Ken Murray, one of the pioneers of the controversial Special Unit in Barlinnie Prison which confined and helped reform a number of Scotland's most volatile prisoners for more than 20 years has died. He was 76.

Convicted murderer turned sculptor and author Jimmy Boyle was the best-known product of the experimental regime in the Glasgow penal establishment which opened in 1973. Other inmates included TC Campbell, who was cleared after serving 20 years for the "Ice Cream Wars" killings of the Doyle family.

The unit was the idea of Mr Murray, who came to prominence as a nursing officer at the special unit for the six years of its life, and the late Alex Stephen, a civil servant, who both argued that there had to be a better way of dealing with "uncontrollable" prisoners than chaining them up or injecting them into zombified passivity.

Mr Murray went on to become a senior councillor with the former Strathclyde Regional Council, chairing its social work committee where he continued to champion the needs of the homeless, people affected by alcohol and drugs, and ex-prisoners.

He had been a member of the Labour Party for almost 50 years and a councillor for 14 years when he resigned in 1996, accusing the Labour leadership of sacrificing principles to gain power.

The Barlinnie Special Unit was initially staffed by volunteer prison officers and run on democratic lines, with prisoners allowed a voice.

Prisoners were allowed access to teachers and art materials, and encouraged to express themselves without violence.

The unit was shut down in 1995. The reasons cited included staff unhappiness at "prisoner power" and high costs.

Glasgow's Lord Provost Bob Winter, who was depute director of social work with SRC, when Mr Murray chaired its social work committee led tributes yesterday.

He said: "Ken was a man of great integrity. He took a terrific interest in the homeless, people with drug and alcohol problems, and ex-prisoners. I always found him very humane and practical.

"He would always be looking to do what was right for these people but also what was right for the community as well."

Clive Fairweather, a former chief inspector of prisons in Scotland who was appointed soon after the Special Unit was closed, said: "Ken Murray was ahead of his time as regard to the Special Unit and a great champion of doing something positive about criminals."

Derek Turner, secretary of the Prison Officers Association in Scotland, said: "As well as being a prison officer, Ken was a dedicated union member and branch official.

"The Special Unit helped contain some of the most dangerous prisoners in Scotland. It helped change the behavioural patterns of some of them who, when released, led a more productive life."

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said: "Ken Murray was at times a controversial, yet widely respected individual whose ideas were probably ahead of their time.

"He was a considerable influence on the way in which we managed prisoners. Contemporary ways of working with prisoners today are due in no small measure to people like Ken."

Mr Murray is survived by his wife Meg, a son, daughter and three grandchildren.