THE outgoing chief inspector of Scotland's prisons has said the prison service is more ready to admit faults in the system and look for improvements now than it was four years ago.

Brigadier Hugh Monro said there had been progress in his four years in office, and even where this had been less than he would have hoped – in particular ensuring inmates have purposeful activity to fill their days – he gave the service credit for acknowledging the problems.

"I am much happier now that there is a more accepting attitude in the Scottish Prison Service to the need for improvement," he said after launching his final annual report, for 2012-13, before being succeeded by former Lothian and Borders chief constable David Strang next week.

Brigadier Monro said the challenges he had identified in his time in office had been the treatment of female prisoners and young offenders, activity such as work or education for all in the system, and family visits.

Poor access to work and educational opportunities had been raised in almost every inspection report over the past four years, Brig Monro said.

He said improvements had been made at some prisons, such as Cornton Vale, Glenochil, Kilmarnock, Barlinnie and Dumfries, but it was dispiriting to find "a significant proportion of prisoners or young offenders in halls or their cells during the working day.

He said: "As I reported in the report on Polmont, some young offenders are still in their beds in the afternoon. Watching daytime television is not, in my view, a substitute for purposeful activity.

"It is merely a recognition that there are insufficient activity places for prisoners and, sadly, poor motivation to encourage prisoners to engage."

Brig Monro added: "I reiterate the point that the quality of activities must also improve, so that work is productive and useful, that vocational training is assessed and provides a useful qualification for employment, and that education is related to prisoners' needs."

He backed Holyrood's Justice Committee in saying there needed to be a strategic shift in the way prisoners were rehabilitated.

"The taxpayer expects two things from prison: first, loss of liberty as punishment and second, rehabilitation to reduce the chances of reoffending.

"The latter needs better organisation and resourcing and a great deal more attention."