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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 11:14 GMT
Jail inspectors find overcrowding
Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen
Several areas of the jail caused the inspectors concern
A prison inspection has found "startling" levels of overcrowding at a Scottish jail.

A chief inspector of prisons report found that the high number of inmates at Aberdeen's Craiginches Prison was the jail's most "damaging issue".

Its population has risen to about 50% above capacity with many prisoners having to share cells.

Craiginches was also criticised for not meeting the needs of female prisoners and inmates on protection.

Inadequate health and visiting facilities were also noted.

The prison was designed to hold 154 prisoners but the average figure was 224 and the highest 251.

The prison is currently contracted by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to have 230 prisoners, 49% above capacity.

How can a prison... be expected to make a significant contribution to helping prisoners to stay away from crime on release when its facilities... are under such strain?
Dr Andrew McLellan

Published by Scotland's chief inspector of prisons Dr Andrew McLellan, the report highlighted the impact overcrowding has had on accommodation at Craiginches.

"In Aberdeen hardly any prisoner has single cell accommodation," it states.

"This can mean that prisoners serving sentences of two years and more will be sharing cells designed for one person, with scarcely enough room to move about, with a person who has not been chosen, who may not be known and who may have histories of behaviour or of medical conditions unknown to the other prisoner or staff."

'Inadequate' facilities

The report adds that overcrowding can also have an impact on the chances of prisoners reoffending.

It states: "How can a prison designed for 154 prisoners be expected to make a significant contribution to helping prisoners to stay away from crime on release when its facilities, its accommodation and the time of its staff are under such strain?"

Facilities, including the health centre, visitor room and reception area, were also criticised as being "totally inadequate", given the high levels of prisoner numbers.

"Every single report on Aberdeen prison since the inspectorate was formed in 1981 has demanded transformation of the visit room and the room is exactly as it was in 1981," the report says.

Dr Andrew McLellan
Dr Andrew McLellan highlights worries about overcrowding

Inspectors also found the degree of overcrowding meant it was difficult for the prison to move long-term inmates from Craiginches to their allocated long-term jail, with some inmates having to stay there for up to six months after being sentenced.

They commended the jail for its relaxed atmosphere, evidence of good staff-prisoner relations and a decline in the number of violent incidents.

It was also praised for the ongoing renovation of its A Hall while having to deal with the difficulties of overcrowding.

The report found that drug misuse was still a "cause for concern", with 75% of inmates returning negative tests - falling below the target of 78%.

Risk assessments

It concluded by recommending that risk assessments should be introduced prior to inmates being placed in a cell together and that the SPS should take action to move long-term prisoners from Craiginches to their allocated jail

The Scottish National Party's justice spokesman, Stewart Stevenson MSP, said the situation at the prison was "untenable".

He added: "The Scottish Executive must stop burying heads in the sand pretending that the problem will go away, otherwise my greatest concern is that we won't have seen the last of compensation claims from prisoners."

The Justice Minister, Cathy Jamieson, said: "I am committed to tackling these issues, not just in Aberdeen but across the prison estate through our record investment and our wider reforms of the criminal justice system."

She pointed to investment already under way in Scotland's prisons, including the creation of 200 new places in quick-build units and electronic monitoring of low risk prisoners.

"Wider proposals to reduce re-offending and improve offender management throughout Scotland will be announced in Executive's criminal justice plan to be published before the end of the year," she said.

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