'Staffing crisis' at HMP and YOI Grampian needs to be tackled says report
A "staffing crisis" at HMP Grampian in Peterhead must be tackled in order for the facility to progress, according to an inspection report.
HMP and YOI Grampian - the replacement for HMP Peterhead and HMP Aberdeen - opened in 2014.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland Wendy Sinclair-Gieben said the establishment had "matured".
However, her report said "almost all areas" of the prison were "negatively impacted by staffing shortages".
The Scottish Prison Service said it recognised the "continuing challenges" of the recruitment and retention of staff.
And the prison's acting governor stressed the issue was not unique to the SPS in the north east of Scotland, but was one facing public sector bodies as a whole.
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The inspection identified a shortage of healthcare staff as a particular area of concern, with nursing staff said to be unavailable to conduct medical assessments of prisoners admitted after 21:30.
The chief inspector said that was a "major clinical risk".
The report said: "The inspection team found an establishment that had matured, and despite a small number of significant incidents in 2018, was largely calm and purposeful with emerging signs of stability and progress.
"Overall, most prisoners told inspectors that they felt safe.
"Staff were respectful and courteous in their dealings with prisoners and there was evidence of positive engagement.
"However, some prisoners reported that they felt intimidated because of verbal abuse from other prisoners and there were mixed views on staff perceptions of safety. Staff shortages clearly influenced their confidence."
It stated: "The serious staff shortage issues preclude moving from a steady state to a developmental agenda."
The chief inspector's report added: "There were numerous examples of good practice in case management and HMP YOI Grampian are to be commended for their work.
"The strongest area of performance in HMP YOI Grampian related to the preparation of prisoners for their successful return to the community.
"However, the staffing crisis must remain as the critical focus for the SPS."
'Could be great prison'
Acting governor Mike Hebden told BBC Scotland of the staffing concerns: "Obviously we deliver our business primarily through staff, so obviously it's a difficulty for us.
"I have to say it's not unique to the Scottish Prison Service in the north east of Scotland, public sector bodies all have the same challenges. So it's not a unique challenge, but it's a challenge, and we're working hard to address that."
He said the facility was missing about 10-15% of its operational staff - which equated to 40-50 officers.
Mr Hebden said: "I think it's important to acknowledge the staff who do work here. I am fairly confident we are making progress.
"The big challenge of not having staff is that you don't get continuity.
"And relationships are what run prisons - to have the same people working the same role with the same people in their care every day is what makes a good prison a great prison.
"I think the inspector was clear to point out we have a decent prison here. And it could be a great prison."
An inspection in 2015 had previously raised healthcare concerns at the prison.
The SPS said in a statement: "SPS welcome in particular the recognition of the excellent work being done to prepare people for release.
"We recognise the continuing challenges of the recruitment and retention of staff at Grampian.
"We have adapted our recruitment process to include online testing and application. In addition, we hosted an open day at the prison in June of this year."