Overcrowding fears as Barlinnie prison exceeds capacity

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Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said the capacity issue is risking the safety of prisoners and staff.

Barlinnie Prison is running at an occupancy rate significantly over its capacity, according to latest figures.

Statistics released by the Scottish Government indicate that the 987-capacity Glasgow prison has held more than it is designed to hold in each month of 2019 to April.

In January, Barlinnie’s occupancy rate was recorded as being 141.86%, with an average occupancy of 1,400.

The following month, the average climbed to 1,435, while in March it was 1,441. For April, there was an average occupancy of 1,449 prisoners.

The statistics, which provide analysis occupancy at prisons right across the country, were provided to the Government by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) chief executive, Colin McConnell.

The SPS has indicated that design capacity and operational capacity of prisons are different and can change for reasons of policy, maintenance and changing operational requirements.

On Friday, proposals to restrict the use of short prison sentences were published by the Scottish government.


If passed by MSPs at Holyrood, it will oblige courts to explain why custodial terms of less than a year were given.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “Overcrowding on this scale puts prison staff and inmates at risk. We already know that self-harm in prison is on the rise.

“The evidence shows that community sentences are better than prison at reducing the chance of people reoffending, meaning communities are safer.

“That is why Liberal Democrats have consistently called for a presumption against sentences of less than 12 months.


“Additional investment will be required in the short term, but the resulting savings can be reinvested into making community-based sentences robust.

“This means prison can be seen as the alternative to community-based sentences, rather than the other way around.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As the previous HM chief inspector of prisons for Scotland observed last year, we must never take for granted the good order that is maintained in Scotland’s prisons and that they are, in general, stable and secure environments.

“That is to the credit of the hard-working staff in Scotland’s prisons.

“We are actively monitoring the rising prison population and have been working closely with the prison service to put contingency measures in place to ensure the safety and security of staff and people in its care are maintained.

“We continue to strengthen the provision of alternatives to custody, both to tackle the high remand population and to ensure community sentences can support rehabilitation and reduce re-offending to help keep crime down and communities safe.”

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