Prisons (Slopping Out)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 18th May 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 5:00 pm, 18th May 2000

We now move on to members' business. I ask members who are leaving to do so quickly and quietly.

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S1M-704, in the name of Dorothy-Grace Elder, on slopping out in Scottish prisons. The debate will be concluded after 30 minutes, without any questions being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament agrees that urgent action must be taken in the 21st century to end "slopping out" at affected Scottish prisons, particularly Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow which is 90% without basic sanitation; acknowledges that Barlinnie cannot start its third century with this stomach churning and degrading practice continuing and that the practice of emptying chamber pots around five times a day is not only inhumane for prisoners but for also for staff who supervise and who deplore the practice; notes that Barlinnie's high international status as an innovative prison and its excellent rehabilitation work is impaired seriously by the time consumed by slopping out, with around 400 staff hours a day wasted away from essential rehabilitation work with prisoners due to the security need to be on duty at sluice rooms, and urges that the money removed from the Scottish Prison Service budget for the Drugs Enforcement Agency must not result in any delay to plans to end slopping out as feared by prison officers.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent 5:07 pm, 18th May 2000

I have been trying to secure this debate for the past five months and I am grateful for the backing from members of all parties, who have shown genuine concern.

I dedicate this debate to the work of Scotland's prison officers, prison visitors and chaplains, and to those prisoners who are in despair.

The Scottish Parliament is here to do something about prisons. We must send out the message that a prison is not some remote Chateau D'If on which we can shut our mental doors. We cannot escape our responsibilities. We now have full responsibility for Scottish prisons. We must end a mentality that dumps on prison officers by mouthing politically correct clichés about reform without giving them the basic tools. We cannot reform prisoners by degrading them and we cannot show society's appreciation of prison officers by imprisoning them in foul conditions, too.

HM chief inspector of prisons, Clive Fairweather, has described the conditions in Barlinnie prison as "squalid". His report states:

"It has been nothing short of a national disgrace that over the years, so many remand prisoners have had to pass through and endure the squalid conditions in Scotland's largest prison".

Mr Fairweather highlighted untried prisoners; I am concerned with all prisoners and with prison officers who are highly trained in many skills and were not intended to be used as toilet attendants.

Mr Fairweather's criticism was, however, no reflection on the staff or the governor of Barlinnie. I have known the old Bar-L since the 1970s and the days of the special units. I have known successive governors to plead for basic sanitation. We are finalising plans for a new Scottish Parliament building. How would we react if one commodity were left out of those plans: toilets? It is unthinkable in the 21st century, yet we have responsibility for up to 1,000 human beings locked away in Glasgow without adequate sanitation. Slopping out has been abolished in England, but it is still foisted on more than a quarter of Scotland's prisoners.

Slopping out is a Victorian nightmare transplanted into the 21st century. Lack of sanitation at Barlinnie is the worst I have seen in prisons outside Russia—and I have visited Russian prisons. Barlinnie has five Victorian halls. B hall is closed, still awaiting renovation. Only one major hall has toilets in cells. The other halls hold approximately 800 of the 1,000 men in Barlinnie this night. They have 75 toilets between them. Just think of that: 800 men with only 75 toilets on landings and in sluice rooms, not in cells.

Let me describe dawn at Barlinnie—this is not for the squeamish. It is 6.30, and long lines of humiliated men shuffle along the great galleries, each holding a chamber pot or a urine can. If we saw a film of that from a third-world country we would call in Amnesty International. Indeed, the Scottish Prison Service may be in contravention of the European convention on human rights.

However, it is not only those 800 prisoners who suffer. Another 600 men and women are locked up in Barlinnie: the prisoners and ancillary staff. They all loathe slopping out. They know that the prison's work on reform is harmed every day by it—not just through the degradation. Did my fellow parliamentarians know that slopping out consumes up to 300 hours of officer time a day at Barlinnie—300 hours that the staff are forced to waste, away from their real job of rehabilitation? Many enter the service thinking that they can help to change society. Instead, along with their charges, they find themselves cast into degradation.

