Clive Fairweather: ‘The outcome is most likely to either be a fudge or a delay’

THE first thing to recognise is that Barlinnie is not only a central hub, through which many of Scotland’s prisoners initially pass from the courts in the west, but is also the biggest prison by far in Scotlan

Indeed, it is one of the largest in the UK.

The only other which is anywhere near the same size in Scotland is Edinburgh, which holds over 800 prisoners, whereas Barlinnie regularly houses over 1,500 in buildings configured for considerably less.

Other equivalent prisons, like Kilmarnock, normally house just over 500.

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Barlinnie is central to everything that goes on in the entire Scottish prison estate – much of which, at considerable cost, has been modernised in recent years.

But there is no getting away from Barlinnie’s Victorian origins and in an ideal world it ought to be replaced – and very soon.

However, the central problem revolves around finding sites in the Central Belt which would be acceptable to a “Nimby” inclined public and above all finding the political will to spend the huge sums of money that would be involved.

Nor is it just about bricks and mortar.

What overcrowding really means is under-staffing, and Barlinnie has nowhere near enough uniformed staff to properly manage its prisoners on a daily basis.

As a result, we are all being short changed, as there is no proper interaction between staff and prisoners (which is the only way to bring about a change in their criminal habits), so more ought to be recruited and paid for.

Over the years, Barlinnie has become a human warehouse and not much more than that.

But in these days of austerity and recession, it is unlikely that justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, or the Scottish Government, will be in a hurry to do anything other than blink into the oncoming headlights of independence or devo max.

No-one, in this uncertain climate, will wish to commit to major plans which ultimately will represent a huge drain on public funds.

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Therefore, while the chief inspector has made very clear and cogent recommendations, and which were long overdue, the outcome is most likely to either be a fudge or a delay, which leaves staff at Barlinnie as over-stretched and over-committed as ever.

As the prisoner population approaches 10,000 somewhere in the next decade (when in my day it was half that size) someone is going to have to bite the bullet and find options which replace this tired old institution’s pivotal role.

• Clive Fairweather was HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, in Scotland, from 1994 to 2002.