Indolence inside – does it help?

On any day of the week there are almost 8000 men and women held in Scottish prisons.

There’s room for just over 6,000.

Our prisons must be bursting  at the seams.

The Scotsman reported on 22 November one solution which would require action from the Scottish Government:- 

SEVEN jails costing more than £1 billion may have to be built over the next decade amid predictions the prison population is heading towards 10,000.
Plans are in place for two replacement jails at Bishopbriggs and Peterhead, while the prison service is seeking further sites in the Highlands and Inverclyde to replace ageing facilities.


Peterhead Prison
Peterhead Prison

HMP Addiewell is the most recent prison to open its doors. This is a privately run prison and the first prisoners to go and live there move in this week. The prison has single cells, menus from which prisoners can choose their meals and  is billed as more of a learning experience given that it is also known as the Academy @ Addiewell.

The Edinburgh Evening News reported:-

The Academy@Addiewell is an accredited Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) learning centre. There is also a skills training unit and learning resource centre.
Ms Park (The new Governor of HMP Addiewell) said: “We believe all people have the capacity to change and want to create an environment for people to want to change, and I firmly subscribe to that belief.

“Research is supportive of family and employment in this area and we have incentives for prisoners to take part. Family contact is very important.

“I have seen sons and grandsons of prisoners coming through the system saying ‘my dad was asking for you’ and that’s fairly sobering. We aim to help break that cycle.

“We’ve been on site for 14 months now and I’m looking forward to the prisoners getting here now. 

“If you’re going to be in jail Addiewell is the place to come if you want to move on in life.”

She added: “We have between 150-200 jobs for prisoners through a combination of learning, physical activity, education and work and visits. 

“A prisoner’s day will be as full as they want it to be, with financial incentives. Prisoners can be paid between £10 and £15 a week with bonuses on top.”

According to the Daily Hansard report of 3 March 2008 Lady Sylvia Hermon  (now the Ulster Unionist Party’s only MP) tabled the following question in Westminster :- 

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what the average cost per night of housing a prisoner is in an (a) Category A prison and (b) Category B prison. [189749]

Mr. Hanson: Cost Information is published in the Annual Report and Accounts for Public-Sector prisons.

In 2006-07, the average cost per night of housing a prisoner was £143 in dispersal prisons, which hold Category A prisoners, and £77 in Category B prisons.

So our prisoners cost a fortune to keep. The law requires that all convicted prisoners have to work (and are entitled to receive remuneration for it). 

So why don’t they? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have prisoners working to pay for the upkeep of the prisons in which they live rather than being a drain on the public purse which is already over-stretched?


Around three-quarters of those going into prison acccording to HM Chief Inspector of Prisons report 2007-08 “are in receipt of benefits immediately before going into prison.”  Around one third do not have permanent homes before going into prison so it can be seen that crime may have a direct correlation to  poverty in many cases. 


Dr Alec Spencer Honorary Professor Criminology and Criminal Justice
Dr Alec Spencer Honorary Professor Criminology and Criminal Justice Stirling University

Dr Alec Spencer Honorary Professor Criminology and Justice at Stirling University told me that 

“Work (and other activities) in prison is useful for those undertaking long sentences in order to fill the time.  However, the requirement to work is misguided if it is believed that by this prisoners will learn the work ethic and become good and useful citizens on release.
Most prisoners are serving short terms of imprisonment (81% receive sentences of 6 months or less) and serve only half of that sentence if not released early on Home Detention Curfew.  Work in prison is therefore not a solution.  Sending them to prison is the problem.  Receiving such a sentence is likely to cause them to lose a job, if they have one, to possibly lose accommodation and to reduce links with family and other positive supports.  We know that learning to desist from crime takes time and is better accomplished in the community.
Added to this many prisoners have a range of handicaps and may have under-achieved.  Thus literacy, mental health and addictions are issues which are likely to need to be addressed, and their background of poverty and inequalities is more likely to contribute to crime and imprisonment than many other factors.”

Andrew McLellan, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, recently issued a report for the year 2007-2008 in which he confirms that he is disappointed that the position with regard to prisoners and working (or rather not working!)  has not changed since he reported last year. He confirms that we are allowing our prisoners to spend many hours behind bars doing very little.

He says that part of the reason for this is overcrowding. There are currently about 1,000 more prisoners than there are spaces in prison.  Mr McLellan points out that overcrowding does not only impact on one or two prisoners but has an impact on all since no extra-curricular activities such as work parties are possible without the correct escort. It is simply not feasible to undertake such activities when manpower is already stretched to the limit. Overcrowding means that often two or even three prisoners have to share a cell meant for one prisoner. Working in prison workshops is also difficult to organise.

The problems of overcrowding are highlighted again in the annual confidential prisoner survey Report issued 5 December 2008 by the Scottish Prison Service. This states that 

“Six in ten of respondent prisoners reported concerns over access to training
and education and their quality of life in prison because of the effects of

The report goes on to explain that prisoners think that the overcrowding also has an impact on access to medical services and it is clear from all reports that many prisoners are in poor physical or mental health.




Jimmy Boyle former hardman, now sculptor, artist and author.
Jimmy Boyle former hardman convicted for murder, now sculptor, artist and author. When Jimmy Boyle was a prisoner in Barlinnie in Glasgow he was given the opportunity of rehabilitation in The Special Unit and has gone on to leave prison and become a noted sculptor. So noted that he now has homes in Edinburgh and the South of France. Not bad for someone who spent 7 years in isolation in the notorious Cages in Inverness Prison! The Special Unit was the brainchild of Ken Murray an innovative prison warder who wanted to try something different. Why is it that this idea was cast aside after having some real success?