The stench is intolerable. Clouds of foul-smelling steam rise up from the faeces into the halls and permeate the cells, where the men must eat as well as sleep. Most of them are locked up for 23 hours of the day.

The horrible practice happens between three and five times a day. A woman prison officer was accidentally covered in urine the other day—such accidents happen all the time. The horrible scene ends with the prisoners trying to clean pots encrusted with human dirt. Then they have breakfast.

I hear that the Scottish Prison Service is touting the idea that officers should remain in those halls for six hours at a stretch, locked up, eating their meals with the prisoners. That is unacceptable. Prison staff are unsettled enough, and there are fears over the proposed privatisation of the dedicated prison doctor and prison nurse service.

Remember that most of the tiny cells contain two men and two chamber pots. I have heard young prisoners, close to tears, tell me of their suffering. They say, "It's sore holding it in overnight, trying not to go to the toilet." Men are trapped in cells overnight with stinking faeces. That can be a 13-hour night, because, at the weekends, they are banged up from 5 o'clock until the morning slop-out at 6.30.

There used to be something called the Barlinnie turd bombs. Desperate prisoners trapped overnight with faeces would wrap them up in something and chuck them out between the bars—for some poor trusty to sweep up in the morning. When the health and safety regulations stopped that, did the SPS install toilets in cells? No, no, no—it put on heavy steel mesh to prevent the turd bombs flying into the yard. Some prisoners then hooked temporary nooses through the mesh and attempted suicide.

Such degradation sends up the risk of suicide. Since 1986, there have been 39 suicides in Barlinnie. No wonder prison officers are absolutely horrified at the Scottish Executive's removal of £30 million from the SPS budget while Barlinnie's B hall still lies empty, waiting for toilets to be installed in every cell. I implore the Deputy Minister for Justice to give us a starting date for those renovations—and let that date be soon.

Barlinnie prison was built in the reign of Queen Victoria. It is now the 21st century, but we would have to pinch ourselves to remember that if we saw that shameful dawn scene in the prison. Nevertheless, there have been many positive developments, such as an excellent drugs rehabilitation programme; a training scheme for men getting jobs; and a special high-care unit that is doing marvellous work. Barlinnie prison is an essential part of Glasgow. Glaswegians have an odd sort of fondness for the old Bar-L, and it must remain in the east end as a major employer.

I hope that the minister will give us a date for installing toilets in Barlinnie. I have tried to fulfil my promise to prisoners and my duty to confront Parliament with what they and officers told me and to bring their story out from behind those 40-foot-high walls. A new Parliament cannot continue passing a buck that has been passed for 100 years.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Seven members have asked to participate in the debate. If members show respect for each other and take three minutes each for their speeches, it should be possible to get everyone in.

Photo of Gordon Jackson Gordon Jackson Labour 5:16 pm, 18th May 2000

Dorothy-Grace Elder says that she has been going into Barlinnie since the early 1970s; I have been going into the prison almost every week since about 1969, so I have much experience of the place. The prison has always been a disgrace, but the real problem is that for 70 years the situation has not got any better, even if one had been led to expect any different.

There are two reasons for that. Conditions for remand prisoners have always been very bad because a certain mentality has believed that the situation did not matter because those people are in prison for only a short time. The same mentality believes that as the longest they can be in jail as remand prisoners is 110 days, we will spend money only on people who are in jail for a long time; it really does not matter whether those chaps are locked up for 23 hours a day in primitive conditions.

Such a mentality is shocking and, to be fair, we are getting away from it. For example, Saughton prison opened up the most wonderful modern unit with excellent facilities, which the then governor decided to give to remand prisoners because he felt that people who are still presumed innocent should not be forced to live in absolutely degrading conditions.

