Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 17:42 UK

'No extra space' in Scots jails

Prison corridor
Prison chiefs said they may need increased funding

Prisoners could be released from Scottish jails in an emergency situation because of overcrowding problems, prison chiefs have warned.

Scottish Prison Service chief executive Mike Ewart told MSPs an incident, such as a fire, would mean having to get permission for an emergency release.

He said there was no space to deal with a major loss of prison accommodation.

Ministers said they inherited a prison estate unfit for purpose and were investing 120m to tackle the problem.

The Scottish Prison Service said its jails - with a current capacity of 6,625 - were holding 8,056 prisoners on 29 September, adding that overcrowding was placing "unprecedented pressure" on the system.

Ministers have consistently said action is needed to tackle overcrowding and end the cycle of reoffending
Kenny MacAskill
Scottish Justice Secretary
Mr Ewart said inmates could be forced to sleep on mattresses in prison gym halls and warned that Glasgow's Barlinnie jail last week held 1,764 prisoners in a building fit for 1,018.

He said an incident, such as a prison fire, would mean having to get ministerial permission for the emergency release of prisoners.

"There is no spare capacity in the system to absorb the significant loss of accommodation," he said.

Mr Ewart added: "There isn't anywhere suitable to secure people. And there is nothing readily available for us to commandeer."

The prisons chief, who was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's justice committee on the Scottish Government's 2009-10 budget, said ministers' spending plans were based on an average prison population of 7,600 - adding that more funding would be needed if numbers could not be cut.

The issue of contingency plans for a damaged prison was raised by the Conservatives earlier this year, during first minister's questions.

'Exceptional release'

Alex Salmond said at the time there were alternatives in place if part of a jail became so badly damaged that it could not be used, but did not disclose details.

Tory Justice spokesman Bill Aitken said he had begun a search for more prison capacity, by writing to Scottish health and defence bosses in a bid to find unused premises which could be turned into secure accommodation.

The Liberal Democrats' Robert Brown expressed alarm at Mr Ewart's comments, adding: "Prisoner release should never be dictated by overcrowding."

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has had 18 months to plan and his inaction speaks volumes about his commitment to community safety."

The Scottish Government has announced plans for three new prisons, including a "super-jail" in the north east to replace Aberdeen and Peterhead prisons.

Electronic tagging has also been extended, while ministers have embarked on a drive to increase community sentences.

Mr MacAskill said no decision had been made to pursue a policy of "exceptional release" in Scotland, as it had been in England and Wales.

"Since inheriting a prison estate that was not fit for purpose and rising prisoner numbers - even as reported crime falls to a 25-year low - ministers have consistently said action is needed to tackle overcrowding and end the cycle of reoffending," he added.

'No room' in jail for fraudster
25 Sep 08 |  Tayside and Central
Prison numbers 'over safe limit'
24 Sep 08 |  Scotland
Scots jail numbers at record high
29 Aug 08 |  Scotland


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific