Plans for new Inverness prison 'postponed indefinitely' as Scottish Government prioritise Barlinnie replacement
THE Highlands has been dealt a blow by the Scottish Government with the news that plans for a much-needed new prison for Inverness have been shelved.
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf has said that a replacement for the overcrowded and outdated Porterfield prison has been postponed indefinitely.
The news sparked fury in the Highland capital where a site for the £80 million development has already been identified near the Inverness Shopping Park to the east of the city.
The bad news was delivered to Highland Tory MSP Edward Mountain when he met Mr Yousaf on the eve of the recent budget to demand the new jail was included.
Mr Yousaf told him that the government was concentrating on a replacement for Barlinnie in Glasgow and improvements to the women’s prison estate.
Planning permission for the new prison was granted in 2017 and it was supposed to open last year.
The completion date was then pushed back to 2021 and then again to 2023, as exclusively reported by the Courier last spring.
As there is no money in the government’s draft budget for 2020/21, that date has been pushed back again, with no indication of when it might actually happen.
An angry Mr Mountain said the project was ready to go and the only thing holding it up was the lack of cash.
“For too long now, the Scottish Government has ignored the needs of the Highlands by refusing to invest in a new prison in Inverness,” he said.
“It is clear that the Scottish Prison Service is doing a lot of work in the background on plans for the new prison and I understand that this project is almost ‘shovel ready’. It just requires funding. Therefore, it is disappointing that the Scottish Government, yet again, will not commit full funding to a new prison.
“The current prison is not fit for purpose and suffers from long-term overcrowding issues, putting the safety of prison staff at risk.”
While he welcomed news that CCTV was being upgraded at the current prison and Mr Yousaf was considering improving rehabilitation facilities, he added: “It remains the case that the Highlands needs a modern prison and I will continue to hold this SNP government to account for its distinct lack of investment in the Highlands.”
Porterfield suffers from overcrowding, a lack of facilities for disabled inmates and no accommodation for women, so female prisoners from the Highlands have to be jailed far from home, damaging family ties.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “The SNP promised the people in the Highlands a new prison. While it might not be clear from the budget when this might be delivered, the promise was that the building would start in 2018. It’s already running late and they can’t delay it any further.
“Facilities at Inverness prison are grim, there is nothing for women and the new prison is not going to cater for women either. People in the Highlands should not put up with second best because the Scottish Government can’t do its sums.”
Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing said the Scottish Government remained committed to building the new prison, but the cash to build it was not available at the moment.
He added: “As with all substantial capital projects, the timescale for HMP Highland is dependent on sufficient capital funding being available.
“The total cost of the land purchase for HMP Highland was £4,749,000 (inclusive of VAT) with no annual interest rates or restrictions associated with the land.
“The Scottish Government has therefore, by providing that substantial capital funding for the site purchase, already committed to a new prison for Inverness and the Highlands and I recently met the justice secretary Humza Yousaf to press the case. I will, of course, continue to do so.”
A spokeswoman for prison reform group the Howard League (Scotland) said: “A serious issue with older prisons such as HMP Inverness is the limitation the building affords older and infirm prisoners.
“The reality of a prison which is not designed for those with mobility issues is that prisoners spend the vast majority of their time in their cells, which does little to support their mental health.
“Thus, with limited means of accessing activity or educational areas, it’s difficult to argue that a prison can offer any tangible form of rehabilitative effort.”