PRISONERS have compared Scotland’s largest young offenders institution to a “holiday camp with whatever you need”, and say they often prefer life on the inside.
A new study says many inmates see Polmont as a “more favourable option” to serving punishments in the community like curfews.
Many of the institution’s inmates, some as young as 16, accept they will spend their lives going in and out of jail.
The research, called Tales of Glasgow’s Lost Boys, involved interviewing staff and inmates at the 830-space prison near Stirling.
The Scottish Conservatives have warned the institution could be failing to punish of rehabilitate offenders.
Ross Deuchar, professor of youth and community studies at the University of the West of Scotland, carried out the study.
He spoke to “Benny”, an 18-year-old who was convicted of attempted murder, who heaped praise on Polmont’s facilities.
“Benny” said: “You’ve got your telly, freeview channels, dole money to buy tobacco.
“Whatever you need is here.”
“Stewart,” 17, who was also put on curfew, said: “It’s better in here.
“Once I got put on the curfew, I’d rather have come in here and done my sentence and got out.”
An 18-year-old convicted of assault and robbery who was back in Polmont, “Cal,” said: “After my third time I didn’t care any more… because it’s just a holiday camp [in prison].”
One of the wardens at Polmont said: “There are guys who come in here all the time. They’ll do a life sentence but in three month, 12 month, 18 month segments.”
Mr Deuchar said: “For some of the first time offenders, it can be a deterrent. So hopefully, if they have access to education in prison, and when they go out that carries on, maybe they can be rehabilitated and do not go back.
“But once they start returning, and more than 80% are coming back within a couple of years, they begin to get institutionalised and desensitised. They don’t see it as a threat.”
Mr Deuchar said human rights legislation has made prisoners more likely to stay in their cells and not take part in education courses.
He said: “I think inevitably human rights legislation has made prisons more comfortable than they sued to be. They have TVs, their own showers and toilets, etc.
“Before , they at least had to come out to have a shower at some point. Now they can choose to stay confined.”
He called for more funding for community-based punishments and rehabilitation programmes.
The research was part of a book due next year on policing youth crime.
John Lamont, Scottish Conservative chief whip, said victims of crime would be appalled to hear offenders describe Polmont as a “holiday camp”.
He said: “Many of these teenagers have destroyed lives through their offending and victims will take no comfort in hearing their tormentors are having a ball at the taxpayers’ expense.
“The two main roles of prison are to punish and rehabilitate. If the youngsters and prison officers are to be believed, neither is happening at Polmont.”
A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said: “The challenge of preventing people from becoming career criminals goes beyond Polmont.
“The idea that robust community punishments might be one way of dealing with them is one we would have no objection to.”
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “Cutting youth crime is a key priority and we want to nip bad behaviour in the bud before it becomes a problem later.
“That’s why we have intro duced a range of initiatives, such as our Whole Systems Approach, to tackle all aspects of Youth offending, from low-level crime to the most serious and harmful offences.”