By Lucy Ashton
Justice Secretary Angela Constance has been told her government are “guilty of gross mismanagement” of Scottish prisons after the issue of overcrowding was put to her once again.
The SNP Minister was “all over the place” during a BBC interview in which she talked through the shambolic roll out of Barlinnie prison that is already delayed and significantly over budget. She told the BBC that there is still no final cost and she cannot commit to a launch date despite ongoing warnings of too many prisoners.
This week she came under fire for the “jaw-dropping” revelation that the cost of the new building to replace the “old and archaic” prison has risen exponentially to £400 million from an initial £170 million cost.
Her latest attempts to demonstrate competence within the SNP were met with derision from the Scottish Conservatives as well as being branded a “burning platform.” a “catastrophic failure” and a by those working in the sector.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay MSP who has already said the SNP Government has shown “incompetence and squandered public money”, reacted to the latest interview.
He said “Angela Constance was all over the place on this. “Dangerous overcrowding in Scotland’s prisons is a direct result of the SNP’s long-term failure to properly fund the service, build new jails in time and tackle the court backlog.
“Concerns about the crumbling prison estate have been raised for years, yet nationalist ministers have failed to act. They’re guilty of gross mismanagement and must now explain exactly what they’re going to do to fix this mess of their own making.”
Inmates are “constantly on edge” and it’s “demoralising for staff” says Theresa Medhurst, Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service, who told the BBC that signs of suffering among convicts are often missed due to strain on officers. She said the conditions of Barlinnie prison are dire and described the shame of a 21st century prison being so “old and archaic”.
It was Kevin McCluskey there from Community Justice Scotland who describe the prison system as a “burning platform”.
Ms Constance said “There’s a number of actions already in progress”.
Addressing the Barlinnie controversy she said: “We are currently waiting on the final plans and once we have the final plans, I will be in a much better position to establish those initial estimated costs and a timetable.
“It is clear to me that we do indeed need to replace Barlinnie. There is no doubt about that.”
She also told listeners “There is certainly the need and scope for a bigger conversation” about how to manage prisons.
She added: “…that’s a bigger conversation within government within parliament and indeed, across our country because ultimately, we all want the same thing.”