JAIL chiefs have spent more than £5m providing church ministers to Scotland’s prisoners over the past five years.
Despite the image of nation’s jails as hellholes, an average of £644 per inmate has been spent on spreading the word of god since 2008.
Scotland’s most religious prison is Castle Huntly open jail, near Dundee, where the average spend per prisoner is £1943.29 over the period.
Peterhead – notorious as the former home of Scotland’s most serious child sex offenders – came second at £1864.35.
The least religious jail is Perth at just £458.13, followed by Shotts, North Lanarkshire, at £703.80 and the young offenders institute at Polmont, near Falkirk, at £753.80.
Secular groups have bitterly attacked the spending as a “state subsidy” for religion and claimed some prisoners fake religious devotion in return for extra privileges.
The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal spending on ministers of various faiths. They included the costs of religious books and equipment.
Since 2008, the Scottish Prison Service has spent a total of £5,404,666.74 on the country’s 14 public prisons.
Spending is increasing year-by-year. The total for “staffing costs” for 2008/09 was £1,004,942.44 but that has risen steadily every year to the 2012/13 total of £1,142,388.89.
Based on the average spend per prisoner over the period, Inverness is Scotland’s third most religious prison at £1006.22. HMP Dumfries came fourth at £1005.38.
Barlinnie, Scotland’s biggest jail – and reputedly the toughest – still spent an average of £943.90 per prisoner since 2008, putting it in seventh place.
Cornton Vale, the female-only prison near Stirling, spent an average of £827.32.
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) did not provide details of what items were bought to fulfill the religious needs of prisoners.
But it gave one example, revealing the Chaplaincy service at Polmont purchased a New Testament Bible in Vietnamese at a cost of £12.99 plus postage.
A Scottish Secular Society spokesman angrily denounced the spending.
He said: “There is a boom in priests, pastors, rabbis, imams and laypeople attaching themselves to the secular institutions largely funded by the taxpayer.
“Entrance into prisons is vital missionary work for churches or mosques that find their congregations dwindling.
“There is a widespread abuse of their services. A recent study found an increase in “shared spaces for prayer reflection and meditation”, despite the declining popularity of religion over the past 10 years.
He added: “It is common practise for people who are not particularly religious to highlight their faith once in prison to gain access to special diets.”
Government figures in 2011 showed that 40% of prisoners said they did not belong to any religious group while 56% described themselves as Christian.
A spokesman for the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities said they supported the provision on the inside.
“We support the right of all prisoners to be able to observe their religion. The Jewish community provides a chaplaincy service to Jewish prisoners, for which no fee is charged.”
A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Scotland called for more to be spent.
“If you consider how little this amount is of the total budget, it really is not that much. Religion is an essential human right and this is a less than fair percentage of the total budget.”
No-one was available for comment from the Scottish Catholic Church, The Church of Scotland or the Scottish Episcopal Church.
Scotland’s “most religious” prisons, ranked by average spend per prisoner over the past five years
1) Castle Huntly Open – £1943.29
2) Peterhead – £1864.35
3) Inverness – £1006.22
4) Dumfries – £1005.38
5) Greenock – £995.66
6) Glenochil – £964.68
7) Barlinnie – £943.90
8) Cornton Vale – £827.32
9) Aberdeen – £813.70
10) Edinburgh – £807.22
11)Polmont – £753.80
12) Shotts – £703.80
13) Perth – £458.13
Low Moss Prison, in East Dunbartonshire, is not included because figures were only available for the past two years.
There are no figures from Addiewell, West Lothian, or Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, because they are privately run.