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

James Kelly makes reasonable points, but it is important that I bring some balance to them. I would not classify the situation in our prisons as a “crisis”. There are certainly significant challenges. However, it is down to the hard work and dedication of our prison officers that we still have prisons that, as HM chief inspector of prisons said, are “well-maintained” and “safe” for staff and prisoners alike. That is important. That is not to downplay the seriousness of the Auditor General’s report—I agree with James Kelly that it is extremely serious.

On the question on revenue, as I said in my statement, the prison population was falling over the decade and the SPS was coming in either within or under budget.

I do not agree with James Kelly that we have not shown any urgency. For the current financial year, the offer that I made to the SPS was that we would keep its budget under review and, when pressures came to light, we would fund them. We have done that to the tune of £24 million, as I explained in my statement.

I agree with James Kelly’s final substantive point. I have been to HMP Barlinnie and I share James Kelly’s reservations. I do not think that we should be proud of that prison’s facilities in a modern progressive country, particularly when it is 150 per cent over capacity. The prison is simply not designed to cope with a population that is as high as it is at the moment.

To give the member some reassurance, I have asked the SPS to come to me with some proposals for interim measures. With the best will in the world, we know that the new Barlinnie will not be ready for a number of years so if the SPS deems that we need to give urgent attention to interim measures to improve the healthcare facilities, the reception facilities or any of the other facilities, I will explore that with an open mind.