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HM Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on HMP Greenock - February 2006

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1. PREAMBLE

1.1 There was clear evidence from prisoners that some of the things which are most important to them are well provided at Greenock. The report shows that Greenock is a safe prison. Food is among the most highly rated of all prisons in the SPS Prisoner Survey. It is good to note that all prisoners have a menu choice each day: this includes remand prisoners who are often excluded from such provision. In two halls fresh fruit and cereal are always available on a "help yourself" basis: this is quite exceptional. The canteen arrangements are also particularly good.

1.2 The report points to the good facilities and the good practice in the reception area. For all prisoners, but especially those coming in for the first time, the experience at reception is very important. In Greenock there is a part of one hall which is set aside for prisoners on admission: a special regime is therefore available for at least the first night. The visit room is large and bright and well equipped. It is large enough to make it possible for prisoners to have opportunities for visits more often than the minimum requirement. Visitors told inspectors that they were treated with respect by prison staff. The gym is small: but there is very good access for prisoners to PE, and prisoners were enthusiastic about the opportunities provided.

1.3 Some things need to be improved. The toilet arrangements in two halls are not good. Most prisoners are sharing cells: the toilet in the cell has a small "vanity screen" which offers little privacy from the other prisoner in the cell and no privacy from staff looking into the cell or entering it. In a few cells the toilet is completely unscreened. There is no sharing in such cells: but there should not be an unscreened toilet in a room where a prisoner sleeps, and may eat and may be locked up for long periods of time during the day. The decoration in the largest hall is poor. SPS has attempted to hold remand prisoners in the best conditions, and this attempt deserves credit. But the condition of the cells in which they are held in Greenock is shabby.

1.4 All sources of evidence agreed that relationships between staff and prisoners are very good. Prisoner groups and individual prisoners regularly described the relationships as the best they had known in a Scottish prison. This might not in itself be a good thing: for prisoners might describe as good relationships which were collusive or remote. But in Greenock it is clear that relationships are challenging as well as helpful and respectful.

1.5 A particular strength of Greenock is the outside work placements available to life sentence prisoners near the end of their sentences. Indeed, these work placements have been commented on favourably in inspection reports on every prison where they take place. At the time of inspection a newspaper report highlighting the presence of prisoners at two local colleges caused a temporary suspension of the placements. Such reports make it more difficult for the prisoners, and make it much more difficult for the college or the employer providing the placement. The alternative to such placements is that people who have committed very serious crimes will eventually be released into the community without having been tested at all outside the prison before their release, no matter how many years they have served inside prison. This kind of unprepared release is not good for public safety. Placements of this kind are a valuable part of the responsibility placed on prisons to reduce re-offending, and as such they should be supported. Without them the risks to the public may well be higher.

1.6 One of the three halls held women prisoners at the time of the 2004 inspection. That report indicated that the transfer of nearly 70 women from Cornton Vale had been well managed and that suitable provision had been made in Greenock for the needs of these prisoners. After two years of holding women that hall has changed again: now it holds mainly male long-term prisoners. Many, but by no means all, of them come from the local area. This report indicates that this new arrangement has also been well managed.

1.7 Concerns about the provision of healthcare were raised during the inspection. In particular, there was uncertainty about the number of hours which the doctor was supposed to be in the prison; Health Centre staff lacked motivation, there were issues about the prescribing of medications; and nurses normally stayed in the room during patient-doctor consultations.

1.8 Greenock is a "local prison", so it takes local prisoners in different categories. Every local prison in Scotland suffers badly from overcrowding. In Greenock the effects are concentrated in Ailsa Hall. Ailsa Hall was designed to accommodate 131 prisoners. On the first day of inspection the number being held was 187. This included 71 short-term convicted prisoners, five long-term adult prisoners, 90 adult remand prisoners, 17 young remand prisoners, and four convicted youths awaiting transfer to Polmont. These high numbers reflect the very high number of prisoners in Scotland at this time. Prisons are damaged by such overcrowding: damaged in the living conditions for prisoners, damaged in the working conditions for prison staff, and very damaged indeed in the possibility of contributing to helping prisoners stop committing crimes on release. Overcrowding makes it much less likely that imprisonment will do anything to reduce re-offending.

1.9 Moreover, the different categories of prisoners found in Ailsa Hall cannot be properly provided for. It is simply not possible in these restricted overcrowded conditions that the very different needs of long-term prisoners and short-term unconvicted young remand prisoners can be adequately met. The SPS tries to keep some categories of prisoners apart from others: unconvicted should not mix with convicted, under - 21 should not mix with adult. Even these basic provisions cannot be met in a local prison which is badly overcrowded: or they can only be met by keeping most prisoners locked up most of the time. The report suggests that Greenock prison does its best to cope with overcrowding. But overcrowding in prison makes things worse for everyone.