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

Strategic challenges for the criminal justice system

The criminal justice system in Scotland is facing a number of strategic issues which require a coordinated response.

Older prisoners

Without a doubt there is a growing number of older prisoners in Scotland’s prisons. This trend is likely to continue, due to the increasing numbers of historic sexual offences being prosecuted in the courts, and the increasing lengths of prison sentences being issued by the courts. An ageing prison population brings with it greater challenges, particularly because of their more complex needs and restricted mobility. The need to provide social care to more prisoners will increase. In the main, prisons have been designed for younger prisoners; there is a need for appropriate facilities to be available for older prisoners. Clear decisions are also required about where older prisoners should be placed and about staff selection and training. Our report entitled “Who Cares?” can be found on our website –


Increasingly, we are finding that a significant number of prisoners are not able to progress through their sentence, by meeting critical dates, due to a lack of availability of or capacity within suitable treatment programmes. There are lengthy waiting lists for many key programmes, which means that a substantial number of prisoners are not able to demonstrate to the Parole Board that they have completed the programmes which were required for them to be considered for parole.

Of perhaps greater concern is that prisoners are at risk of being released into the community without having completed treatment programmes designed to reduce future reoffending.

"We will continue to monitor how well all prisoners are able to access purposeful activities and developmental opportunities."

Population management

The SPS has for some time been reviewing the management of its overall population, particularly older prisoners, those convicted of sexual offences and prisoners held on remand. At present there are too many people held in prisons where there are insufficient places for those categories of prisoners, resulting in restricted regimes or a lack of suitable programmes.

Throughcare support

The provision of services to people leaving prison are critical to their successful reintegration to the community after the end of their sentence. In the main, these are the responsibility of service providers other than the SPS, such as housing, education, employment, healthcare (addictions, mental health and primary care services) and welfare benefits. We have regularly found that for many people leaving prison, one of the biggest difficulties is being able to access suitable accommodation. Some are able to find accommodation with family or friends, but others end up sleeping rough. We know that the outcomes are poorer for people who leave custody without arrangements in place for housing, healthcare and welfare benefits.

Priorities for 2017-18

HMIPS will continue to focus on these strategic issues and concerns during the year 2017-18. Both the inspection teams and the IPMs will report on the progress which has been made. The weekly reports from IPMs in every prison across Scotland enable us to develop a national picture. We are able to identify areas of good performance as well as where improvements are needed. 

Healthcare will continue to be a priority area for HMIPS, as we seek to encourage consistency of service provision to all prisoners in Scotland.

We will also consider how consistently prisoners are able to progress through their sentence by accessing treatment programmes which meet their needs. 

We will continue to monitor how well all prisoners are able to access purposeful activities and developmental opportunities. This is particularly relevant for prisoners who are more likely to be subject to a restricted regime in the prison due to their sentence classification or circumstances. We are particularly concerned about prisoners who may be confined to their cells for long periods of time each day, in what may amount to informal isolation. The recently published UK NPM guidance on the scrutiny and monitoring of people held in isolation will be used to inform the work of both IPMs and inspectors in the year ahead.

Finally, the provision of throughcare services to people before and immediately after their liberation from prison remains essential to the successful reintegration back into their communities. These are responsibilities which lie not just with the SPS, but with wider service providers such as education, housing, health, employment and welfare benefits. Fundamentally these are dependent not so much on the criminal justice system, but on wider social justice issues of poverty, inequality, exclusion and marginalisation. 

Inspecting and Monitoring 2016-17 


The purpose of HMIPS is to inspect and monitor the conditions in prisons and the treatment of prisoners, and to report and publicly our findings. The Public Services Reform (Inspection and Monitoring of Prisons) (Scotland) Order 2015 came into force on 31 August 2015, and from this date HMCIPS assumed overall responsibility for the monitoring of prisons, which is carried out on a day to day basis by IPMs. The Inspectorate is independent of both the SPS and the Scottish Government. This allows us to report our findings with integrity and impartiality.

We inspect and monitor against a set of published standards launched in March 2015, which can be found at We also have Standards for Inspecting Court Custody Provision in Scotland launched in March 2017 which are also available on our website.

The information that we gather allows us to obtain a full picture of the prison. This enables us to ensure that our assessments are fair, balanced and accurate. 

