Private prison crammed full with inmates ditches plan for extension

PRISON bosses have abandoned plans for a major expansion of Scotland's only private jail, The Scotsman has learned.

Serco, which operates HMP Kilmarnock, drew up outline plans for a house block to provide about 250 extra places for Scotland's chronically overcrowded prison estate.

The move is understood to have been discussed by the jail's director, Scott McNairn, and Scottish Prison Service (SPS) officials within the past few weeks.

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Sources close to Kilmarnock prison claim Serco was told that what amounted to a multi-million-pound extension of the company's existing 25-year contract stood no chance of gaining ministerial approval because of the SNP government's opposition to privately-run prisons.

But that has triggered anger from political opponents and private-sector union leaders who say politics is getting in the way of public safety.

Prison service sources insist the proposals were thrown out on operational grounds rather than for party political reasons.

Last year, the justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, abandoned plans for a private firm to build and run a 100 million prison at Low Moss, near Glasgow. In a major policy shift from the previous administration, the SNP decided the replacement jail would be run by the public sector. At the time Mr MacAskill said prisons "are for public safety, not private profit, so we are drawing a line in the sand".

However, Steve Farrell, from the Prison Service Union, which has about 200 members at Kilmarnock prison, said he was "in full support of the private sector growing within Scotland".

He said: "Regardless of whether it's the private or public sector, the taxpayer is looking simply at cost. The cost of extending a private prison is much less than creating more space in the public sector.

"Politics is getting in the way of public safety and that should not be tolerated."

Sources claim the cost of housing a prisoner in a privately run jail is around half that of doing so in a public prison.

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"The SPS says it costs about 33,500 a year to keep an inmate, and claims costs between the sectors are "not directly comparable".

A 700-bed jail at Addiewell, West Lothian, will open next month, creating valuable extra capacity in a prison estate currently housing 8,000 prisoners – 20 per cent more than it was designed for.

Earlier this year, a report by the Scottish Prisons Commission – created by the SNP to investigate the future of penal policy – argued that the prison population could realistically be cut by about 4,000.

The Scottish Government has pledged to introduce proposals after considering the report's recommendations. Mr MacAskill has already said he wants to divert repeat offenders who are jailed for a few weeks or months on to tougher community sentences.

Last month it emerged 40 beds were available at Kilmarnock because the SPS refused to use them. But the prison service said the jail was overcrowded and putting extra prisoners in could create dangerous conditions.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The SPS, which has operational responsibility for the placement of all those sentenced to custody, has made clear there are no empty cells in Kilmarnock, where overcrowding exceeds the average rate."

History of violence, death and 'neglect' behind bars

KILMARNOCK Prison, which houses more than 600 male inmates, has a chequered past.

In 2003, the jail's then director, Nick Cameron, was punched and kicked to the ground by an inmate as he carried out a tour of the prison.

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Two years later, three prison officers were removed from duty at Kilmarnock after a television documentary made allegations of a "catalogue of neglect".

An undercover BBC reporter, who spent four months working at the penal institute, claimed to have filmed officers falsifying paperwork to show suicide watches had been undertaken when they had not, despite the prison's record of six suicides in five years.

In June 2007, inmate Michael Cameron was beaten to death by another prisoner, David Martin, in the hospital wing. However, an inspection report earlier this year praised Kilmarnock for being one of the safest jails in the country. It said there had not been an attack on a member of staff since 2004, and the number of prisoner attacks was drastically down.