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HM Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on HMP Inverness: Unannounced Full Inspection, 5-9 November 2007



1.1 This inspection was not announced beforehand: inspectors arrived at the prison gate to announce that an inspection was beginning. All prison managers and staff were most cooperative and helpful: there was no hint of any obstacle being put in the way of inspectors. An unannounced inspection provides reassurance to Scottish Ministers and to the Scottish public that everything prisons do is open at all times to inspection.

1.2 On the other hand it is not necessarily obvious that an unannounced inspection will discover anything more than an announced inspection would. The four main sources for evidence on any inspection are written documents, observations and conversations with staff and with prisoners. These will provide the same evidence whether an inspection is announced or not. Before an announced inspection a detailed self-assessment will be sought from the prison, asking for evidence of the quality of the provision at that prison in terms of the "Standards Used in the Inspection of Prisons in Scotland". This self-assessment is an important part of the inspection process; and it is more difficult to obtain for an inspection which is not announced.

1.3 Much of the content of this report is similar to the content of previous reports on inspections of Inverness. Much that has been found good in the past continues to be good. The SPS Prisoner Survey contains a question about "the condition of the food when you get it", to which 58% of prisoners throughout Scotland answered "OK or better". In Inverness the figure was 78%. Other questions about food produce the same positive response.

1.4 Relationships between prisoners and prison staff are also very good. The comment is often made that in a small local prison like this one the same prisoners regularly come in and meet the same officers who have been serving there for many years. Staff and prisoners alike said that this familiarity was a significant factor in the good relationships.

1.5 The good relationships undoubtedly contribute to the high level of safety in Inverness. Anti-suicide measures are good, there is no evidence of bullying, levels of violence are low, and staff and prisoners say that they feel safe. All of this might also result from lower levels of drug use in Inverness prison than in other prisons.

1.6 The report indicates that healthcare and laundry facilities continue to be very good: and that the library arrangements (mostly under the supervision of a prisoner) are outstanding.

1.7 Inverness is regularly one of the most overcrowded prisons in Scotland. Indeed, from time to time prisoners have to sleep on mattresses on the floors of cells. Sometimes there are three prisoners sharing a cell. When three prisoners are sleeping in a cell built for two (or even for one) there is no room for any movement within the cell; there is no room for eating; worst of all, this squeezing of prisoners into tiny spaces is happening at a time when, as this report shows, cell doors are being kept locked for longer and longer periods each day. It is not possible for the prison to provide decent living conditions when it is required to hold so many prisoners.

1.8 Very few prisoners in Inverness have any useful work to do. Indeed, nearly all of the work places are those which are designed to meet the prison's own needs: kitchen, laundry and cleaning. There is a large workshop which is not used. At the time of inspection a new Links Centre (the present Links Centre is quite inadequate) was being built in the workshop area. No work opportunities have replaced those lost from the workshop. Inverness is like other prisons in the disappearance of workplaces: but that is of little comfort to the prisoners who want to work or to the public who want prisoners to work.

1.9 The lack of work places was also the main concern raised by the Chair of the Visiting Committee. Both staff and, interestingly, prisoners said repeatedly throughout the inspection that they believed that the disappearance of workplaces was a direct result of the regular cost savings the prison had had to make over recent years. It is always the case that prisoners who have no work spend more and more time locked up in cell: so it is the case at Inverness.

1.10 The small unit for women prisoners shows the best and the worst of the prison. Relationships between staff and prisoners are particularly good: all of the prisoners present during the inspection spoke of the caring and supportive attitude of staff. On the other hand there is very little for women to do. As it has been in the past, the women's unit is dependent on picking up small pieces of work to support local charities. Despite this, women value the opportunities to maintain family contact which Inverness provides more highly than the opportunities for useful, challenging stimulating days which they might find in Cornton Vale.

1.11 Previous reports have been critical of the lack of investment in Inverness prison, resulting in poor facilities in reception, the gym and the visits room. Some small improvements have been made in reception; but the visits room and the gym are as bad as they were before.