Inspection finds 'fears over violence' limiting Polmont young offenders social activities
credit - Scottish Prison Service
Prison staff fears about violence among inmates at Polmont Young Offenders Institution is restricting social activities there, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland has found.
A report from David Strang found a "widespread belief" that offenders "could not be trusted to behave responsibly."
The inspection found that only about a third of inmates "engaged constructively" in daily activities.
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However, Strang said that "considerable progress" had been made since the last inspection in 2014.
His report also found that the relationship between staff and inmates had "appreciably improved" since then.
HMYOI Polmont, near Falkirk, houses young male offenders aged between 16 and 21.
The inspection took place ahead of the transfer of about 110 female prisoners to Polmont from HMP Cornton Vale.
Strang said: "The concept of HMYOI Polmont as a learning environment is ambitious and progressive, and I would encourage a continuation in the development of this ethos."
However, Strang expressed concern at a "lack of engagement" in the opportunities for many of the inmates.
The report stated: "For those who did take part, the positive benefits were very clear.
"Despite significant investment in the activities areas, it was disappointing to note that only just over a third of the population engaged constructively in daily activities."
The report said a "sizeable proportion" of the young offenders spent extended periods of the day locked in their cells.
It added: "The challenge for HMYOI Polmont is to create an environment which encourages young men to engage with the opportunities available for them.
"This needs to go beyond simply making the activities available on the timetable."
Inspectors said there was an "apparent overemphasis on security" which had an "adverse impact" on decisions about recreation, time in the fresh air and communal dining.
The report said these activities were restricted by a "fear or expectation that too many young men together would result in disorder or assaults."
Strang said: "I would like to see the balance between these two elements redressed in a way that would encourage engagement and responsibility.
"It was surprising that during conversations with SPS staff, at all levels, the majority held view was that social interaction opportunities were limited because of the fear of interpersonal violence.
"Therefore extended periods of confinement to their cells was required in order to maintain good order and discipline."
Strang added that developing a culture where young men took responsibility for making constructive decisions "should be applauded".
He said: "Without in any way compromising security and safety, HMYOI Polmont should seek to encourage the whole population to participate actively in more activities outwith their cells."
A Scottish Prison Service spokesman, in response, said that the number of young offenders in custody in recent years had been reduced from over 1,000 to about 400.
He said: "By definition, what we are caring for now are some of the more difficult to reach people.
"We have said right from the start that this is a journey of some years.
"We do recognise that it is an issue that many of these young people have been involved in acts of violence.
"We have to address that and make sure that the environment we have in prison is safe for everybody.
"The team there are working to try and engage these young men in a variety of quite innovative ways
"Looking at the report in its totality, the chief inspector recognises the progress that has been made."