This week, the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, Colin McConnell, told the Justice Committee that a replacement for Barlinnie prison in Glasgow will not be operational until 2025, which is six years later than planned.
Audit Scotland deems the building “high risk”. Barlinnie is 50 per cent over capacity, with many prisoners having to share cells. Of the cells that are shared, 92 per cent were designed for single occupancy. The chief executive also stated that current contingency plans in the case of an emergency involve simply moving prisoners to another location, with mattresses on the floor, which is unacceptable and unsustainable.
What steps will the Scottish Government take to address the chronic position of Barlinnie prison? What plans will the Scottish Government put in place to address the overcrowding, underfinancing and staffing crises of the Scottish Prison Service?
Those are serious issues to which the Government pays close and regular attention at Cabinet level. A replacement for Barlinnie prison is one of our key infrastructure priorities. The SPS is progressing with plans for the development of the new prison in Glasgow, and negotiations for the purchase of an identified site are under way.
However, we acknowledge that, as a result of the recent rise in the prison population, interim measures are needed to improve current conditions at Barlinnie. Action will be taken in that regard. We are working closely with the Scottish Prison Service to ensure that robust measures are in place to ensure the safety of staff and the prisoners who are in the care of Barlinnie.
In addition to my point about investment in our prisons being important in response to an earlier question, it is worth pointing out that we have a challenge as a country to rebalance our justice policy, so that we do not have as many people going into our prisons when more effective sentences are available that could be served elsewhere.
It is also worth pointing out that, since 2007, the Scottish Government has invested almost £600 million in the prison estate for three new prisons—Low Moss, Addiewell and Grampian—and the refurbishment of the existing prisons at Polmont, Edinburgh, Glenochil, Shotts and Perth. We will continue to ensure that such investment is made, so that we ease the pressure on the prison estate overall and, in particular, on Barlinnie.