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‘Whole prison system at risk’ if Barlinnie fails, Holyrood committee warns

‘Whole prison system at risk’ if Barlinnie fails, Holyrood committee warns

The “whole prison system is at risk” if HMP Barlinnie fails, a Holyrood committee report on Scotland’s prisons has warned.

Developing a contingency plan for HMP Barlinnie must be the highest priority for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee said in the report, published today.

The state of Barlinnie was described by Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland Wendy Sinclair-Gieben as “shocking” in evidence to the committee, while Audit Scotland has said that Barlinnie presents the “biggest risk of failure in the prison system”.

Scotland’s biggest prison is due to be replaced by 2024-25 and a site beside Provan gasworks was purchased last month for the replacement, but the report predicts that delays are “likely”.

However, there is no contingency plan for accommodating the 1,460 prisoners it currently holds should the building fail.

The committee said it was “perplexed” that concerns had not been raised about the SPS underspending its capital budget for 10 years due to delays in a number of prison infrastructure projects, and the effect this would have on staff and prisoners.

The SPS must now develop “robust contingency plans” in case any part of Scotland’s prison estate becomes uninhabitable, the committee said.

With the prison estate currently at 500 over capacity and no expectation of a decrease in prisoners, the committee warned that all contingency plans should reflect the immediate capacity issues.

The committee also called for funding from the Scottish Government to reflect the actual prison population and the expected increase.

Convener of the Public Audit Committee Jenny Marra said: “Audit Scotland says HMP Barlinnie presents the ‘biggest risk of failure in the prison system’ but warns there is no clear contingency plan for accommodating the 1,460 prisoners it currently holds should it fail.

“Developing a contingency plan for Barlinnie in the event that it fails must be of the highest priority. “Given the state of prisons generally, the Scottish Government and the SPS must develop robust contingency plans should any other part of the prison estate become uninhabitable.”

She added: “It is clear to the committee that there are significant and wide-ranging challenges both the SPS and Scottish Government must overcome.

“The SPS is currently accommodating around 500 prisoners above capacity and there is no evidence to suggest that prisoner numbers will decrease in the short term.

“At the same time, the SPS’s revenue budget is down by 12.5 per cent in real terms; the capital programmes for HMPs Barlinnie, Inverness and Greenock are behind schedule and prisoner violence is on the increase.

“At its core, this situation is undermining the Scottish Government’s policy objectives of rehabilitating prisoners and reducing re-offending.”

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