Immediate action has to be taken to end overcrowding in Scotland's jails, according to the prisons watchdog.
Overcrowding and slopping out were criticised
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
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.
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.
Half of the population of Barlinnie are on remand
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.
"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.
"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
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
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
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".