Respect for human rights

The experience of those in prison lies at the heart of our inspection and monitoring process.


Our programme of regular inspections is informed by an assessment of risk and requirement. We will continue to follow-up on our inspections, with visits by inspectors and IPMs. 


Independent Prison Monitors (IPMs) are volunteers from local communities who monitor treatment and conditions in Scotland’s prisons. Each prison is monitored at least once per week. IPMs make observations about treatment and conditions, and also look into issues prisoners raise. Any prisoner can ask to see an IPM by:

  • Calling the IPM Freephone on 0800 056 7476. Calls are confidential and free.
  • Submitting a paper request form via request boxes in prisons. 
  • Approaching IPMs while they are visiting prisons.
Region and Prison Average contracted places1 Population on 31 March 20172 IPM Visits Prisoner Requests
North of Scotland
1 HMP Glenochil 670 622 74 104
HMP & YOI Grampian 474 439 53 89
HMP Inverness 98 117 58 68
HMP Open Estate 285 180 55 35
HMP Perth 631 628 57 100
East of Scotland
2 HMP Addiewell 700 695 61 140
HMP & YOI Cornton Vale 111 86 60 60
HMP Edinburgh 870 861 75 82
HMP & YOI Polmont 607 514 60 24
HMP Shotts 538 535 68 142
South and West of Scotland
3 HMP Barlinnie 1,021 1,095 79 244
HMP Dumfries 173 176 55 32
HMP Greenock 263 247 62 91
HMP Kilmarnock 500 499 64 61
HMP Low Moss 784 742 64 135
Total 7,725 7,436 945 1,407

1 Data from SPS Population and Accommodation Report
2 Data from SPS Population and Accommodation Report

Rating Keys

Rating Keys

Inspection Activity

Inspections Undertaken

For the year 2016–17 inspections were completed as follows. 

HMP & YOI Polmont 19-21 April 2016

HMP Barlinnie 16-27 May 2016

HMP & YOI Cornton Vale 11-13 October 2016

HMP Kilmarnock 7-18 November 2016

HMP & YOI Polmont 23-27 January 2017

HMP Edinburgh 6 -17 March 2017

Summary of Inspections Undertaken By Rating

Summary of Inspections Undertaken By Rating

Note: Polmont and Cornton Vale were undertaken as a result of the decision by the Minister to move women to Polmont, as such they were not subject to the full standards of inspection and monitoring.

The full report can be found on the HMIPS website

Independent Prison Monitoring In 2016-17

Following the launch of Independent Prison Monitoring on 31 August 2015, 2016-17 marked the first full year of operation for the new system. During this time, IPMs volunteered almost 5,000 hours of their time, monitoring Scotland’s prisons on 945 occasions and dealing with more than 1,400 requests from prisoners. 

National Themes

The following sections set out for each prison key IPM findings, positive changes observed and issues for ongoing monitoring. There are a number of consistent themes across Scotland arising from IPM teams’ findings: 

  • Relationships: On many occasions IPMs report observing positive staff-prisoner relationships, facilitated by professional and proactive staff. This is particularly notable in IPM findings about potentially challenging and sensitive aspects of life in prison, such as reception processes and Separation and Reintegration Units, where staff are often observed taking particular care to ensure prisoners’ needs are understood and met. Work underway across SPS to support and enhance this professionalism is welcomed. 
  • Healthcare: Healthcare is the most common issue raised with IPMs by prisoners, whose key concerns relate to medication and waiting times for appointments. When IPMs look into concerns raised by prisoners, often the conclusion is that the healthcare available is reasonable. However, communication about appointments and decision making is often an issue. Linked to this the lack of consistency in prescribing practice between the community and prisons and across health board areas can result in confusion and frustration for prisoners. 
  • Progression: Access to courses and programmes to support rehabilitation and sentence progression continues to be a common theme raised with IPMs. IPMs have found that places are limited, the nationally maintained waiting list is long, and prisoners’ understanding of and trust in the process for allocation is poor. 
  • Equity of regimes for different groups of prisoners: IPMs continue to note concerns about the different levels of access to and engagement in activities available in prisons for different groups of prisoners. In particular, women (where they make up a small proportion of the population), young people, those held under protection regimes and remand prisoners often do not have equity of access to purposeful activity, time out of cell and other interventions and services.