THE head of Scotland's prison service has called for a radical shake-up of the way prisoners are treated, with jail "used as a punishment" and "not for punishment".

Colin McConnell said keeping prisoners in custody will no longer be the "sole raison d'être" of the service and that the focus should instead be on helping offenders to change their ways.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) chief executive wants inmates to be treated more kindly, have individualised programmes and offered hope and tangible help to integrate back into their communities.

Currently short-term prisoners, in particular, are offered limited support and few education programmes.

The new vision, based on the findings of an in-depth review commissioned in June last year, was presented at the SPS annual conference in Glasgow yesterday.

It is likely to be controversial with some because it calls for inmates to be respected as individuals and offered tailored services.

Scotland has one of the highest rates of imprisonment and recidivism of any country in western Europe.

Of the 47,000 people convicted in 2009/10, some 30% were reconvicted within one year and more than one in five had 10 or more previous convictions.

Last year Audit Scotland criticised the way Scottish authorities handle reoffending because the research on what helps cut reoffending - which involves keeping people in communities and support around employment and maintaining family ties - is not being put into practice.

Despite repeated calls from Scottish ministers - including Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill - for a reduction in the prison population, the numbers have continued to rise and are expected to reach 9500 by 2020. This is despite the fact crime is at a 39-year low.

In contrast, last week Sweden announced plans to close four prisons because its prison population has dipped so dramatically under the country's focus on rehabilitation.

Mr McConnell told delegates: "For many who pass through the justice system, we are ineffective and fall short on what we are trying to achieve.

"We in the prison service accept that the post-conviction and post-custody work that we are part of is simply not good enough; we are clearly not having the turnaround impact that we would like, and nor is the performance of the sector as a whole matching the high expectations of our Government or the public whom we serve.

"We need not only to 'up our game', we need to 'change our game'."

He added that individualised and tailored services are intended to help those in prison to grow and believe they can succeed. He went on: "There is no 'one size fits all' on the journey to desistance and therefore, no 'sheep-dipping' with a common solution that will bring about the cure or the prevention of re-offending.

"We also commit to relating to those in prison as individuals and respect and recognise them for their capacity to change; and that they merit our encouragement, support and help to make their personal desistance journey work and last."

Mr MacAskill, one of the keynote speakers at the two-day conference, backed the move by the SPS.

He said: "Working with prisoners to help them change their own lives is fundamental to breaking the malicious cycle that sees the same individuals returning through a revolving door into custody.

"I believe this new structure for SPS will build on existing strengths and deliver on this vision.

"I welcome the courage that Colin McConnell and his team have shown in this organisational review."

Mr MacAskill has said in the past that: "Sending people to prison is not a solution, it is an admission very often of failure".

A spokesman for the SPS said they want to give prisoners "hope".

The review states: "Keeping prisoners in custody, caring for them humanely and creating a stable and orderly environment in which people can live, work and grow safely will remain essential to what SPS does. However, whilst fundamental to our operations, these aims can no longer be considered our sole raison d'être.

"This means we may need to stop doing some of the things we currently do and certainly remove all unnecessary duplication.

"In Scotland people are sent to prison as a punishment and not for punishment."