AN in-depth study of long-term prisoners in Scotland has revealed that life on the outside for them is harder than in jail.

Prisoners accept their ­punishment and adapt to life sentences more easily than returning to the community, according to the new research.

The study by ­Glasgow ­University academics found men serving more than four years accept their sentences as part of a wider coping strategy and "keep their head" in jail, but once released struggle to find work and tend to be isolated in their homes.

The results are based on ­interviews with six men at the start of sentences, 12 men who were about to be released and nine men under community supervision.

The findings are reminiscent of the difficulties faced by Red, a character in The Shawshank Redemption, who upon release has nothing to do and no hope.

Author of the report Dr ­Marguerite Schinkel, of Glasgow University, said: "One of the main recommendations of the research is that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is reviewed, so full disclosure is not necessary for all jobs, and even long-term sentences are spent after a period of time.

"It would allow people who have served their sentence to become something other than ­ex-offenders and move into a new life."

The insight into the views of men serving the longest ­possible sentences found all agreed their sentences were "fair enough", including two men who protested their innocence.

Some felt transformed by prison but did not credit the regime for their change. Instead they found being inside gave them time to reflect, and said what they needed afterwards was individual support and the opportunity to work.

The research will have ­ramifications for ministers and the Scottish Prison Service, which is changing how it treats inmates. Last month chief executive Colin McConnell called for a shake-up, with jail "used as a punishment" and "not for punishment". He said the focus should be on helping offenders change their ways.

Scotland has one of the highest rates of imprisonment and repeat offending in western Europe. Of the 47,000 convicted in 2009/10, 30% were reconvicted within one year and more than one in five had 10 or more previous convictions.

The study states: "The men on licence were often less optimistic than those at the end of their sentence. In some ways life outside was harder, as in prison they had a job and had done as well as they could in that environment ... but once outside they often expected more of themselves. Many said they isolated themselves, for several reasons.

"They also found it difficult to cope with the unpredictability of social life outside, where anyone could unexpectedly enter a pub, and the behaviour of strangers was difficult to predict.

"The main problem for those on licence was finding work. Most wanted to achieve normal life as quickly as possible, with a family, house and job. But finding employment with a criminal record in an economic downturn was difficult. This left them without anything to do during the day, meaning they spent more time on their own in their flat."

A Scottish Government ­spokeswoman said: "We and our partners are working hard to stop people from turning to crime in the first place and to break the cycle of reoffending.

"It is vitally important that we continue to support offenders beyond the prison gates, help them reintegrate into the community and prevent reoffending. We have already been working to identify the best ways to do this.

"The rules governing how ­prisoners should tell people about their convictions is important as they seek to reintegrate into communities upon release. That is why we issued a discussion paper on how the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 might be modernised over the summer."

l For her next project Ms Schinkel wants to speak to those who have served multiple sentences in the last 15 years, and most recently served a short-term prison or community sentence. Contact or phone 0141 330 8257.