Scottish Prison Service (Auditor General’s Report)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd December 2019.

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Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank Liam Kerr for some very important questions. I agree with him that the report made for very grim reading—I do not doubt that, and I hope that I have set that out clearly. I also hope that I made clear my intention that we will work and invest to bring down those pressures on our Prison Service.

Regarding the violence that prison officers face, we have a more complex population in our prisons, and there is no doubt that we now have more serious organised criminals. I have been into SPS headquarters to see the important work that is done by the operations team there to ensure that various crime groups are kept separate in different facilities. That is a very complex job, but it is one that the SPS is doing well.

All that said, the most serious prisoner-on-staff violence went down from 2017-18 to 2018-19, although one serious assault is one serious assault too many.

On the question of body-worn cameras, I ask Liam Kerr to do as he asks me to do. I will keep an open mind in exploring that issue with both the Prison Service and the POAS. It is fair to say from my most recent conversations with the POAS that it was not particularly persuaded. That does not mean that we should not explore the idea, and I will do that. I have raised the matter with the Prison Service before, and I will commit to do that again, as I can see that it could be a welcome move in many instances. I will keep an open mind on that.

With regard to workforce planning, Liam Kerr is right to raise what is a particular issue at HMP Grampian, which is a prison that the member will be familiar with given that he represents the Grampian region. During my most recent conversation with the chief executive of the Prison Service, I spoke at great length about the workforce challenges. I offered to speak to him about where further investment could be made in the staff—I will look on that favourably—as we go into the post-election spending review and the United Kingdom budget. The challenges in Grampian are difficult due to its geography. I would be happy to meet the member, but I would also be happy for the SPS to speak with the member in more detail about what can be done for HMP Grampian in particular.