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Scotland: Prisons Inspector's annual report

11th June 2009

(First published on: www.scotland.gov.uk )

Much progress has been made in Scottish prisons over the past seven years, but many frustrations remain, Dr Andrew McLellan, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, says in his final report published today.

Looking back over the seven years of his appointment, the report [noted]:

  • The transformation of living conditions which has produced first class prison buildings
  • The end of slopping out, except in one prison
  • The patience, humanity and fundamental decency of prison staff at all levels

However, the report also emphasises:

  • Overcrowding remains a real evil
  • Children under 16 years of age are still being held in prison
  • Prisoners, especially remand prisoners, spend far too long locked up in cells

Dr McLellan said:

"This is my final Annual Report after seven years as Chief Inspector.

"The biggest single difference in Scotland's prisons in these seven years has been the transformation in the living conditions of prisoners. The change is the result of a huge building programme since 2002. It has produced one completely new prison and four almost completely new prisons. The facilities in these prisons are first class.

"As important as the improvement in living conditions is the improvement in the safety of Scotland's prisons. The improvement in safety is all the more welcome and all the more surprising since it comes at a time of unprecedented overcrowding.

"Over the past seven years I have constantly been humbled and inspired by the patience, humanity and fundamental decency which I have consistently found in Scotland's prison staff at all levels. We should be proud in Scotland of the work done by prison staff on our behalf.

"However, nothing I have said in the last seven years has received as much attention as "The Nine Evils of Overcrowding". This was an attempt to describe the damage done. The central message is clear. Overcrowding makes everything worse for everyone.

"I have objected to the miserable little cubicles in which prisoners are held in some prisons when they arrive from court. There is only one aspect of accommodation for prisoners which is worse than these: slopping out. Throughout the last seven years nothing has given me more pleasure than to be able to report that slopping out has all but ended. It is however with despondency that I come to the end of my term as Chief Inspector without being able to welcome the total abolition of slopping out in Scotland. Prisoners in Peterhead still do not have proper access to proper sanitation.

"Another unhappy feature of Scotland's prisons is the amount of time spent by prisoners locked in their cells. Wherever there is a story of a workshop closed, whenever there is a visit to an empty workshop, whenever another member of staff is taken away from training prisoners to provide essential duties elsewhere, there is an opportunity missed and there are prisoners less well equipped than they should be for returning to society. Nothing does more harm to prisoners' prospects of law-abiding living on release than lying in bed all day, doing absolutely nothing.

"The lot of imprisoned children has been a concern over the past seven years. It is a great disappointment to me that it is not possible in this, the Overview of my last year as Chief Inspector, to declare that the imprisonment of under 16-year olds has ended. However, the argument has been won and the legislation to end this sad practice is about to go through the Scottish Parliament."

Under the terms of Section 7 of the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989 (as amended) it is the duty of the Chief Inspector of Prisons to inspect or arrange for the inspection of prisons, legalised police cells and prisoner escort arrangements in Scotland.

Following each inspection the Chief Inspector reports to Scottish Ministers on the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons. The Chief Inspector submits an Annual Report to Scottish Ministers. The Chief Inspector may also report on any matter connected with Scottish prisons as directed by Scottish Ministers. The report published today is the Chief Inspector's Annual Report which covers the period April 1, 2008-March 31, 2009.

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