Poor living conditions, and severe disrepair of parts of the building, have been highlighted in a new report on Barlinnie Prison by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland.

At the time of the inspection in August 2019, the prison was also accommodating 40% more prisoners than its design capacity, with significant numbers of prisoners sharing single cells, and a lack of suitable physical facilities and limited access to opportunities for employment and rehabilitation activities.

The report notes that Barlinnie is affected by "an outdated and antiquated building design and infrastructure, with consequent high maintenance costs and staffing ratios". Despite these conditions, the Inspectorate were impressed with "the positive and compassionate attitudes of the staff and the dynamic leadership of the management teams"; and despite poor living conditions, prisoners largely reported feeling safe.

However, the Inspectorate had "deep concerns" about a number of issues, most immediately the healthcare facilities, the reception holding cells and the poorly adapted cellular accommodation. "The severe state of disrepair of the rooms used in the healthcare facility, and the consequent risk posed to both patients and staff, requires urgent attention."

The "dog box" holding cells were first condemned 25 years ago as a breach of human rights, but remain in use, though resources are finally being put in place to redevelop the reception area.

Another concern is the "wholly inadequate" number of adapted cells for disabled prisoners.

The report considers that the antiquated infrastructure should not be seen as an insurmountable barrier to progress. "With creative thinking, addressing the workforce capacity issues, and driving more inclusive and purposeful activity, the establishment could deliver a service more aligned to the stated vision, values and strategic outcomes of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service... "We have no doubt that with continued strong leadership, combined with the dedication, commitment and compassion of staff, many of the issues raised in our report can be promptly addressed."

While the COVID-19 crisis will have affected plans to tackle these issues, the Inspectorate hopes that when the prison system is able to return to a more normal operating regime, all its recommendations can be addressed.

"The reality is that the ageing and fragile physical infrastructure means that the prison is no longer fit for purpose and we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to the replacement of HMP Barlinnie. However, given the length of time before a new HMP Glasgow will open, interim solutions must be sought. HMP Glasgow presents a unique opportunity to review and model the population demographics and develop an innovative design for the future of Scottish prisons."

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf tweeted in response that the Scottish Government "will of course give serious consideration and act swiftly" on the report. In March he announced £3m for remedial work, "which will directly address areas of concern".

Also on Twitter, Howard League Scotland commented: "Much of this we have known for 25 years. The phrase 'fit for purpose' inadequately covers the reality of insanitary conditions, unsafe medical facilities and tortuous overcrowding reminiscent of the Victorian era. This must not and cannot remain until 2025."

Click here to access the report.