The Auditor General for Scotland reported in May 2008 that the prison population had reached an all time high.  11 out of 14 prisons in Scotland were deemed overcrowded in February of this year. This overcrowding is said in the report to 

“negatively affect prisoners’ accommodation and access to rehabilitation activities, with remand and short-term prisoners most affected.”

The report goes on to say that work and other activities are good ways of helping prisoners reintegrate in to society after release but that in Barlinnie in 2006/07 the average time any prisoner spent on “activities such as education, work skills training and physical exercise…….(is about) 20 minutes per day.”

Twenty minutes is barely enough time to open a book or get changed into your trainers! 




Edinburgh Prison Visiting Committee have reported earlier in 2008 the following :-

(e) Employment/Education 

 The Committee share the Governor’s concern over setbacks which saw the postponement of the ‘Streetworks’ project which had been designed to train prisoners in road excavation in partnership with Transco in order to provide good interview/employment prospects on release. In light of all the major redevelopment work being undertaken across the establishment, it had proved impossible to find an area of sufficient size in which to carry out this training resulting in its postponement. It is hoped that the project will be able to resume soon.   

 Another disappointment has been a shortage in the number of specialist staff which has resulted in a substantial loss of work skills learning hours over the year. As a consequence, a review of the range of activities provided by the Training Centre was carried out. The Committee are pleased, however, that every attempt is being made to ‘claw back’ some of the hours lost by offering extra training in first aid, manual handling and health and safety. 

The Governor, in our view, has rightly highlighted as a priority the need to increase the numbers of prisoners taking part in work and education activities and we support him in this.    

Once again the prison is to be congratulated on the high standard of flowerbeds within the prison gardens, which is a tribute to the staff and prisoners concerned. 


About those flowerbeds…… in Andrew McLellan’s report he mentions that some of the work which is done depends on having an end market to sell the goods made. He recommends that the end product should just be given away rather than being dependent on any end sale for profit. He then mentions that there are beautiful standard fuschias carefully raised in some prisons which are then simply thrown away to rot. Surely this  means that any motivation or work ethic is simply thrown out with the flowers? At least if they were given to somewhere like a nursing home   then perhaps the work of raising these flowers would seem more worth while to those putting in the work of raising them?

So everyone is talking about the need for prisoners to be occupied more of the time. But what else can be done about it? One of the other considerations is that there is an alternative to prison. 


Rory Cahill on looked at the role of prisons in January this year and reported the following:- 

Keith Simpson, head of restorative justice at SACRO, says that Finland, with its similar population, and previous history of high imprisonment rates, subsequently drastically reduced, provides a good comparator for Scotland.

“Finland certainly has lessons to teach us. In Finland, the presumption is that sentences will be served in the community. They make very strong use of deferred sentences. The majority of sentences are deferred and are only enacted if the conditions and reporting of the community element are broken” he says.

Simpson says that while retaining tough jail sentences for serious offences, the Finnish approach has reduced their imprisonment rate from a figure comparable to Scotland’s to just 68 per 100,000. Simpson also advocates another Finnish policy that could prove controversial if introduced in Scotland – day fines. Instead of both Offender A and Offender B being fined £1,000 for the same offence, a punishment that may seem trivial to Offender A, a wealthy professional, but almost insurmountable to Offender B, who is on a low wage, and finds him or herself jailed for failing to pay the fine, the Finnish system sees both offenders fined a certain number of days’ wages, ensuring a parity of effect in the sentence.

But would the Scottish public – and importantly, the press – accept a change in our system that presumes a community sentence will be imposed in the first instance and hands out different fines to different people for the same offence?

Commission chair Henry McLeish says that informing, and hopefully, changing, the existing perception of community sentences as ‘soft’ is a pre-requisite before any such radical shift can be considered.

“We are looking at community options. We have developed them fairly radically in Scotland and there is an issue with the public and the press that these are viewed as often ‘weak’ and not being about punishment and often being seen as soft.

“In reality, they are not. This is a very powerful public perception that the commission has to respect, but then go in for and see if we can get the mindset to change. But if the mindset is to change, we have to ensure that community sentences are tough, and in fact, tougher than a prison sentence. We have to make sure they are effective and work, we have to make sure the breaching of various orders we have is kept to a minimum,” he says.

Such tougher community sentences could incorporate MacAskill’s suggestion that retired or serving prison officers take their accumulated knowledge and skills outside of the walls of the prison and out into the community as a means of interdicting people at risk of imprisonment, or re-offending, before they commit an offence that warrants a jail sentence.

John Mathieson, a prison officer with over 25 years’ experience and head of the LINK centre at HMP Edinburgh – which helps prisoners in preparing for release by assisting with finding accommodation, work and other necessities – supports MacAskill’s suggestion.

“What we have here is the knowledge of the prisoners themselves. You have to remember that some of these chaps are with us for many months and in some cases, years. We can amass a tremendous amount of information about these prisoners in terms of risk assessments. We have psychologists who do risk assessments, we have social workers who do risk assessments, we do quite intensive programmes and after those programme evaluations are carried out, there’s an awful wealth of experience and knowledge here,” he says.


Henry McLeish’s committee The Scottish Prisons Commission  reported this summer. 

Part of the report states the following  :- 

The public also is provided little information about how effective, and just as important, what different punishments involve. Community punishment is often equated with picking up rubbish or some other activity generally viewed as marginal to paying back for the harm done or making a difference to community life.  Similarly, there is little awareness of what happens in prison and the level of sophistication and effectiveness that the latest programmes now offer.

So there are some alternatives but perhaps the general public needs to be persuaded to understand that community service is more than Naomi Campbell turning up in her chauffeur driven limo to type a couple of letters……!


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