The Scottish Government and Scottish Prison Service are committed to modernising and improving our prison estate. The current priorities are the development of the new female estate, the replacement of HMP Barlinnie and then the new HMP Highland. The Scottish Government has allocated funds to the Scottish Prison Service to allow it to begin the site acquisition process for a replacement for HMP Barlinnie. Site searches began in 2014 and a suitable site has been identified in Provanmill. The planning process has begun and the first public information event was held last week, on Wednesday 5 June.
A second pre-consultation event will take place on 3 July for the
HMP Barlinnie replacement, with a view to planning permission in principle being sought by the end of the month and a final decision by Christmas. That is a tight process for such a major development.
Does the cabinet secretary agree that the SPS must continue to engage extensively throughout that period with local communities, such as the community in Jerviston in my constituency? Given that the site has been selected partly due to its transportation hub potential, does he also agree that the SPS, Glasgow City Council and others must look at better public transport links for Jerviston and the Royston corridor more generally, irrespective of whether planning permission is granted?
Bob Doris raises a really important point. He has already had conversations with the Scottish Prison Service on the issue and I know that he will continue to engage as the process moves on. He is absolutely right that transport links are vital for any prison, as contact with family and services is hugely important for the potential rehabilitation of prisoners.
As Bob Doris knows the usual planning process, he is probably aware that, as with any planning application, it is anticipated that there will be a travel plan and a traffic impact analysis, which would form part of the application and be part of the conversation as we progress. The issue is vital for any prison—particularly for a prison the size of the replacement for HMP Barlinnie.
I welcome the replacement of Barlinnie prison, which is long overdue. It was recently operating at 140 per cent capacity, and that is a regular occurrence. Can the cabinet secretary inform Parliament whether the new build will solve or rename the problem of capacity? Is he able to tell me—now or later—the extent of double bunking in Barlinnie prison?
I thank Pauline McNeill for her very important question. I do not think that I have had the chance to welcome her to justice questions; I do not know whether she will be in her position permanently, but I know that she is taking over until the recess begins. I welcome her long-standing interest in all matters justice.
With regard to Pauline McNeill’s hugely important question, we are not planning for the replacement for Barlinnie to be what the press has sometimes called a super jail. That would be the wrong thing for us to do, because we cannot build our way out of our prison population problem. There is a raft of reasons why the prison population is as high as it is. One factor has been the changes in home detention curfew that were made on the back of the two important reviews that took place after the tragic murder of Craig McClelland. The numbers have been drastic. We have to tackle the different factors around why the prison population is so high.
Pauline McNeill will forgive me, but I do not have in front of me the number for double bunking, but I will endeavour to get it to her. However, I say to her, as I said to the Justice Committee yesterday, that the high prison population—with an increasing trajectory, the third highest imprisonment rate in western Europe and the third highest correctional rate—is a stain on our conscience that goes against the very progressive country that we are and want to be. I will be happy to furnish Pauline McNeill with details of the exact figures that she seeks, and if she would like a more detailed conversation about how to reduce the prison population, I will be delighted to have that conversation.