The second reason prisons have never improved is because there are no votes in jails—I say that to Governments of every complexion. This is not a popular matter; if we tell people in the street that we want to improve the lot of prisoners, they will say, "We don't care about them." I am not sure whether the public would hold to that view if they saw the scene described by Dorothy-Grace Elder. The tabloid press has sometimes done a disservice in this respect. People who make suggestions for improvements to prisons might almost be accused of turning the places into Butlin's holiday camps. Prisons are horrible, squalid places and the fact that there are no votes in them should not stop us fixing the situation in a humanitarian way, properly and quickly.

I know that money has been taken out of the system and that there have been closures. I have no objections to closures because I want fewer jails. However, with Dorothy—whom I applaud—I implore the minister and the Executive to make this issue a priority.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 5:18 pm, 18th May 2000

Dorothy-Grace Elder presented her motion eloquently and emotionally. Everybody in the chamber will support the words that she used. Sadly, however, her motion is doomed to failure right from the start, because the Deputy Minister for Justice and his boss, Jim Wallace, have already been in front of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee and have acknowledged that the money that they were taking out of the prison budget would have been used for prison development. That has been sacrificed, and it is sad.

Last year the prison inspectorate—I counter Gordon Jackson on this point—said that there were improvements at Barlinnie. An optimistic forecast on the ending of slopping out was given; a Scottish Prison Service witness even put a date on it—2004-05. However, after the announcement of the £13 million withdrawal, we were told that the proposal had now ended. The Government has said that there is no target for the ending of slopping out at Barlinnie prison. That is shameful.

I recognise that it is not just the removal of the £13 million that has created problems. There is also the closure of Dungavel and of Penninghame and, ultimately, of Longriggend. People have been moved from those prisons into Barlinnie. The chief inspector of prisons suggested that the level of overcrowding at Barlinnie was falling off. That is not the case—it is beginning to pick up again—and that adds to the problem.

There is a comment in Dorothy-Grace Elder's motion about urgent action. Unfortunately, apart from simply reinstating the cash in the prison budget, there does not seem to be any other proposal for what that urgent action should be.

I suggest that the minister re-examine the matter. We must look back at the improvements in the Scottish Prison Service that came about when Kilmarnock prison was constructed. Whether or not Gordon Jackson wants additional prison places, the prison population is forecast still to rise. As regards a new prison, it might be that, given the lack of funding, the minister will have to consider a new, private finance initiative prison somewhere else in Scotland to bring decent, basic conditions back to the prison service. Another option might be to retain Dungavel—it is, I recognise, too late for Penninghame.

Having mentioned those points for action, I leave the matter with the minister.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 5:21 pm, 18th May 2000

I thank Dorothy-Grace Elder for ensuring that a debate on the matter has taken place. Gordon Jackson said that it is not debated enough and does not get enough publicity because it is not politically correct. In this case, never mind politically correct; it is humanely correct to address the problem.

Dorothy-Grace Elder outlined the real problems facing staff and prisoners in Barlinnie and other prisons. Unlike her and Gordon Jackson, I have not visited many prisons, but I have visited Barlinnie in my role as an MSP. I admire and applaud the staff and prisoners there for putting up with terrible conditions.

In this day and age, for people in overcrowded jail cells to have to slop out is both inhumane and demeaning, and we must do something about it. Overcrowding is a problem; if we consider that together with slopping out, is it any wonder that sometimes some poor people cannot put up with it any longer and attempt suicide to get out?

It is a terrible indictment on our society—particularly in Scotland—that we have the largest prison population in Europe. If we are to put more folk into jail—I would hope that we might try to release people from jail and rehabilitate them—we should at least make the living conditions decent for them. Conditions should be such that prison officers can actually work there. The prison officers are doing a marvellous job. They are doing their best and are trying to rehabilitate people.

