Barlinnie prisoners to fix toppled gravestones

Long-term prisoners near the end of their sentences will help repair and make safe graveyard memorials. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Long-term prisoners near the end of their sentences will help repair and make safe graveyard memorials. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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PRISONERS are to be set to work repairing vandalised and toppled gravestones in Glasgow’s cemeteries as part of a programme to prepare them for freedom.

Long-term inmates of Barlinnie Prison are to be drafted on to a pilot programme run by Glasgow City Council to help tidy up its run-down cemeteries.

The aim is to give prisoners nearing the end of their sentences access to work to get them ready for life in the community.

The scheme, which will come before the council’s sustainability and the environment policy development committee for ratifying today, was instigated by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), which approached the council about the possibility of setting up the project.

Glasgow council was happy to consider the proposals as there had been a “significant” number of complaints from the public about the condition of memorials in graveyards.

Brian Devlin, the council’s head of land and environment, admitted there is presently a limited inspection and maintenance programme.

He said: “There is a significant number of memorials which have fallen over or been subjected to vandalism and any repair works are beyond current resources. It is clear there is scope to introduce this programme in the cemeteries.”

Glasgow has 32 cemeteries, many of which are now closed as they have reached capacity or are rarely used, with most burials taking place on a much smaller number of sites.

However, some have been hit by high-profile vandalism cases. In August, teenagers caused £10,000 of damage to the historic graveyard at Govan Old Parish Church, while last month three men admitted defacing memorials in the city’s famous Necropolis in 2011 by spray painting racist slogans and swastikas on headstones.

The extent of works to be carried out by the prisoners would include the initial assessment of memorials, turning over or laying flat unsafe stones and uprighting them where possible – none of which is currently core work done by council staff..

There will be up to six prisoners in any one group and those involved will wear SPS-provided blue boiler suits. Council staff will carry out direct supervision of the project with additional supervisory support from the SPS. However, responsibility for the prisoners throughout the programme would rest with the SPS.

A spokesman for the council said that the trial of the programme would be conducted at one of the older cemeteries where there has been no recent burial activity and that notices would be placed around the areas to be inspected, as well as being added to appropriate web pages, giving contact details and information on the extent of the works to the general public.

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “Unfortunately, a number of memorials have fallen over or been vandalised over the years. Introducing this programme will help us to carry out improvement works while teaching prisoners new skills.”

A SPS spokesman said: “We work with a variety of partner agencies, in both the public and private sectors, to create opportunities for those in our care to develop skills that will help them reintegrate into society.”