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Prison Overcrowding

Volume 86: debated on Wednesday 13 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on overcrowding in Scottish prisons.

Substantial overcrowding in Scottish prisons is currently limited to four penal establishments—Barlinnie, Edinburgh and Inverness prisons, and Longriggend remand unit. The position will remain difficult until the refurbished Greenock prison and phase II of Shotts prison are ready for occupation in March 1986 and March 1987 respectively.

Does the Minister appreciate that overcrowding is causing great concern to Scottish prison officers, who are being asked to work in impossible conditions which apply beyond the establishments to which he referred—to Peterhead, for example? Was it not a disgrace that in the last financial year the capital budget for the prison service was underspent by the Scottish Office? Does that not illustrate the Minister's concern about this very serious problem?

We are concerned about the problem. The fact that the projects at Greenock and Shotts are coming on stream in the medium term shows that we are and have been concerned about the problem for some time.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have listened with interest to the comment by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) about Peterhead prison in my constituency. Peterhead is overcrowded. Serious problems occur because long-term prisoners need more accommodation. What is happening about the building of the new prison?

My hon. Friend should table a question on the subject raised in the latter part of his supplementary question. Peterhead is a problem because of the nature of the prisoners in that institution. We always want to ensure that the conditions there are such that the staff can cope with the most difficult prisoners that we have to hold in our penal institutions.

Does the Minister believe that the provision of additional places will completely remove the overcrowding? Is he not worried that the availability of additional spaces might simply lead to further and additional incarceration sentences?

I do not think that the judiciary considers whether the prison service has expanded before it decides on a medium-sized sentence or a long sentence. It is difficult to project into the future. My Department is considering ways of producing reliable projections to guide us in our plans.

In discussions will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the regrettable conditions in which prisoners on remand are kept?

That is one of the problems. One of the factors which has led to overcrowding is the increase in the length of time that remand prisoners are kept in custody awaiting trial. I am asking my Department to examine that problem.

If the Chancellor's statement yesterday means extra resources for the Scottish Office, will the Minister get his hands on some of them to establish more designated places?

As the hon. Gentleman knows from experience, such matters have to be discussed by Scottish Office Ministers. I shall be putting in a plug for designated places.