We all know that people are put in prison as punishment, and everyone outside says that that is what they deserve. Some people fall into the trap through no fault of their own, possibly through their socialisation or the way in which they are brought up. If they are sent to prison, I hope that they can come out rehabilitated so that they can be better citizens. They should not be kept in worse conditions than those for animals. That is not the way in which to make someone more civilised.

I applaud Dorothy-Grace Elder for initiating the debate. I ask the minister to consider the suggestions—particularly Phil Gallie's—in regard to the money that could be invested in the Scottish Prison Service. I ask him to do something to end the appalling conditions.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 5:26 pm, 18th May 2000

There is agreement in the chamber that the practice of slopping out should end, and the sooner the better. As Winston Churchill said, it is possible to judge the degree of civilisation of a society by the state of its prisons. If that is true, Scotland is falling down, to a degree. It has been said that the practice of slopping out should not have continued into the 21st century. I agree.

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee heard that the target for ending the practice of slopping out was 2005. What is curious about that is that, at the same time as that loose target was being set, the Scottish Prison Service was accruing savings that added up, over the years, to £24 million. Investments could have been made to hasten the end of slopping out, which would have had widespread support.

I take Gordon Jackson's point about the fact that there are not many votes in improving prison conditions. My experience—although I admit that it is limited compared with his—is that, when we explain to people in sober discussion that basic sanitation is surely something that, in modern times, should be provided in a prison, the general view is that that is correct.

There are two ways forward. One is the review of the estate that is being conducted. That might focus on this issue in the development of the revised prison estate. Equally, the auditor general might have a role in examining—not in a critical way—how the Scottish Prison Service spends its money. He might be able to do that within the next 18 months. He could establish best practice in other services and try to develop that in the Scottish Prison Service.

It is important that we do not lose sight of this issue. It will feature in the future considerations of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee. The evidence that we heard was conclusive and there is widespread support for an end to the practice.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 5:28 pm, 18th May 2000

Before I start, I give notice that I will raise a point of order at the end of the debate.

Having visited every prison in Scotland, except Penninghame, in the early and mid-1990s—most of them twice, some more than twice—it strikes me that there are a number of issues about human dignity that need to be addressed. I was particularly struck in the early 1990s by the conditions of reception in the Bar-L. They were absolutely appalling—something like the black hole of Calcutta. I am glad that those facilities have been done away with and that the new facilities are excellent. There are many issues of human dignity in prisons—overcrowding is one that has been relieved by the new prison in Kilmarnock. Dorothy-Grace Elder, whose introductory speech I applaud, has today highlighted the degrading practice of slopping out.

It is good that, in 1976, the new women's prison was built at Cornton Vale, on the edge of my constituency. It does not have any slopping out. However, in the past few years, a policy has been adopted of dispersing women back to local prisons. I ask the minister to ascertain whether the practice of slopping out applies to any women, following the dispersal. I hope that it does not.

With regard to the male jails, I believe that the minister should ask the Scottish Prison Service to present him and the Parliament with detailed plans for meeting the target of 2005. Like Euan Robson, I find that target loose and too distant. I further believe that we should have, as part of those plans, the option to use any underspend in prisons on an annual basis to abolish this practice, which is the most degrading practice in prison.

Apart from that practice being degrading to the humans who have to suffer it in this new century, what concerns me is the issue of cross-infection and hygiene. We spent some time yesterday talking—quite rightly—about significant new regulations on meat products and butchers' shops, as the public would not stand for unhygienic practices. Nevertheless, we accept practices in our prisons that are equally unhygienic and unpleasant.

Finally, I wonder about this issue in the context of the European convention on human rights. I cannot believe that those rights are not being transgressed by this practice. If that is the case, it is highly likely that a prisoner will test that in our courts in the near future. We must, therefore, be prepared to end the practice as soon as possible.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 5:31 pm, 18th May 2000

I shall be extremely brief. I commend Dorothy-Grace Elder for lodging the motion. I associate myself with the remarks of my fellow members of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee; there are six of us here. The most compelling evidence that we heard about slopping out came from prison officers, who made it plain that the practice was degrading for prisoners and for them, as has already been said.

