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Prison Staffing

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th December 2019.

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Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

5. To ask the Scottish Government what action is being taken to address reported staffing shortages in prisons. (S5O-03945)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The most pressing challenge facing the Scottish Prison Service in relation to staffing is at HMP and YOI Grampian, where the attrition rate is more than double the national average. The SPS recognises the continuing challenges of the recruitment and retention of staff at Grampian and has adapted the recruitment process to include online testing and application processes, as well as running a number of other initiatives to attract candidates. The challenges associated with staffing, including staff absence and recruitment, are matters that I discuss regularly with the chief executive of the SPS, most recently on 26 November. The SPS continues to support Grampian with staff from elsewhere across the prison estate.

On the wider issue, to address the problem the scheduled recruitment of prison officers in 2020 and 2021 has been increased and, as a consequence, the SPS will bring in more than 800 new officers over the next 24 months. As I have said many times before and I am certain that Alex Rowley agrees, Scotland’s prisons remain stable, safe and well run and that is very much down to the unwavering dedication and commitment of prison officers and staff across the country. I thank them for their dedication.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

Prisons may well remain stable and well run, but if we are to adhere to the principles of crime, punishment and rehabilitation, there are shortages. As I have said to the cabinet secretary, I have met prison staff and I am happy to have that discussion further in private, but if the cabinet secretary is going to make the case to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work for further resources for prisons—it is obvious to me that they are needed—surely he needs a proper assessment of those needs. I hope that he will do that and that we can work together, because it is in nobody’s interests to keep our prisons so full and have the staffing problems that we face.

Will the cabinet secretary bring forward a proper assessment in order to put the case to the finance secretary for the additional resources that will be needed?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I will answer that question in the spirit in which I think that Alex Rowley asked it. Of course I will work with anybody from across the chamber to address the real challenges that face us in our prison population and estate. Alex Rowley is right that, if our prisons are overcrowded as they currently are, there is less time for the likes of rehabilitation and other such measures. Where I would disagree with him is on the fact that, where the SPS has asked for more money, the Government has not been found wanting. In this financial year alone, the SPS asked for an additional £24 million and received it; we have increased the budget when there has been a need to do so.

Any conversations that I have with the finance secretary will of course be held in private, but I will also have conversations with members from across the chamber. If there are additional resources in the budget, I am glad that Alex Rowley has now said that he would support such a budget. I am sure that the finance secretary will hear that in the discussions that will take place.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

One way in which the Scottish Government seems to want to tackle staff shortages is by emptying prisons. This week the Government had to breach parliamentary procedure and implement the restriction of liberty regulations without the necessary scrutiny from the Justice Committee. Does it not suggest a worrying absence of planning and preparation, and a disrespect for this Parliament, that such important legislation has had to be rushed through without the necessary scrutiny?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

It is HM inspectorate of prisons that says that Scottish prisons are stable, well run and safe. The inspectorate in England and Wales says that Tory mismanagement of prisons is draconian in comparison to Scotland. Not only that, we look after those who work in our prisons. Our prison officers have received a 6 per cent pay rise this year, compared with a derisory rise of 2.2 per cent offered by the Conservative Government.

Mr Kerr talks about prison overcrowding. If I went with his regressive justice proposals, which would see whole-life sentences, the ending of automatic early release for short-term prisoners and opposition to the presumption against short sentences, we would have to build three more Barlinnies. Where the heck would the money come from for that? I will take no lectures from the Conservatives about the pressures on our prison estate. We are getting on with the job of managing that, while he carps from the sidelines.