'Crisis point' prison conditions mean inmates released early ‘pose risk’ to public, watchdog warns

11 July 2024, 07:01 | Updated: 11 July 2024, 08:05

Inmates being released from prison early pose a risk to the public, a watchdog has warned
Inmates being released from prison early pose a risk to the public, a watchdog has warned. Picture: Alamy/LBC

By Alan Zycinski

‘Crisis point’ prison conditions mean inmates being released early pose a risk to the public, a watchdog in Scotland has warned.

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Around 500 with less than six months left of short sentences began being let out in the last month after the Scottish Government approved emergency measures.

They were voted through after the number of people behind bars across the country reached record levels, surpassing 8,300 in May.

Those serving time for domestic abuse, sexual abuse or terror-related crimes are excluded from the scheme and governors also have veto powers.

His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland Wendy Sinclair-Gieben backed the move but has told LBC conditions across the estate mean many of those released will be “angry” and not rehabilitated “in any way”.

She said: “Overcrowding is huge and it’s at crisis point. I’m glad we’ve decided on the emergency release but it is a short term fix and we need to do longer.

“We need to recognise overcrowding places the public at greater risk than emergency release. It means people are locked in rooms 22, 23 hours a say.

“They are not getting the rehabilitative measures that the public are entitled to expect.

“That means that when they are released, they’re released angry.

"They are not released in any way rehabilitated”.

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Wendy Sinclair-Gieben
Wendy Sinclair-Gieben. Picture: LBC

Asked if that included the prisoners being released early under the emergency measures, she added: “Yes. And it does (pose a risk to the public). That’s the major risk.

“I know the prison service is working ridiculously hard to try and set up the community support necessary for people leaving, whether it's finding accommodation or finding drugs and alcohol support or finding a GP, they are doing their level best.

“But the reality is, you want to know that while they're in prison, the reasons they tangled with the police in the first stage are being addressed – but they don't have the capacity to do that.

“There simply isn’t the staff or building capacity.”

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “Our population, which was already very high and extremely complex, has increased rapidly over the past few months, in a way which was not anticipated.

“Many of our establishments are full beyond their design capacity, which increasingly restricts our staff’s ability to do the quality work that supports people’s personal development, rehabilitation, and chances of a successful reintegration into their communities.

“We have worked collaboratively with partners to prepare those approaching the end of their sentence for a supported early release.

“Each individual released under the scheme is provided with an information pack unique to them, which includes details of their planned support arrangements, GP registration information, and contact details for their local authority.

“Governors have vetoed anyone they found posed an immediate risk to individuals or groups, with the help of intelligence from police and social work.

“The safety and wellbeing of people in our care, our staff, and the communities we support continues to be a key priority throughout, with information for victims and families available on our website."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:“The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is managing a high and complex prison population, and the Scottish Government, NHS and SPS are taking action to address this, including the emergency release scheme approved by Parliament and a consultation on release arrangements for long-term prisoners.      

“We are increasing the SPS resource budget by 10% to £436.5 million in 2024-25 and have provided additional funding to support SPS and other partners in delivering an improvement in the prisoner escort contract, which has already resulted in improved staff numbers.

“We are also working with SPS and others to ensure every prisoner’s risks and needs are assessed, and they have a range of opportunities available to prepare for release, which ultimately helps reduce offending and creates safer communities.”

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