Taking £13 million out of the Scottish Prison Service budget has had an impact on the slopping-out timetable. There is no longer additional space for displaced prisoners to go to while cells are being modernised. It is not simply a matter of capital. It is essential for a civilised society, and a civilised Scotland, that slopping out is ended even sooner than the original target, and certainly not later. I urge the Executive to address the matter again.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I cannot accept speeches from members who requested to speak during the debate, but I can accept a similarly brief final speech from Lyndsay McIntosh.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 5:32 pm, 18th May 2000

I am aware that many members wanted to speak in the debate, and I shall be brief.

I congratulate Dorothy-Grace Elder on securing the debate. Her speech was both graphic and eloquent. It is timely that we are debating the topic while the Parliament is meeting in Glasgow—the home of the Bar-L, although it is not always affectionately known as such. I visited that prison twice in my capacity as a justice of the peace. It was thought advisable that we saw for ourselves what we were committing people to when a custodial sentence was handed down.

In the run-up and training period before justices of the peace are let loose on an unsuspecting public, much consideration is given to the factors that should feature in a custodial decision: the seriousness of the crime, the number of previous convictions and the potential danger to the public. Consideration is also given to the intentions behind a custodial sentence: rehabilitation, protection of the innocent and punishment. That punishment ought to be fair, just and appropriate. Someone is put in jail to restrict their liberty, to take away their freedom, and that is a huge decision to make about anyone's life. The purpose is never to put someone in jail to face more squalid conditions than they would face outside.

As Dorothy-Grace Elder said, too many of our prisons do not have adequate night access to sanitation. We should consider that when we commit people to jail and conditions that we would consider inhumane. The issue is of concern to the chief inspector of prisons for Scotland, and features in his report, which has been discussed and studied by the Justice and Home Affairs Committee. All the members of that committee have expressed their displeasure at the length of time that it has taken to bring prisons up to date, to ensure that they have basic facilities that are fit for the 20th, let alone the 21st, century.

Members will know that the plans for upgrading have been seriously put back, and that the Executive recently made changes to prison funding. However the Executive dresses it up, the fact is that the programme to increase the availability of proper night sanitation has been put back. The Justice and Home Affairs Committee has expressed its deep concern over the matter, as have the chief inspector of prisons and the prison governors and staff who have to continue to work in less than satisfactory conditions.

The way in which we treat prisoners is a measure of our society, and in my estimation we fall short in that regard. I ask the minister to tell us that he agrees.

Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour 5:35 pm, 18th May 2000

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer—we meet again at an end-of-day debate. I acknowledge Dorothy-Grace Elder's role and persistence in securing the debate. It is a very important topic and allows me, on behalf of the Executive, to pay tribute to the work of the Scottish Prison Service in general and especially at Barlinnie prison. For over 100 years that prison, which houses 20 per cent of the prisoner population in Scotland, has played a pivotal role in the management of offenders in the SPS. I am grateful also that Dorothy-Grace Elder reminded us that Barlinnie is renowned as an innovative prison and that over the years it has carried out excellent rehabilitation work, with the best known example being the Barlinnie special unit.

The motion states that 90 per cent of prisoners in Barlinnie are without basic sanitation. That figure is incorrect. Recent refurbishment of D hall in Barlinnie provided for 23 per cent of the total prison population to have access to night sanitation. The Executive agrees that slopping out is a degrading practice for prisoners and staff—there is no question about that. It has no place in a modern prison system. No comments have been made in the debate with which I would disagree, with the exception of the consequences of the £13 million transfer from the prison budget to elsewhere.

