Glasgow & West Scotland

Vulnerable inmate cells at Barlinnie prison 'still a risk'

Image caption Barlinnie was still found to be operating at over-capacity during the inspection

Cells for vulnerable prisoners at Scotland's largest prison present an "unacceptable risk" and urgently need upgraded, inspectors have found.

Chief Inspector of Prisons David Strang did welcome a 17% drop in inmates at Barlinnie in Glasgow and also praised the support for vulnerable prisoners.

But Mr Strang said little progress had been made on improving what are termed safer cells.

The July inspection examined conditions for its 1,225 inmates.

The Scottish government said action plans had been put in place to deal with the issues raised by the report.

Ligature points

The safer cells at HMP Barlinnie contain features which could be used by prisoners attempting to take their own life, known as ligature points, a review of conditions at the jail found.

Mr Strang said a 2011 recommendation that they be upgraded was not met by the time of a follow-up inspection in July this year.

"This presents HMP Barlinnie and the SPS (Scottish Prison Service) with an unacceptable degree of risk," the inspector said.

"I strongly urge the Scottish Prison Service to address this issue as a matter of some urgency."

Mr Strang, who succeeded Brigadier Hugh Munro as chief inspector in June, described the prison's reception area as unfit for purpose and said it should be replaced.

Barlinnie was built in 1882 to house 1,021 inmates but held 1,225 at the time of inspection.

A drop from 1,477 in May 2011 was due in part to the opening of HMP Low Moss in Bishopbriggs, to the north of Glasgow.

Capacity concern

But Mr Strang said he feared the return of overcrowding with the closure of two prisons in the north east of Scotland.

"While still operating beyond the design capacity, this drop in numbers has provided prisoners with greater access to a number of basic opportunities such as regular showers, education classes, library services, physical activities and more time out of cell," he said.

"I am, however, concerned that this situation may deteriorate if, when HMP Aberdeen and HMP Peterhead close, HMP Barlinnie is required to provide the temporary accommodation for those prisoners displaced, pending the opening of the new prison at HMP Grampian."

Barlinnie mainly holds prisoners waiting for court appearances and those who have been sentenced and are waiting for a transfer to a long-term jail.

Only two of five recommendations made following the 2011 review were found to have been met in July - a reduction in visitor waiting times and improvements to risk management meetings.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "The improvements in the Day Care Unit and first night in custody centres are to be welcomed, as is the fact that the SPS have addressed the majority of actions identified at the last inspection of HMP Barlinnie.

"Action plans have been put in place to resolve the outstanding issues such as the cells, reception areas, purposeful activity and transfer of prisoners from HMS Peterhead and Aberdeen and good progress is being made."

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