Prison officers issue warning over ‘soaring jail violence’

Prison officers are at “breaking point” with inmates “taking advantage” of the situation in Scotland’s jail, according to correspondence published through Freedom of Information.

Potential staff cuts in jails have come in for criticism. Picture: PA
Potential staff cuts in jails have come in for criticism. Picture: PA

One prison officer – who described himself as an SNP voter – set out the stark situation in a letter to the Scottish Government. It criticised potential staff cuts in jails at a time of assaults on wardens and inmates, as well as younger and more violent prisoners and convictions of organised crime gangs.

But the claims were played down by the Scottish Prison Service which insists Scotland has not suffered he problems of escalating assaults seen south of the Border.

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The letter warned: “The prisoners can see we are basically at breaking point and are taking advantage of this for their own agenda.”

Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “This allegation is truly shocking.

“The SNP-supporting prison officer appears to be suggesting that the party’s prison policy is giving convicted criminals an ‘advantage’ in jail.

“That would severely undermine discipline and safety within Scottish prisons at a time of rising threats. Scottish prison officers are dealing with the most dangerous criminals on a daily basis.”

He stepped up Tory calls for all prison officers to be given body-worn cameras to increase protection, and urged ministers to ensure guards are sufficiently resourced to deal with increasing challenges inside.

But a spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said he did not recognise the picture set out in the letter.

“We’ve been very fortunate over the last number of years to have a stable and well-run prison estate. That’s in no small measure down to the credibility and expertise of staff in prisons.

“They do a difficult and dangerous job very well and cultivate a very positive relationship with the people in their care.”

He added that UK prisons minister Rory Stewart has been to Scotland to see how staff work with inmates after a surge in violence at prisons south of the Border linked to ready availability of drugs.

A spokesman for justice secretary Humza Yousaf added: “We are taking forward a range of actions to stop people going to prison in the first place, including promoting effective alternatives to custody such as by extending the presumption against short prisons sentences – and we hope Tories will support that plan later this year.”