HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland: Annual Report 2016-2017


David Strang
HM Chief Inspector

At the end of March 2017, there were just under 7500 people detained in Scotland’s prisons. This represents a small reduction in the overall number of people in prison in Scotland over the last year. It is important, however, to note that there continues to be a growing number of older prisoners, those serving longer sentences and those convicted of sexual offences. These factors are likely to continue to place pressure on the size of the prison population for some time to come. The number of prisoners on remand awaiting trial has grown to 1046.

As Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland (HMCIPS), I am responsible for the inspection and monitoring of the conditions in prison and the treatment of prisoners. The general conditions in prisons have improved in recent years, as old prisons have been replaced or refurbished and new prisons have been built. The majority of prisons have modern facilities and residential accommodation of a suitable standard. 

Across the 15 prisons in Scotland, prisoners have generally told me that they feel safe. It is a fundamental requirement of a well-run prison that people who live and work there should feel confident in its stability and order. We should never take for granted the good order that is maintained in Scotland’s prisons and that they are in general stable and secure environments. 

One of the key factors affecting the atmosphere in a prison is the quality of relationships between prisoners and those who work in prison. I continue to be impressed with the commitment of staff and their ability to care for and protect prisoners, a substantial proportion of whom are vulnerable. We know, too, that some may pose a serious danger to themselves or others. Throughout the year, I have seen many examples when staff have engaged constructively with prisoners, in order to support them through their sentence and in preparation for their return to the community.

"I have seen many examples when staff have engaged constructively with prisoners."

During this year, we saw the start of the implementation of the Scottish Government’s refreshed strategy for women in prison. Following Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) report of the inspection of HMP & YOI Cornton Vale in 2016, approximately 100 women transferred from Cornton Vale to HMP & YOI Polmont. This allowed them a welcome improvement in the conditions in which they were held, including better access to in-cell sanitation. 

The strategy includes plans to build a smaller national prison for those with more complex needs, and a number of Community Custody Units where women will be able to serve their sentence closer to their home and family. 

The number of women held in custody in recent months has increased from a low of 316 in January 2017 to almost 380 during the first week of April 2017. Given that the new configuration of the female custodial estate will provide only 230 places, much work is still required to reduce the numbers in custody, ahead of the new prison opening in 2020. 

"I have been encouraged to see improvements being implemented as staff respond positively to the findings of the IPMs."

Independent Prison Monitoring

2016-17 was the first full year of the operation of Independent Prison Monitoring, a new responsibility of HMIPS since August 2015. Over 130 volunteer Independent Prison Monitors (IPMs) ensured that every prison was visited every week to monitor the conditions and treatment in prison. They monitored the standards in prison through the use of observed practice, and responded to prisoners’ requests for assistance. IPMs conducted over 900 prison visits and responded to over 1,400 prisoners’ requests. The findings from IPMs’ visits are communicated regularly to prison Governors and Directors throughout the year. Quarterly one-page summaries of their findings are now published on the HMIPS website Monitoring reports relating to each prison are contained in the online version of this Annual Report.

I have been encouraged to see improvements being implemented as staff respond positively to the findings of the IPMs. Some of these changes have related to the circumstances of individual prisoners, while others have led to improvements in processes affecting the wider population in the prison.

There are real benefits from having both inspecting and monitoring under the remit of HMCIPS. This allows information sharing, joint working and a coordinated approach, without in any way compromising the independence of the Monitors. I am grateful too, to the Independent Prison Monitoring Advisory Group for their support in reviewing the operation of independent monitoring; a separate report from the Advisory Group is in the online version of the Annual Report.

Prison Inspections

HMIPS conducted full inspections at three large prisons: HMPs Barlinnie, Kilmarnock and Edinburgh. Each inspection was carried out by a multi-disciplinary team from a wide variety of inspection and scrutiny bodies: HMIPS, Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Education Scotland, the Care Inspectorate and the Scottish Human Rights Commission. I am grateful to each of them for their support throughout the year.

In addition to the full inspections, three shorter inspections were conducted as a result of the decision to transfer the women from HMP & YOI Cornton Vale to HMP & YOI Polmont. HMP & YOI Polmont was inspected twice, once before and once after the women had been transferred. This was to assess the impact on the young men of the arrival of the women. We found that the transfer had been managed well and that the arrival of the women had not resulted in a detriment to the opportunities available for the young men. HMP & YOI Cornton Vale was also inspected after the transfer had taken place. I am grateful to Professor Lesley McAra from the University of Edinburgh for her contribution to the inspections at HMP & YOI Polmont, informed by her longitudinal study of youth transitions and crime. 

During the year we also conducted a thematic study of the experience of older prisoners in Scotland’s prisons. The report, entitled “Who Cares?” was published in July 2017 – Professor Richard Sparks of the University of Edinburgh provided expert advice to support the study. 

"An ageing prison population brings with it greater challenges."

Court Cells Inspection

Following our report of the conditions of the cells at Glasgow Sheriff Court, we were encouraged by the positive response from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS). The custody suite, where detainees had been held in unsatisfactory conditions, had been transformed by the removal of graffiti, increased lighting, improved decoration and better operational processes. We were pleased to see the sustained improvement to the conditions in the cells and the treatment of people detained in the custody suite. HMIPS subsequently developed and published a set of Standards for Inspecting Court Custody Provision, following consultation with both the SCTS, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and the external contractor G4S. The Standards can be found on our website –

National Preventive Mechanism (NPM)

The United Kingdom is a signatory to the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). HMIPS is one of 21 bodies which comprise the UK’s NPM, which has a duty regularly to monitor the treatment of detainees and the conditions in which they are held. In May 2016 the NPM appointed its first independent chair, John Wadham QC.