A NEW report has highlighted the “considerable risks” facing the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), with understaffing and overcrowding leading to services being overwhelmed.

The Auditor General for Scotland published a report on the challenges facing the SPS on Tuesday.

Increasing prison populations are posing a major risk to the system, whilst facilities are becoming more outdated.

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The average prison population in 2022/23 was around 7500 and is forecast to increase to more than 8150 by March 2024.

The SPS said the maximum the current prison estate can accommodate is 8300, which includes the use of double cell occupancy.

Double cells are used in prisons across Scotland, including at HMP Perth where His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) reported that some shared cells were “well below the minimum standard of space” as prescribed by the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

Similar criticism has also been raised by HMIPS about shared cells at HMP Barlinnie.

The report says this places significant pressure on Scotland’s prison estate, which is becoming outdated and in need of significant investment to make it fit-for-purpose.

Whilst there are plans for some prisons to be replaced with more modern facilities, these are set to cost more than originally expected.

This includes the replacement for HMP Barlinnie, which was originally estimated to cost £387.6 million in October 2019.

The report also cites one of its contractors, GEOAmey, as a major reason for the issues, saying that it was performing poorly in transporting prisoners to and from custody.

According to the SPS, between July and September 2023 only 62% of prisoners due in court arrived back on time.

Similarly, only 65% of non-court escort services such as transfers to hospitals, police identification parades or special escorted leave, took place on time.

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The SPS contracted GEOAmey in 2018 to transfer prisoners between prisons, courts, police custody units and healthcare facilities.

The report states that GEOAmey has struggled to recruit the staff needed to deliver the contract, leading to “significant delays and inefficiencies” across the justice system.

Between April 2022 and October 2023, staffing levels decreased from around 660 to around 520 full-time equivalents. This is approximately 25% less than the estimated 670 to 700 needed to deliver the required levels of service.

The SPS issued improvement notices to GEOAmey, as well as fining the company approximately £4m.

The report states that this has had little effect on the service and that the SPS is taking further action, including offering financial support, to aid staff recruitment.

Commenting, Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “The issues facing Scotland’s justice sector are of significant concern and cannot be resolved by the Scottish Prison Service alone.

“It is essential that there is close collaboration between the prison service, the Scottish Government and their justice partners to ensure prison services can be maintained in a safe and secure environment.”