2 November 2006
PUT CONS ON WAITING LIST FOR PRISON...
JAILS should operate waiting lists to cut overcrowding, Scotland's chief prisons inspector said yesterday.
Scotland's jails would be banned from taking prisoners if they were full, under plans backed by the inspector, Dr Andrew McLellan.
Convicted criminals would be placed on waiting lists if there were no places available when they were sentenced. They would receive a letter from the Scottish Prison Service ordering them to report to jail when a place became free.
In another move, McLellan called for "amnesties" to free up places.
Low-risk prisoners nearing the end of their sentence could be let out early to create anew place and keep the waiting lists down.
McLellan also urged ministers to look at "weekend prisons" - offenders would be locked up on Saturday and Sunday but have a job in the week.
He made the call as he unveiled his annual report on the state of Scotland's jails.
He said radical action was needed to tackle chronic overcrowding.
Scottish Tories last night slammed his plans as "unbelievable".
But former Kirk Moderator McLellan said: "Among strategies adopted in other countries are waiting lists, weekend imprisonment and amnesties.
"None of these is popular, even when restricted to those who have committed the least serious offences. But overcrowding should not be popular either.
"It is important my suggestions about alternatives are heard in the context of the huge damage that overcrowding does.
"I'm trying to redress the balance. People don't realise the damage overcrowding does and they think it's a safe option.
"It's not. I think the possibility of some non-violent prisoners having to wait a few weeks before going into prison might be better for public safety than continually cramming prisoners together in prisons that are not fit to hold them.
"I do think it's something that Scottish ministers should examine. I believe overcrowding is immensely damaging."
His ideas came from visits to jails in Norway and Sweden, where overcrowding is illegal.
Scotland's jails have places for 6396 but hold 6779 inmates each day on average. On some days, the figure is as high as 7300.
Overcrowding tends to be concentrated in a small number of halls in certain prisons.
It means many remand and short-term prisoners are held in halls which are 50 per cent over capacity.
McLellan said overcrowding was the biggest factor preventing jails from turning cons away from crime.
He said: "Overcrowding makes everything worse for everybody.
"It makes things much worse for staff who simply can't spend the time they should be spending with prisoners because there are so many.
"It makes things worse for prisoners who share cells and spend long periods of time locked up.
"And worst of all, it makes things worse for all five million people in Scotland because it prevents prisons from doing what they should bedoing to reduce reoffending.
"There is always someone ahead of prisoners in the queue for education and they have to wait a long time for programmes to address reoffending."
McLellan's report came a day after Executive figures showed the number of convicted offenders who go on to commit further offences was continuing to rise.
Forty-five per cent of all convicted criminals reoffended within two years. For ex-inmates leaving jail, the figure rose to two thirds.
McLellan said the figures were "disappointing".
Last night, Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said she was concentrating on increasing community punishment as a way of cutting prison numbers.
She also said prison conditions were being improved.
Scots Tory leader Annabel Goldie said: "People throughout Scotland, particularly victims of crime and their families, will be aghast at this proposal.
"There can be no such thing as a waiting list or waiting times for prison.
"If this is a serious proposal by the inspector, which he genuinely believes the Scottish Executive will entertain, then it is crystal clear that the Scottish Executive has run up the white flag on any sensible system of criminal justice.
"A criminal justice system where the sentencing policy is made to fit the number of places available and not the number of criminals that need to be in prison is ridiculous.
"Our criminal justice system has shifted from serving victims and protecting communities to allowing convicted criminals to laugh at the law. This must stop."
The Scottish Prison Service said new prisons planned for Addiewell, West Lothian, and on the site of HMP Low Moss, near Glasgow, would help tackle overcrowding.
9 OVERCROWDING EVILS
Prison staff have less time to deal with vulnerable prisoners
It increases the availability of drugs, since there are more people who want drugs and prison staff have less time to search
It increases the likelihood of cell-sharing
It increases noise and tension
Prisoners have less access to staff and staff have less time for prisoners
Resources are more stretched
Facilities, such as the laundry and the kitchen, are stretched
Prisoners spend more time in cells
Family contact and visits are restricted.
2 November 2006
TACKLE POVERTY TO REDUCE THE NUMBERS...
CHIEF prisons inspector Andrew McLellan insists tackling poverty is key to cutting prison numbers.
He pointed to a shocking report last year which highlighted the links between poverty and prisoners.
The study, by former Barlinnie governor Roger Houchin, found a quarter of Scotland's prisoners came from just 53 out of 1200 council wards.
These tended to be among the poorest places.
Royston in Glasgow, Craigmillar in Edinburgh, Woodside in Aberdeen and Hill town in Dundee contributed the most from those cities. In one part of Glasgow, one in nine 23-year-old men was in prison.
Of the 53 worst wards, Glasgow had 35, Edinburgh eight, Aberdeen three and Dundee two.
There was one each in East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire. The study showed there were 269 districts which sent no one to jail.
On average, there were 129 prisoners per 100,000 of the population. But in the richest council wards, the figure was 40 - compared to 950 in the poorest.
Dr McLellan said: "Only when we transform life for our poorest young men will overcrowding in our prisons disappear."
He also criticised the amount spent on inmates' food. He said the budget of £1.57 per head a day had not increased for 10 years.
And he said cons complained they got "less meat in the stew".