PDF Peterhead: Inside Scotlands Toughest Prison

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The prisoners who live in these dreadful conditions are all sex offenders. However horrific their crimes, sex offenders are generally recognised as the least violent of prisoners within prison surroundings, the prisoners least likely to cause trouble, when levels of violence and disorder are compared with other groups of prisoners.

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The 31 prisoners who were transferred to Peterhead in January were prisoners of the most "compliant" group; their arrival caused overcrowding in a prison already full of the most "compliant" group. Prisoners and staff alike in Peterhead often say that they are treated unfairly because it is known that the prisoners are not likely to riot. They had decided to do so in this case to maximise the use of the prison estate.

It is reasonable to assume that the number of prisoners sharing cells at Peterhead is therefore set to increase by policy. Given the nature of the offences and the sexuality of those involved, it may be argued that this is one of the least appropriate populations to share accommodation.

Hostage on the Roof – Jackie Stuart

It is also the case that a number of those refusing to undertake programmes do so because they are appealing against conviction. It would be unacceptable to penalise individuals because they are seeking to establish their innocence. A further impact of the change in policy is that long term prisoners in Peterhead have even more restricted access to progression: this is discussed elsewhere in the report. This is the only prison in Scotland to have no night sanitation and no electric power in cells there are 10 cells which do have these facilities, but they are not in use ; the prisoners here are the only long-term prisoners who have no access to these facilities.

The staff amenities and the provision for visitors are very poor. Investment in Peterhead has been delayed because of the Estates Review.

Further delay will be bought at a cost: not only the cost of the unacceptable conditions in which prisoners are living, but also the cost of the inability of the staff to carry out the work they want to do with prisoners, and their consequent frustration. Staff uncertainty about the long-term future of the prison continues to affect morale, an issue which was raised by each staff group , although levels of staff sickness were still amongst the lowest in the SPS. It must see the prison like any other prison: so the usual concerns of safety, decency and preventing re-offending are given their full weight in the inspection.

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But it must also acknowledge the peculiar circumstances of the prison population, all of whom except one are serving long sentences after being convicted of sex offences. So particular attention must be paid to measures taken specifically with regard to sex offenders and opportunities provided for them to address their offending behaviour. It is beyond the scope of this report to evaluate the effectiveness of the STOP programme; but it is appropriate to emphasise two points. One is about the availability of STOP: most prisoners in Peterhead are not doing the programme and are unlikely to do it.

This is despite the fact that a considerable amount of effort is directed at motivating those who deny their offence to engage in addressing their offending behaviour. If the Scottish Prison Service believes that this is a powerful tool for helping sex offenders to address their offending behaviour, then more effort should be made to make participation more widely available within the prison.

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The other point is about those who do take part: comments from prisoners who have taken part and from staff who have worked with them do point to real change taking place as a result. But even in that larger context there are grounds for real concern. Other long-term prisoners as they draw near the end of their sentences have opportunities designed specifically to make re-entry into the community as well prepared as possible.

Central to these opportunities, where possible, are home leaves and outside work placements. These convicts supported the work of a civilian labour force employed by the Admiralty to construct the Harbour of Refuge breakwater. The Admiralty project was unique in Scotland as it was served by the only state-owned passenger-carrying railway in its day. On 28 September a riot in the prison's D wing resulted in prisoners taking over the building and taking a prison officer, year-old Jackie Stuart, hostage.

The rioters were serving life in prison for violent crimes. It was thought that they had nothing to lose and would not hesitate to make good on their threats to kill their hostage, whom they had taken up to the rafters. The operation was successful. The hostage was released unharmed and order in the prison restored. Peterhead Prison has a history of poor conditions for prisoners, being referred to as "Scotland's gulag, a prison of no hope.

HMP Peterhead was a specialist centre for sex offenders, [8]. Talks on replacing the current prison with a new one began in The new facility is expected to hold about male and female prisoners — both adults and young offenders — from the Northern Community Justice Authority catchment area.

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In his annual report, Scotland's chief inspector of prisons, Dr Andrew McLellan, also attacked continuing uncertainty over the jail's future, stressing that a decision must be made. The prison was commended for introducing single cells for all prisoners and fitting electrical power in each cell but Dr McLellan said: "Whilst these changes are important, it does not hide the fact that prisoners in Peterhead are living in the worst conditions in any prison in Scotland.

Its continuation in Peterhead remains a disgrace.


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It is the worst single feature of prisons in Scotland. The inspector noted a number of cells were very small and there was no access to sanitation in five of the seven units, just a chemical toilet which was emptied twice a week. The food and visiting arrangements at the prison were praised in the report as was the limited drug use at the jail and the good relationship between staff and inmates.