Understaffed Inverness jail poses risk to inmates

Porterfield prison is over-crowded and understaffed according to a new report. Picture: TSPL
Porterfield prison is over-crowded and understaffed according to a new report. Picture: TSPL
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AN OVERCROWDED Scottish prison was left so understaffed on occasions that sex offenders are mixing with mainstream inmates, posing a “potential risk”, according to an inspectors’ report.

David Strang, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, states the ageing Inverness jail remains overcrowded by some 25%, while staff are becoming increasingly concerned about if and when a new jail site will be identified.

The Scottish Prison Service said it was actively pursuing options for a new site.

Porterfield Prison near the city centre of the Highland capital was built in 1902, but in his report published today, Mr Strang says it is becoming too old for purpose.

He said: “There were occasions when staffing was below the agreed levels, however this was generally as a result of unplanned, short-term absences.

“Occasionally the regime and staff deployment in HMP Inverness is such that there is the potential for different prisoner classifications to come into contact with each other; mainstream prisoners and convicted sex offenders can be found working together in the kitchen at the same time, supervised by one catering officer. This poses a potential risk.

He added: “Mainstream prisoners and those charged with or convicted of a sexual offence

attend the same Church of Scotland (CoS) and Roman Catholic (RC) services.

“On a basic level this is positive, however it also poses risks as during observation

10 mainstream prisoners and two convicted sex offenders attended the CoS service,

supervised by one officer.

“Additionally there was no separation between the two groups with the sex offenders sitting directly in front of mainstream prisoners.

“This lack of supervision and separation was compounded at the end of the service when the prisoners remained in the area for refreshments with the Chaplain and three visitors.

“This was mirrored in the RC service when one mainstream prisoner and one prisoner charged with a sexual offence attended the same service while the supervising officer remained outside the room. This poses a potential risk.”

Among the main findings of the inspection, conducted between 10 and 18 February, was the jail remains overcrowded, while the female unit is underutilised – with just two inmates in the last year.

The high prison numbers - 129 at time of inspection against a design capacity of 103 - including a number of remand prisoners - 40 at the time of inspection which included two untried young offenders - adds a particular challenge to the prison, said Mr Strang.

The report contains 56 recommendations and identifies 11 areas of good practice.

Mr Strang said: “Generally Inverness which is the smallest and one of the oldest prisons in Scotland is well-run, however it is overcrowded and as such there is both a lack of space and purposeful activity for prisoners.”

Dealing with sex offenders again, he said that they did not spend periods of time in the open air as they claimed that when they did they were often subject to verbal abuse from other prisoner.

Mr Strang added: “This is a time of change for the Scottish Prison Service with the recent publication of its Organisational Review and with the opening of HMP Grampian to replace both HMP Aberdeen and Peterhead.

“This has created a degree of apprehension for staff with regards to if and when a suitable site for a new HMP Inverness/ Highland will be confirmed.

“It is therefore to the credit of staff and management that they continue to deliver in challenging surroundings and general overcrowding.”

A Scottish Prison Service spokeswoman said: “SPS welcomes the report and HMIP’s comments that HMP Inverness is a well-run prison and that prisoners feel safe, respected and treated well.

“The Scottish Government is committed to the replacement of HMP Inverness with the planned HMP Highland. The capital budget available to SPS for the current financial year includes provision to acquire a site for HMP Highland. Work is continuing to identify a suitable site.”