TOO many people with mental health or addiction problems are being given custodial sentences, HM inspector of prisons has warned.
Publishing his annual report today, David Strang said many people were continuing to “slip through the net”, ending up in prison when there are more effective ways of dealing with them in the community.
Mr Strang, a former chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, also warned about the growing use of legal highs in Scotland’s jails.
And he said many of Scotland’s prisons were not fit for purpose, with inmates sharing cramped cells.
Mr Strang said: “I still see too many people in prison who should not be there.
“People with mental health or addictions problems, who have slipped through the net of support and treatment in the community. Scotland would be a healthier, safer and stronger nation if we chose to send fewer people to prison and had more effective, alternative ways of responding to offending behaviour.”
Mr Strang said the use of new psychoactive substances, sometimes referred to as “legal highs”, were posing a “particular difficulty” for prison authorities.
He said there were no means of testing for the drugs, the use of which brought “unwelcome consequences” for prison staff, including unpredictable and potentially violent behaviour.
There are currently more than 7,000 inmates in Scotland’s prisons, but the Scottish Government has said it is committed to more community sentencing for those convicted of less serious offences.
Mr Strang said the building of new prisons had highlighted the “inadequacy” of older jails, many of which were built in the nineteenth century.
He said: “These physical conditions present an additional challenge for staff to provide appropriate care.
“For example, we still see too many prisoners sharing cells that are simply not suitable for two people.
“Older cells have restricted space, limited natural light and are at times adversely affected by dampness problems.”