Inspectors criticise Scottish Prison Service for ‘disappointing underuse’ of open jail

Inspectors have criticised the “disappointing underuse” of a prison they held as one that should be seen as a “flagship establishment” of the prison service in Scotland.

HMP Castle Huntly, the only open prison north of the border, was praised by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) but it warned that, with a population less than half its capacity, the prison service had a “stark choice” of either continuing to run the expensive facility or make better use of the Perth and Kinross jail.

And HMIPS said a more radical option might be to close the prison, allowing other jails to run more open regimes, but warned it would be “hard to replicate the inspiring and restorative tranquillity of HMP Castle Huntly”.

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Inspectors, who looked around the prison between June and July, said “HMP Castle Huntly should be a flagship establishment of the Scottish Prison Service”, but “unfortunately, too few prisoners are afforded the opportunity to access it”.

The Saltire and Scottish Prison Service flags flying outside HMP Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireThe Saltire and Scottish Prison Service flags flying outside HMP Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
The Saltire and Scottish Prison Service flags flying outside HMP Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

“With numbers so low, the establishment are unable to offer as many community placements and opportunities as they may like, and secondly, individuals are needed for the effective running of the prison,” the report, published today, said.

“This combination negatively impacts the rehabilitative effect the establishment could offer.”

Prisoners are sent to the 15th-century castle, which has a capacity of 285 men, if they are deemed to be low risk ahead of their release. When inspected, there were just over 100 prisoners at the facility, figures from the report showed.

At the prison inmates are allowed greater access to the community, can have periods of home release, and are able to walk around the estate, which dates back to the first Baron Gray of Fowlis, with few limitations.

Inspectors from HMIPS said the open prison helped fulfil human rights obligations, which it expected to see the prison service to provide.

“The Scottish Prison Service therefore has a stark choice,” the report said. “It can either continue running an underutilised and expensive facility or unblock the barriers to progression to ensure more effective use is made of HMP Castle Huntly which, apart from its poor accommodation wings, has some excellent facilities in a unique rural setting that still facilitates placements in urban areas.

“A more radical alternative would be to consider closure and affording other prisons the opportunity to run a more open regime in tandem with a closed regime for those prisoners due to be liberated.”

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A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said it welcomed the report, and the recognition of “many areas of good practice at HMP Castle Huntly”, including its outdoor facilities and ‘significant and meaningful role’ personal officers play in re-integrating prisoners back into the community.

“Like many areas of public life, the Scottish Prison Service is continuing our recovery from the Covid pandemic,” the spokesman said.

“We have been working hard to make further improvements to the progression of people in our care, from the more secure to the open estate, and this has seen a 25 per cent increase in the population of HMP Castle Huntly, since April.”



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