27 November 2006
KNOCK DOWN BAR-L
THE boss of Scotland's biggest prison wants it flattened and rebuilt - even though taxpayers have just spent £21million upgrading it.
Barlinnie governor Bill McKinlay, left, says the Victorian jail, which he calls Glasgow's Alcatraz, is no longer "fit for purpose". And he believes it should be replaced with a brand new £60million complex, complete with a state-of-the-art gym and counselling facilities for cons.
McKinlay said: "The buildings here are antiquated. There is no point spending any more on Barlinnie without considering a complete rebuild."
The governor made his plea just months after the £21million revamp of Bar-L was completed.
And he conceded that his prison, home to 1500 inmates, is as notorious as Alcatraz became in America.
He said: "Barlinnie is infamous - it has been written about in books and poetry and it even had a whisky named after it.
"It is in the folklore, the history, the culture of Glasgow. That is why I am making the comparison with Alcatraz."
The improvement programme at Barlinnie included fitting toilets in cells to end the degrading practice of "slopping out".
And McKinlay insists it was right to spend the £21million - even though the work didn't come close to solving all the jail's problems.
He said: "I don't think the £21million could have been better used and it wasn't a waste of money.
"We achieved what we set out to do. We wanted toilets in the cells, we wanted better conditions in cells. It was for the necessities."
However, although slopping out did end in 2004, McKinlay conceded that other parts of the revamp have not lived up to expectations.
The improvements included a new multimillion-pound area for visitors. And McKinlay admitted: "Although it is fairly recent and modern, it could have been designed better.
"The demands have changed since then. I need a larger space and I would like a more relaxed regime."
The new visitor centre was criticised last week by former senior Barlinnie warder David McCloskey.
And McCloskey, who had just received a £50,000 payout for the stress he says he suffered while working at the jail, also claimed that convicts "ruled the roost" in cell blocks infested with drugs.
He told the Record: "I would not know who was in charge of our jails - the prison service or the prisoners.
"There are so many drugs floating about in jail. It is out of control.
"Prisons are so overcrowded and short-staffed that they are at breaking point.
"If an officer reports a drugs find it doesn't look good for the statistics. Some of the guys ignore drugs if they see them and some have even flushed drugs down the loo."
McKinlay never worked with McCloskey and insists he doesn't recognise the grim picture he painted. He is adamant that he is in full control of his jail.
He said: "It is not a difficult and volatile prison - far from it. If it was like the descriptions some people paint, I wouldn't be working in it
"The prison is not awash with drugs. We do random tests on prisoners and regular searches, we scan visitors and mail, and there are programmes to get people off drugs.
"The only way to be clear of drugs would be to cut the prisoners off completely from the outside world.
"But we should be looking to try to help people back to a normal way of life and you cannot do that through isolation. That is not acivilised society."
McKinlay said 80 per cent of his inmates are drug abusers. But he insisted: "Officers are not forced to turn a blind eye to drugs."
He went on: "We are not short-staffed. We had 588 in 2002 and the moment we have 596.
"There are fewer assaults on staff and morale is OK. I don't see anyone here with their heads down or walking about sombre, and there is not a high turnover of staff.
"Prisoners certainly do not rule the roost. This is a well ordered, controlled, professionally operated prison.
"We have very few incidents, because it is not in the best interests of the prisoners to have them. Most of them just want to serve their sentences and get back to their families.
"That's not to say things don't happen. We have arguments, fights, fires, just like any community. But they are not regular occurrences and we deal with them.
"There has only been one major incident - the riots in 1987. For a prison this size, that is quite incredible."
McKinlay is desperate to provide better facilities for his cons - particularly a new gym.
He said: "Your readers might say the prisoners don't deserve it. But it might help address some of the issues if we can get people to understand that lifestyle and fitness is important.
"At the moment the gym is in a workshop and it is not ideal. My wish would be to completely rebuild it so it became more useful in terms of trying to tackle reoffending."
The gym is just one item on McKinlay's wish list. He said: "We have enhanced the conditions in Barlinnie but it is still not suitable for what we want to do. The buildings are not fit for purpose.
"We have 600 staff, 1500 prisoners and 7000 visitors. We need counselling rooms, programme rooms, activity rooms and a whole host of things that were not considered necessary when the initial money was spent.
"The demands have changed since then. If I could wave a magic wand I would like plasticine walls, so I could redesign and meet demands from prisoners and visitors.
"The prison is spread over 22 acres. Prisoners and staff are walking about in the rain because there is no connection between the buildings, and there is lack of space outside the residential halls.
"My dream would be to have a new purpose- built prison on the same plot of land.
"That is being considered by the Scottish Prison Service but they are building other establishments at the moment.
"First, they need to complete work to upgrade Glenochil, Edinburgh, Perth and Cornton Vale. Once that is finished, the next phase should involve Barlinnie, but there is no timescale for that."
McKinlay admitted that building a new Barlinnie would not leave "much change from £60million". But he rejected claims that convicts don't deserve better facilities.
He said: "At the end of the day they are still sons, brothers, fathers, uncles - human beings."