Inmates 'face eight-month wait for life skills courses'
4 July 2019, 06:58
Prisoners can have to wait up to eight months for classes in life skills inside Scotland's jails, figures show.
In Edinburgh Prison, there is a waiting list of up to 32 weeks before inmates can take the lessons, which include basic cookery skills.
The prison also has waits of up to 32 weeks for English and communications classes, with offenders having to wait up to 23 weeks before starting maths and numeracy lessons.
At Polmont Young Offenders Institution, the waiting list for English and communications classes can be as long as 36 weeks - rising to 42 for flexible learning sessions in ICT, multi-media, languages and e-learning.
Scottish Liberal Democrats used freedom of information legislation to discover the waiting times, with justice spokesman Liam McArthur voicing concern the long waits could be a barrier to rehabilitation.
He said: "Preventing people from learning skills that could help them navigate life after release is a lost opportunity. We know that furnishing prisoners with the basics for employment and beyond helps to stop them falling back into bad habits.
"Prison isn't constructive if these programmes are side-lined. Instead, people are forced to break the ties they do have with education or employment, and are returned to their community with significantly reduced prospects. It's not hard to see why reoffending is so common.
"Similarly, waits of almost six months for English and maths are disappointing given how poor the literacy and numeracy skills of many people in prison are.
"Two-thirds of Scottish prisons are overcrowded. With prisoners packed in this tightly it becomes much harder for staff to work with and help to rehabilitate people, and that strain is clearly shown in these waiting times.
"The Scottish Government need to ensure that long waits are tackled as a matter of urgency."
According to the Scottish Prison Service data, five prisons had no waiting lists - Cornton Vale women's prison and Greenock, Inverness, Low Moss and Shotts jails.
A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokeswoman said it attempts to "maximise the number of opportunities available to those in our care to participate in work, education or other purposeful activities".
But she added: "SPS is managing near record numbers of people in custody and this has an obvious impact on access to a range of programmes and opportunities.
"With more people in our care wanting to attend classes, it is no surprise that waiting lists are longer.
"The SPS will continue to ensure that we maximise the opportunities and interventions available to support all those in our care."