From education to employment

Prison Inspection Cites Work Experience and Vocational Training Programmes but Calls for Imp

The latest report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has shown the results from a full inspection of HMP Perth in October 2005. They have found that new measures, such as the end of “slopping out”, have increased satisfaction among prisoners and in turn reduced the violent incident rate.

The report, conducted by Dr. Andrew McLellan, praises a large-scale rebuilding programme in the prison that he agrees has been well managed from the start. This project includes the construction of a new prisoner residence block, health centre and activity facility. So far, the average number of prisoners in Perth has dropped since rebuilding work began as over 100 short-term prisoners have been moved to HMP Low Moss near Glasgow.

Food for Thought

The report also highlights the key areas that need improvement, such as the quality of the food, which is good in the Friarton Hall but poor in other areas. “Food is considered by prisoners to be among the worst in the Scottish Prison Service,” said Dr. McLellan. “During the inspection, a change was beginning with the introduction of a servery in one hall. Early responses from prisoners were good. With regard to fresh fruit it is possible, by choosing every available option, for a prisoner to have ten pieces of fruit per week.”

The report acknowledges that the prison provides good work experience and vocational training programmes, but a shortage of prison staff prevents the prisoners from gaining the maximum benefit from these facilities. A major concern was that some prisoners were still living in poor conditions in two of the halls, with prisoners in shared cells with inadequate furniture. “Slopping out ended in HMP Perth on June 10th 2005. This is a welcome development. The process has been complicated in terms of moving prisoners around, but has been well managed,” said Dr. McLellan.

Improvement Demanded

“However,” he continued, “one consequence of ending slopping out has been that some prisoners are now living in cells with inadequate or broken furniture. Mattresses are old and thin and often do not look clean. In these poor conditions there can be three prisoners sharing one cell. Meanwhile the practice of keeping six prisoners together in a bleak dormitory room in E Hall continues.”

The report also said that there was a lack of induction and addiction services, as well as a failure to meet the needs of an increasing population of prisoners on remand. But previous inspections found evidence of very good relationships between prisoners and staff at Perth, and Dr. McLellan said that he found the same again with this inspection.

It is clear that, whilst there has been an improvement in the state of Perth prison, there is still a long way to go. It just goes to show the necessity and value of these reports to be able to highlight these problems in the first place. Now that the key areas for improvement have been identified, it will take time and money to fix the problems which, no doubt, are the same as in a number of prisons around Britain.

Paul Keely

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