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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Sex crime fear over jail plan
Peterhead gatehouse
The prison's future is under intense scrutiny
Sex crime will increase if Peterhead Prison is closed, according to former prison service chief executive Peter McKinlay.

The Aberdeenshire prison has been earmarked for closure in three years in an overhaul of the Scottish Prison Service announced earlier this year by Justice Minister Jim Wallace.

Mr Wallace said refurbishment would be too expensive and that a new jail in the central belt would be more convenient.

But the plan has been fiercely opposed and Mr McKinlay said closure would be a "serious mistake".

Petition
Thousands have signed a protest petition

The former head of the prison service also said the Scottish Executive's pledge to create a "safer Scotland" would be "seriously undermined".

Speaking to the media in Aberdeen, Mr McKinlay said: "I do not believe the number of prisoners and the staff can be transferred anywhere away from Peterhead without a reduction in efficacy of the programme currently being administered in Peterhead for sex offenders.

"I do believe there's enough evidence to suggest that if you lost what is going on there it would have a severely bad effect on the rate of sex offending in the community.

"Programmes such as this do have a very positive and helpful effect on the people who have been through them and in helping them to not do them again."

'Act of vandalism'

Mr McKinlay has delivered his warning to the executive in a submission to the Scottish Parliament's justice committee, which is considering the closure plan.

Professor Bill Marshall, a Canadian expert on sex offenders who was asked to report on the implications of the closure of Peterhead, has also been giving evidence to the committee.

The professor, from Queen's University in Ontario, praised the staff and the treatment offered at the jail.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond said Mr Wallace must climbdown

On a video link from Canada he told MSPs it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate the staff and conditions at Peterhead in a new prison elsewhere.

He said: "If it ain't broke don't fix it."

The prison is in the Westminster constituency of Banff and Buchan MP Alex Salmond.

The former Scottish National Party leader spoke to the media at the same time as Mr McKinlay and said: "The pressure on Jim Wallace for a climbdown is becoming totally irresistible.

Third report

"It would be an act of vandalism to ignore now the force of argument in favour of Peterhead.

"Instead Wallace should be asking hard questions of his senior civil servants until he is capable of running the department instead of it running him."

Wednesday was saw the publication of a report by Grant Thornton accountants, which challenged the figures on which the executive's case for closure is based.

The Tories' justice spokesman, James Douglas Hamilton, said: "If Jim Wallace is to do what is right both for the protection of the public and the rehabilitation of offenders, he must open his eyes to the evidence and block the proposed closure of Peterhead Prison."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Scotland's Eric Crockart reports
"The report calls for a new unit to take 500 prisoners at Peterhead"
See also:

30 May 02 | Scotland
23 May 02 | Scotland
14 May 02 | Scotland
16 Apr 02 | Scotland
15 Apr 02 | Scotland
15 Apr 02 | Scotland
10 Apr 02 | Scotland
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