Call For More Prisoner Support

Greater work to address the challenges faced by inmates transitioning from jail to the outside world has been demanded by the chief inspector of prisons.

David Strang made the call as he highlighted the case of one prisoner at HMP Kilmarnock - a situation he said could have occurred in any prison in Scotland.

He told how inspectors had spoken to one inmate admitted from court on a shoplifting offence, who explained he had been living in a tent for eight weeks since his last release from prison because no accommodation had been available for him.

The man later deliberately shoplifted in the hope that he would be caught and sentenced, believing it to be the only way for him to access a dry bed, warmth and shelter.

Mr Strang acknowledged that returning to the community from prison is ''challenging'' and said many individuals need more direct support than is always available to them.

He has called for all agencies involved in the reintegration of prisoners back into their communities to work collaboratively ''in order to ensure the best possible outcomes''.

Referring to the specific example of the prisoner, who had previously been at HMP Barlinnie, he said: ''These are not the circumstances we want people leaving prison in 21st-century Scotland to have to face.

''However, it is not a situation that can be resolved by the prison service alone.

''This requires a dedicated and co-ordinated response by all those involved in supporting people in the criminal justice system and beyond.

''It was also disappointing that there were no dedicated throughcare support officers at HMP Kilmarnock.

''It is unsatisfactory that prisoners in HMP Kilmarnock were being denied the same level of throughcare support that they would have received if they had been located in a different prison in Scotland.''

The chief inspector spoke as he launched his full report of an inspection of Kilmarnock prison, East Ayrshire, carried out in November.

The prison, which can hold about 500 people, is one of two operated by private-sector organisations on contract to the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

The report concluded the institution was secure and well-ordered, with the majority of staff and prisoners saying they felt safe.

Inspectors found good evidence of positive and respectful relationships throughout the prison as they graded it satisfactory or acceptable across all main criteria.

Mr Strang highlighted a number of positive practices at the institution, such as an initiative for inmates to pay outstanding rent arrears from their prison earnings, and certain ways they are able to maintain regular contact with their family.

However, he also pointed to ''substantial delays'' experienced by some prisoners in accessing specialist health services, particularly in relation to mental-health assessments and dental treatment.

Confidentiality was not always maintained during consultations and more effective arrangements needed to be put in place to maximise patients' attendance at appointments, inspectors found.

They also noted the prison contract itself was seen by many as ''a barrier to progress and a reason for inflexibility and resistance to change''.

An SPS spokeswoman said: ''SPS's significant investment in throughcare support officers means that those leaving custody are now supported in planning for their release at a much earlier stage in their sentence, in order to ensure that they have access to key services on release.''

Welcoming the wider report, she said: ''SPS also welcomes HMIPS' comments that Kilmarnock is a safe prison, with a good range of educational and vocational opportunities available to those in our care.

''The report also notes that HMP Kilmarnock offers a well-considered range of purposeful activities to match the ability, preference and age of most prisoners.

''SPS also welcomes HMIPS' comments that he found positive relationships and engagement between staff and prisoners.''

She added that the SPS does not share the view the contract may inhibit the delivery of services to inmates at Kilmarnock.

Alison Watson, deputy director of Shelter Scotland, said: ''Addressing the link between the lack of a stable, safe and affordable home on release and the increased likelihood of reoffending is known to be key to breaking the offending cycle, so we welcome this call by the prisons inspector.

''When in prison, people often lose their accommodation because of an inability to pay rent whilst serving their sentence or through a family break-up.

''Many don't have a job to go back to upon release, making finding and maintaining a home very difficult.

''It doesn't need to be this way and with the right advice and support, ex-offenders can go on to lead successful lives and contribute a great deal to our society.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ''The inspection findings reflect our position, that public services must respond to the needs of people in the justice system, and particularly those being released from prison.

''Anybody presenting as homeless when they leave prison must be given support by the relevant local authority, but we recognise that housing service provision is complex.

''We are supporting ongoing work between justice and housing partners to develop a consistent and shared approach across the country.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ''The inspection findings reflect our position, that public services must respond to the needs of people in the justice system, and particularly those being released from prison.

''Anybody presenting as homeless when they leave prison must be given support by the relevant local authority, but we recognise that housing service provision is complex.

''We are supporting ongoing work between justice and housing partners to develop a consistent and shared approach across the country.''

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