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Fresh demand for new Highland prison to be delivered as alarming figures reveal almost 1000 inmates transferred out of the region to serve their time


By Andrew Dixon

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An artist's impression of the planned new prison was first unveiled in 2017.
An artist's impression of the planned new prison was first unveiled in 2017.

NEARLY 1000 prisoners had to be transferred out of the Highlands in the first eight months of the year, shock new figures show.

The news has brought fresh calls for the Scottish Government to deliver on its promise of a new prison for Inverness – more than a decade after it was made.

Between January and August, 913 inmates were transferred outside the region, yet the new £92 million HMP Highland has been delayed indefinitely after new facilities in the central belt were prioritised instead.

Earlier this month, an 82-year-old female prisoner was sent on a journey of more than 100 miles to Aberdeen as there was no room to house her in Inverness.

Her plight was highlighted by her lawyer when she appeared at Inverness Sheriff Court – but is sadly typical.

Highland MSP Edward Mountain said the latest figures were conclusive proof that the Victorian-designed Porterfield jail is not fit for purpose and needs to be replaced urgently.

In January, with 115 inmates in Inverness prison, 141 were transferred out of the region, with similar numbers continuing until March.

“I am deeply concerned about the SNP government’s approach to justice. In the Highlands we have a high prison population, a lack of rehabilitation services and a prison estate that is in desperate need of modernisation."
Inverness Prison.
Inverness Prison.

At the onset of lockdown and amid concerns inmates could be badly hit by coronavirus, the prison population fell to just 87 in April when a further 112 offenders were moved despite the prison being well below capacity.

Teresa Medhurst, interim chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), said the movement of prisoners was down to a variety of reasons.

They include when an individual’s needs cannot be met, to separate potentially problematic inmates, because of a lack of facilities for women, if a prisoner is a young offender, has committed a sexual offence or if the offence has been committed elsewhere and the individual has received a short custodial sentence.

But there is obviously a capacity issue as well, because without transfers out of the region there would have been considerable overcrowding.

Mr Mountain said: “It is totally unfair that we are asking our valued prison staff to work in a prison that is not fit for purpose. The huge number of transfers prove that we need a new prison.

“The current prison only has a design capacity of 93, which is clearly insufficient given the long-term problems with overcrowding. We desperately need a modern prison which can accommodate more individuals from the Highlands and provides more rehabilitation services too.

“This SNP government promised the Highlands a new prison over 10 years ago, which it still hasn’t delivered. I am continuing to press for a modern prison to be built – it is long overdue.”

A new prison will double capacity and enable more prisoners to be accommodated closer to their families, which will aid their overall rehabilitation.

Edward Mountain at the site of the new prison.
Edward Mountain at the site of the new prison.

Mr Mountain added: “The suspension of rehabilitation services at Porterfield due to the pandemic also raised eyebrows amid fears the reoffending rate would rise. There’s a limit to the rehabilitation services that HMP Inverness can provide and that is deeply concerning.

“Transferring prisoners to other sites is not a sustainable option either, it just moves the pressure within our prison system to somewhere else. Having more rehabilitation services in the Highlands is crucial because it can reduce reoffending once an individual has served their time and left prison.

“I am deeply concerned about the SNP government’s approach to justice. In the Highlands we have a high prison population, a lack of rehabilitation services and a prison estate that is in desperate need of modernisation.

“This is unsustainable and our prison staff are being put under immense pressure to work in these difficult conditions.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service are committed to modernising and improving the prison estate and have been clear that the development of the new female estate and replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP Highland are priorities.

“A site has been purchased on the east side of Inverness and outline planning permission has been obtained for the construction of HMP Highland. Development of a suitable design is progressing.”



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