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EDITIONS
Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Prisons re-think 'an option'
Inside Peterhead Prison
Peterhead Prison is earmarked for closure
The Justice Minister, Jim Wallace, has left the door open to the possibility of new prisons in Scotland being built with private money but being run by the government.

The option was originally discarded by the Scottish Executive but Mr Wallace told MSPs he was willing to reconsider if that decision proved to have been wrong.

The minister was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's justice one committee, which is investigating the Prisons Estates Review.

Its proposals, announced in March, include the closure of Peterhead Prison in Aberdeenshire and Low Moss jail near Bishopbriggs, in East Dunbartonshire.


The asset lies with the expertise, quality and training of staff, rather than the physical entity of Peterhead prison

Jim Wallace
Justice Minister

The review also recommended the construction of three new private prisons, which accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers said could save the Scottish Executive about 700m.

However, academics at Strathclyde and Stirling universities have described the figures used as "fundamentally flawed".

The proposed closure of Peterhead Prison has prompted a large campaign to save the jail.

'Bold assertion'

On Wednesday, Aberdeenshire Council published three reports backing its case for keeping Peterhead open.

In one, former prison service chief executive Peter McKinlay predicted that sex crimes would increase if the prison shut.

However, on Thursday Mr Wallace said: "I am not quite sure what in the substance of the report actually gives substance to that bold assertion but it is something to reflect on."

Peterhead Prison campaigners
Campaigners are trying to save Peterhead

He said that although the fact some prisoners wished to remain at Peterhead should be taken into consideration, it should not be "a determining factor".

The views of prisoners' families should also be taken on board, he said.

"But it is also important that at the moment we have got letters with regard to 54 prisoners complaining about the conditions at Peterhead so that is not insignificant."

He said he wished to state his recognition of the work carried out by staff at Peterhead and that their productivity was more important than prison location.

'Open and receptive'

"In many respects we are talking about an expertise which should not prove impossible to deliver in other locations.

"The asset lies with the expertise, quality and training of staff, rather than the physical entity of Peterhead prison."

Committee member Margaret Smith said 21 prisons in France had been built privately but were run publicly.

She asked whether ministers had fully investigated those models.

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace: "Kilmarnock is safe"

Mr Wallace said they had and had decided that they would not be appropriate in Scotland.

But he added: "If someone says that that is wrong, I have indicated that I am open and receptive to views."

The minister also said he was willing to look at privately-built prisons being run as not-for-profit trusts, but said no investigations had been carried out as yet.

"I have undertaken to reflect on that and see whether this is something that can be taken forward," he added.

Kilmarnock 'danger'

Mr Wallace also defended the privately-run Kilmarnock Prison, the only one of its kind in Scotland, against claims that safety was being put at risk by low staffing levels.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Clive Fairweather, said officers had complained that staffing levels were "dangerously low".

Mr Wallace pointed out that prison managers could face legal action if they did not do all they could to maintain order.

Inside Kilmarnock jail
Inside Kilmarnock jail

He quoted the most up-to-date statistics, which revealed the level of assaults within the prison was no worse, and in some cases better, than in publicly-run jails.

Mr Wallace said: "There is no evidence to suggest that the position of staff or prisoners in Kilmarnock is any less safe than in comparable prisons in the public sector."

He was supported by the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, Tony Cameron, who also appeared before the committee.

"We would be concerned if the assault figures are out of line, but they're not," he told MSPs.

"It's not unusual for unions to claim that we do not have enough staff - that's what they're there for.

"But I have no comment on the staffing levels. What I'm concerned about is that they deliver a safe prison, and they have."

See also:

05 Jun 02 | Scotland
30 May 02 | Scotland
23 May 02 | Scotland
14 May 02 | Scotland
16 Apr 02 | Scotland
15 Apr 02 | Scotland
Links to more Scotland stories are at the foot of the page.


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