If we are to debate the matter constructively, it is necessary to start from a basis of fact. In 1990, access to night sanitation in the Scottish Prison Service was 40 per cent—that is only 10 years ago. It has increased gradually to the current 75 per cent. Progress continues and in April this year Dumfries prison achieved 100 per cent night sanitation. Substantial work is under way at Perth prison, with the first phase to be completed this summer. Perth prison will then move from approximately 30 per cent to around 65 per cent night sanitation.

The annual capital building budget has also increased. In 1993-94, it was £9 million; last year it was more than double that, at £20 million; and in the current financial year it is projected to be £23.5 million. That increase is to meet the many demands arising from what Dorothy-Grace Elder rightly described as a largely Victorian estate. The nature of the estate means that there are many competing priorities for modernisation, of which night sanitation, although extremely important, is just one.

Barlinnie is a good example: since 1995, over £13 million has been spent on improving conditions, around half of that since 1997. In addition to refurbishing D hall, that money was needed for many other essential projects, including providing temporary accommodation to allow refurbishment to take place, essential health and safety modernisation, enhanced security and improved accommodation for staff and prisoners' visitors. It is not the case, as suggested, that further refurbishment is inhibited because rationalisation means that there is nowhere for prisoners to go. Barlinnie has accommodation for decanting and the facilities that have been or are being closed would not have been suitably secure for decanting during the refurbishment of prisons such as Barlinnie.

Much of the additional capital spend has been directed toward improved conditions for remand prisoners across the Scottish Prison Service—a subject that came up in the debate. Good progress has been made at Edinburgh and Dumfries, and major work to improve conditions for remand prisoners is under way at Perth and Cornton Vale.

The SPS had accumulated £23 million from end-year flexibility. Last year, the Executive reallocated £13 million of that cash surplus to other priorities in the justice programme.

Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour

In that case, I will have to press on; I am sorry.

Baseline budgets were not reduced and are increasing year on year. The SPS budget for running costs amounts to £172 million in the current year and will be £175 million next year.

The SPS had planned to use end-year flexibility to carry out estate rationalisation covering a number of establishments. The reallocation of the EYF simply brought the process forward. The current position is that the Peterhead unit has been mothballed, Longriggend remand institution and Penninghame prison have closed and Dungavel is due to close in July.

The condition and location of its estate is a prime operational issue for the SPS. The service is therefore focusing on that to secure maximum value from the more than £200 million of taxpayers' money that the service spends each year. In December last year, the chief executive of the SPS set up a major review of the estate strategy. Senior SPS managers, along with trade union representatives, have carried out a fundamental establishment-by-establishment review of the entire estate. In doing so, they developed operational criteria to measure the fitness for purpose of each establishment and to meet the future needs of the service.

In that review, nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out in the SPS's search for a modern, flexible and efficient estate. During this financial year, the SPS will commence major projects at both Edinburgh prison and Polmont young offenders institution. That investment, amounting to £18 million over two years, will provide an additional 550 places that fully meet modern standards. Depending on other estate factors, the level of sanitation will be improved by between 2 and 6 per cent on that expenditure alone.

The review that is currently under way is the right approach and will give the SPS the information to present the best options to ministers. Those options will include estimates for ending slopping out, improving drug rehabilitation facilities, providing literacy programmes and achieving the significant material improvement in conditions demanded to meet the standards of the 21st century.

The prisons estate review will thoroughly assess the condition of buildings held by the SPS. It will propose ways forward. There will not be easy answers, because the financial resources at the disposal of the Scottish Executive are not bottomless. I hope that members who have made constructive and helpful comments in the debate will remember that when faced with a range of what will not be easy options when the review is concluded.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I call Dr Richard Simpson on a point of order.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The light on my console was flashing during decision time; I am told that my vote was not recorded and that I was marked as "not present". I ask that my vote therefore be recorded manually.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I am happy to do that, Dr Simpson. As you know, under our procedures, once the result of a division has been declared by the chair, it cannot be altered, but we shall have your card and console checked and I am happy to accept your assurance that, on each occasion, you voted with your party.

Meeting closed at 17:41.