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New Glasgow prison will not solve jail overpopulation issues, says inspector

Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow (PA)
Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow (PA)

Scotland’s chief prison inspector has said the new facility set to replace HMP Barlinnie will not solve overpopulation issues in jails.

Speaking to BBC’s Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, chief inspector of prisons, said the new HMP Glasgow will not address the issue, adding: “HMP Glasgow will only replace HMP Barlinnie, which doesn’t account for the whole estate having far too many people than they can usefully accommodate.”

Ms Sinclair-Gieben said helping those who have offended with issues that brought them to prison “cannot be achieved” because of overcrowding.

The comments come after a report was published on Tuesday revealing HMP Low Moss in Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire, had “exceeded” its design capacity from 10 years ago. HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) conducted an assessment of the facility from January 31 to February 11.

Ms Sinclair-Gieben argued this was due to the Scottish Prison Service having “no control” over the prison population.

She added: “For some considerable time the population has far exceeded the design capacity. And because the Scottish Prison Service has absolutely no control over the number of prisoners who come into their care, they have had to adapt by making small cells, double cells by putting in bunk beds.

“This was true in Low Moss where they added an extra 100 beds when the population crisis became acute. Fundamentally, there are guidelines as to how large a prison cell should be.

The inspector, who was appointed to the role in 2018, said the size of cells was “unreasonable” for spending 22 to 23 hours a day inside, as happened during the coronavirus pandemic.

Darren Brownlie death
HMP Low Moss in East Dunbartonshire (PA)

She added: “While that would be reasonable to share a very small room, provided you’re only sleeping in it, it is unreasonable when you’re spending 22 to 23 hours a day, in a room with a total stranger.

“During the pandemic, many people were locked up 22 hours a day. And then during infection control, when they have an outbreak of Covid, they were often locked up so they weren’t coming out their cell more than once every two or three days.

“Now, as you can imagine, sharing a very small room with another person where you have to sit on your bed, you share a toilet, it’s a really uncomfortable situation.

“It’s something that we really cannot approve of.”

The solution to prison overcrowding in Scotland, Ms Sinclair-Gieben said, was not to build more prisons, but to reduce the number of people going to prison.

“The choice is stark for Scotland, they either have to build more prisons or a better solution is to reduce the number of people who go to prison, to divert from prosecution to look at more community alternatives.

“If you look at the number of people on remand, it’s shockingly high, higher than any other country in Europe. And in that respect, surely we can find an alternative to simply placing people on remand in prison.”