Prison should be used only for those who have committed the most serious crimes, Scotland’s chief inspector said as he welcomed figures showing the number of inmates is at its lowest level for almost a decade.
David Strang said he has met “too many people” in prison with mental health or addiction problems who cannot get the treatment and care they need.
Publishing his annual report yesterday, the chief inspector of prisons highlighted the growing challenge of providing healthcare, particularly for the growing number of older men jailed for historical sexual offences.
Mr Strang said he supported extending the presumption against short prison sentences as well as greater use of non-custodial sentencing and the extension of the use of electronic monitoring – particularly to reduce the number of unconvicted prisoners held on remand.
Mr Strang described a fall in the prison population from 7,731 in 2014-15 to 7,675 in 2015-16 as “encouraging”.
Mr Strang said: “We should be encouraged that the apparently inevitable and steady increase in the total prison population in Scotland over the last two decades continues to show signs of being halted and potentially stabilised.
“The daily average population for 2015-16 was 7,675 in comparison with 7,731 for 2014-15. This was itself the lowest daily average population since 2007-8.
“That there are fewer young men in HMYOI Polmont than there were a decade ago continues to provide grounds for encouragement.
“While these statistics are encouraging, I believe that more still needs to be done to reduce the prison population.
“Compared to other European countries, Scotland still imprisons approximately 50 per cent more than the average and about twice those that imprison the fewest.
“I meet too many people in prison with mental health problems, addicted to alcohol or drugs, who are vulnerable to self-harm or suicide.
“Prison is not the right place for many of them to receive the treatment and care that they need.
“I would like to see prison used more sparingly, reserved only for those who have committed the most serious crimes or pose a serious risk to others.”
A lack of places in open prisons and parole leave was also criticised, but Mr Strang praised the work of prison officers.
He added: “We should never take for granted that Scotland’s prisons are in general well-run, ordered and stable places.”