INSPECTORS have raised concerns about provision for sex offenders in a prison which is already overcrowded.

The search is now on for a replacement site for Inverness Prison, and the latest report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons found staff are apprehensive about the future.

The facility was designed in 1902 for 103 prisoners, but when David Strang and his team visited in February there were 129.

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Despite that, the inspectors found positive relationships between staff and prisoners, who feel safe.

However, there was concern that mainstream prisoners and convicted sex offenders working together in the kitchen, supervised by one catering officer, posed a potential risk. It was the same when mainstream prisoners and sex offenders attended church services supervised by one officer.

Meanwhile, those sex offenders interviewed said "they did not spend periods of time in the open air as when they did they were often subject to verbal abuse from prisoners in B Hall".

HM Chief Inspector David Strang said it was a time of change for the Scottish Prison Service following the publication of an organisational review.

"This has created a degree of apprehension for staff with regards to if and when a suitable site for a new HMP Inverness/Highland will be confirmed," he said. "It is to the credit of staff and management that they continue to deliver in challenging surroundings."

A Scottish Prison Service spokeswoman said: "The capital budget available to SPS for the current financial year includes provision to acquire a site for HMP Highland. Work is continuing to identify a suitable site."