Scotland's prisons are close to breaking point with overcrowding and rising assaults on staff by inmates posing a threat to "operational safety" a damning report by the public spending watchdog has found.
Stress-related sick rates among prison officers have soared in recent years and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) was only able to maintain operations because staff worked increased hours, the Audit Scotland report finds.
READ MORE: Prison chief’s warning as Scots inmate numbers hit record high
The service's budget also reduced by 12.5 per cent between 2014/15 and 2018/19, from £394.7 million to £345.2 million, while its costs are rising.
Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland said: "Scotland's prisons are running well over operating capacity.
"The Scottish Prison Service faces a combination of severe pressures on many fronts; this poses a threat to operational safety, effectiveness and financial sustainability."
Prisoner numbers increased by nearly nine per cent last year to 8,212, more than 300 above design capacity, and are set to rise further.
Financial pressures are compromising efforts to prepare and support prisoners for life outside prison.
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There has also been a massive rise in assaults by prisoners against staff and other inmates, up from 2408 two years ago to 3549 last year.
Stress-related sickness among staff rose by nearly one third in 2018/19, and additional payments to staff working longer hours increased by 65 per cent to £4.25 million.
The report warns: "Delays in upgrading the prison estate means that existing prisons are less able to provide a modern prison service and are at greater risk of failure."
MSPs recently backed a move to introduce a presumption against 12 month prison sentences or less for lesser offences as part of drive to reduce the prisons population.
But Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr insisted the report "lays bare just how badly the SNP government has mishandled the prisons system over more than a decade."
He added: “Ministers’ failure to plan properly has led to a crisis in finances, prisoners not being rehabilitated properly and an increase in assaults.
“The SNP might shrug its shoulders and say prisons are overcrowded, and therefore a soft-touch agenda must be enacted.
“That’s not good enough. The SNP’s failure to provide sufficient jail capacity should not lead to Scotland’s communities being flooded with dangerous criminals who’ve been released early, or dodged prison altogether.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “As successive independent inspection reports have highlighted, prison officers do a good job in increasingly complex and challenging situations and no-one should ever take for granted the good order that is maintained in Scotland’s prisons. We are committed to modernising and improving Scotland’s prison estate, with current infrastructure priorities being the development of the female estate and replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP Highland.”