Private prison “softest” in Scotland

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By Kevin Duguid

A PRIVATE prison has been confirmed as the

“softest’ in Scotland with one in three inmates who break the rules escaping punishment.

Kilmarnock prisoners committed more than 17,500 offences in the past five years, the highest of any adult prison in Scotland.

The figures include almost 2,000 cases of assault, drug abuse and destruction of prison property.

But statistics for punishments handed out show that 33% escaped with a caution, no action, or had their case dismissed.

The same figures reveal Shotts has the toughest discipline. Despite having fewer cases of drugs and assaults than Kilmarnock, it only lets off 7% of prisoners.

Critics of Kilmarnock have claimed it operates with fewer staff per prisoner to save cash and, as a result, the inmates are effectively in control.

Details of how Kilmarnock operates are hard to come by because of strict confidentiality surrounding the private deal, which will cost taxpayers 130m over 25 years.

But the statistics on offences and punishments suggest staff are struggling to control its 550 inmates.

Over the period there were 474 assaults, 415 cases of destroying property and 980 drug offences. On 9,885 occasions, prisoners simply refused to follow orders.

Of the 27,340

“punishments’ handed down, there were 611 cases dismissed, 5,425 cautions and 3,069 no actions, easily the highest for all three categories in Scotland.

Shotts handed down 24,889 punishments but only 1,759 were cautions, case dimissed or no action.

Shotts is far more likely to fine prisoners than simply take away their television privileges. More than 8,200 Shotts inmates had cash taken away compared with 2,344 at Kilmarnock.

Kilmarnock, Scotland’s first private prison, has caused enormous controversy since it opened in 1999.

Its reputation as a soft touch for prisoners followed reports of prisoners receiving Playstations and flat screen televisions equipped with DVD players and Sky television.

Andy Hogg, Assistant General Secretary, of the Scottish Prison Officers’ Association said:

“If prisoners don’t think they are going to be punished then they will feel free to do most things, knowing that if they are challenged they will go unpunished.

The figures themselves certainly indicate a degree of leniency somewhere along the line.

“The level of misdemeanours would suggest the staff are actually trying to keep control, even though there is limited number on the ground.

“They’ll find that increasingly more difficult and become more despondent if they are putting people on report and that is not getting acted upon. “

A spokesman for The Taxpayers’ Alliance said:

“Taxpayers have a right to be concerned if prisons aren’t dealing with inmates’ misdemeanours properly.

“Some of these are very serious incidents and should be dealt with in appropriate fashion. It costs taxpayers thousands each year to keep a criminal in jail. There’s no point in locking them up if we aren’t also making an effort to change their ways. “

Clive Fairweather, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland, carried out the first inspection of the prison.

He said:

“I was concerned at certain trends in Kilmarnock Prison when I was Chief Inspector, particularly with discipline.

“They threatened to sue me when I was about to publish a report on them. “

He added:

“The Information Commissioner fought hard to publish commercially confidential documents from Kilmarnock but the company’s argument is that their competitors could see their finances and undercut them in contracts. “

Fairweather believes staffing levels are better than at the start and pointed out a controller from the Scottish Prison Service is now based in the jail.

He also blames human rights laws for stopping prisons being as tough as they used to be.

“It has generally got a lot more of a slap on the face with a wet fish than before,’ he said.

Scotland’s only other private prison, Addiewell, West Lothian, has 150 more inmates than Kilmarnock but recorded a relatively low 6,335 offences.

The jail, run by Kalyx Services, handed down just over 16,000 punishments, only 12% of which were cautions, no actions and case dismissed.

Barlinnie – which has long been known as Scotland’s toughest jail – had just 6154 reported offences, despite its average population of almost 1,500 inmates. Only 20% of miscreants were

“let off.”

Perth, meanwhile, is the

“softest’ jail in the public sector, with 30% of offenders going unpunished.

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said that although Kilmarnock reported offences, decisions on discipline were taken by the SPS.

He said the high figures were partly the result of the contractual arrangements with Kilmarnock.

“The contract requires them to do a variety of things and if they fail there are penalties. For instance, they are required to provide a work place for every prisoner every day.

“If a prisoner refuses to attend that placement they are reported because if they were not it would be deemed that the company was at fault.

“It is not fair to say they are the most lenient prison as they are private contractors and not permitted to make discipline decisions. These are made by SPS. “

A spokesman for Serco, the company which runs Kilmarnock, said:

“We are committed to managing prisons that are safe, secure and successful at reducing reoffending while being efficient with taxpayers’ money.

“The last report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland described Kilmarnock as “a safe and operationally stable establishment”.

“We have a robust system in place to deal with any offences committed by prisoners at HMP Kilmarnock: we are contractually obliged to report all of these to the Scottish Prison Service who are responsible for deciding on the appropriate action to be taken.

“Our prisoners can pay to watch television from within their cells, including certain satellite channels pre-determined by the prison. Inmates can also request permission to use games consoles but these must be paid for. These privileges, which are supplied at cost to the public, help incentivise good behaviour and can be removed at any time. “

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