Prisons inspector calls for change at Polmont

Just a third of young offenders at Polmont are taking part in rehab and training. Picture: PA
Just a third of young offenders at Polmont are taking part in rehab and training. Picture: PA
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POLMONT Young Offenders’ Institution is failing to rehabilitate inmates despite receiving £65 million in government spending, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons Brigadier Hugh Monro has said.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons for Scotland said the problem at Polmont was “quite shocking” and compared it to the challenge facing female offending at Cornton Vale three years ago.

When he inspected the prison in October last year, just 200 inmates were involved in rehabilitation, education or training, with twice as many choosing to stay in their cells.

That is despite £65m being spent since 2007 on facilities such as a bike repair workshop and hairdressing salon, designed to help inmates get jobs after release.

However, when Brigadier Monro returned to Polmont yesterday to present his report, the bike workshop was only half full.

Sue Brookes - Polmont’s fourth governor in three years - admitted staff struggle to persuade the majority of inmates to get out of their cells.

“Far too many (inmates) are metaphorically and actually still in their beds,” Brigadier Monro said.

“This lack of motivation and encouragement needs to change.”

He added: “This is quite shocking and, given the amount of investment in this prison, not good enough.

“I see this in the same way as Cornton Vale three years ago. This is a seminal moment in how we deal with young people.”

Brigadier Monro’s concerns of how female offenders were treated within the prison system led to the Elish Angiolini review and will ultimately see Cornton Vale demolished.

He does not believe as much upheaval is required to deal with youth offending.

In his report, he praises facilities and relations between staff and prisoners, but says the regime does not do enough to get young inmates out of bed.

That means many return to the outside world without being rehabilitated, he said.

Brigadier Monro, who steps down in the summer, said: “From taxpayers’ point of view, they would expect to see best value for money - young people turned around and released back into the community in the best possible way.

“That’s not happening to a standard I would like.”

Ms Brookes said it was important for the prison to seize every possible opportunity to rehabilitate offenders.

“Polmont needs to become an integrated learning environment,” she said.

“That means we need to take every single contact with a prisoner as an opportunity for us and them to learn together about the reasons that brought them into prison, and how to ensure they do not come back.”

But she admitted: “In prison you get a core of people who want to participate and the same people participate in everything.

“The larger group is disengaged and don’t want to be involved.”

Brigadier Monro’s criticisms were welcomed by both the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service.

Colin McConnell, chief executive of the SPS, said; “I am grateful to Brigadier Monro for bringing the key issues into such sharp focus.

“We now have a real opportunity to take a grip of the issues and to improve the life chances for young offenders who as young citizens have such great potential for change and future achievements.

“I look forward to working with colleagues and partners to make this compelling vision a reality.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill added: “I welcome Brigadier Monro’s inspection report for HMYOI Polmont.

“It highlights the good relations between the staff and young offenders and areas of good practice which include the young persons casework team.

“It also sets out areas where improvement is needed and I am confident that the Scottish Prison Service will take on board the Chief Inspector’s concerns and strive to rectify and improve these issues, building on existing good practice and working with the Scottish Government and other partners to improve the life chances for young offenders.”