lies in Mr Salmond's Banff and Buchan constituency, has an international reputation for the treatment of sex offenders.

The Victorian prison has established itself over the past decade as one of the top three centres in the world for the rehabilitation of rapists and child abusers.

Banff and Buchan MP Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond: "Jewel in the crown"
A plan to refurbish the granite prison, which sits on an exposed headland above the town's harbour, at a cost of around 14m has been ruled out.

It currently houses almost 300 inmates, the majority convicted sex offenders, and it provides work for more than 200 staff.

The inmates, few of whom actually come from the north-east, could be moved to a new privately-financed unit in the central belt.

It has been claimed that the geographical isolation of Peterhead has led to difficulties with visits, which inevitably raises tensions.

The isolation also makes through-care difficult for a group of offenders for whom supervision in the community after release is of the very highest importance.

Before the sex offenders' unit was set up, Peterhead had a reputation for housing hard men who frequently took to rioting.

Major employer

There were calls for the jail to be closed after a spate of riots in the late Eighties, but the local community protested that it was one of the few major employers in the area.

The closure of the jail, which has housed prisoners since 1888, will result in the loss of 240 officers' jobs.

Local councillors say that the closure of the prison will have a big impact on the economy of the small community.

Prison officer
The prison employs more than 200
It was previously saved from closure by the decision to concentrate Scotland's sex offenders there to allow the Stop intervention programmes to be created.

Introduced in 1993, the Stop programme aims to make sex offenders identify mood cycles which result in offences.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Clive Fairweather has previously stated his doubts about whether the expertise that has been built up at Peterhead over many years could be transferred.

He said it would put back the whole sex offender programme by a number of years.

Jewel in the crown

He is not alone in his fears that sex offenders could be dispersed around the prison system.

Union leaders have also voiced fears about mixing sex offenders with other prisoners.

Mr Salmond has described the jail as "the jewel in the crown of the prison service".

He said: "Peterhead prison has an international reputation and to close it would be a disaster."

See also:

17 Mar 02 | Scotland
Peterhead Prison faces closure
10 Oct 01 | Scotland
Peterhead prison 'to close'
21 Aug 01 | Scotland
Sex offenders 'going untreated'
10 Mar 00 | Scotland
Open prison plan condemned
16 Nov 99 | Scotland
Gates slam on Scots prisons
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