A NEW superjail was branded a “white elephant” after it emerged the prison has only been half-full since a riot closed down part of the building last year.
The new HMP and Young Offenders Institute, HMP Grampian, was built to hold about 500 prisoners and officially opened its doors in March 2014.
The £140 million state-run facility replaced the former Victorian jails in Aberdeen and Peterhead and was set up to house local prisoners to make it easier for them to get access to local services.
But part of the building was shut down following a 14-hour disturbance which broke out in the Ellon Wing only a month after it opened.
Many prisoners, including local young offenders, were then moved to other prisons across the country.
The Scottish Prison Service planned to gradually return inmates to the superjail in Peterhead over the course of last year. But yesterday it emerged that the jail had been facing problems with recruitment and only 250 prisoners were being held in the cells.
The Scottish Government trumpeted its opening as a major step forward in rehabilitation and yet young offenders are still being sent hundreds of miles away from home to serve their sentences as the young offenders unit still remains emptyAlison McInnes
North-east Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said: “It is disappointing this newest prison is still underutilised.
“The Scottish Government trumpeted its opening as a major step forward in rehabilitation and yet young offenders are still being sent hundreds of miles away from home to serve their sentences as the young offenders unit still remains empty.”
Last year former Justice Secretary vowed that the new jail would serve as a model prison which would prove to be the “future for custodial services”.
It was built to house all local prisoners to make sure they benefitted from local facilities such as medical services and make it easier for families of young offenders to visit.
Riot staff were deployed to the jail in April last year after dozens of prisoners refused to go to their cells and started vandalising furniture in April last year.
The incident started in a corridor in the prison’s Ellon Hall and continued in the gated unit overnight. Trained negotiators and riot teams were brought in from all over the country and the situation was finally brought to an end the following morning.
Guards were forced to use pepper spray to control the prisoners who caused 150,000 pounds of damage to the unit.
The prison service has now admitted that staff still need to build on their experience before the prison population increases and added that they have also had problems with recruitment.
Local councillor Alan Buchan said: “I think it is a problem with finances. If you take the Scottish police and fire service, they are seeing massive cuts to their budget.
“To me I think the same thing is going on with the prison service, they have been asked to make the same cuts. It’s a lack of money because they spent all the money on the prison and no longer have money to staff the prison. I think that’s where the problem really lies and they are just using that as an excuse.
“When they were building the jail, I went to numerous meetings and explained to them that there was only about 250 local prisoners here at any one time but they totally disputed the figures.
“There’s only four women prisoners in Aberdeenshire at any one time. So why have a whole wing for them in a prison?
“Realistically now, we’ve got a prison here that has turned into a white elephant because the capacity is too large for local prisoners.”