SCOTLAND'S prison inspections chief says more needs to be done to cut to cut the number of prisoners - saying remands in custody should only be in serious cases.

New figures show the number of people held on remand has grown to in excess of 1100 or almost 15% of the total Scottish prison population.

The situation for women on remand is greater, with over 21% of women in custody held on remand.

The number of women held in custody in recent months increased from a low of 316 in January 2017 to almost 380 during the first week of April 2017.

David Strang, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said that given the new configuration of the female custodial estate will provide only 230 places, "much work is still required" to reduce the numbers in custody, ahead of a new prison opening in 2020.

At the end of March 2017, there were just under 7500 people detained in Scotland’s prisons which represented a small reduction in the overall number of people in prison in Scotland over the last year.

He said: "The Commission on Women Offenders published in 2012 challenged the government and others to identify alternatives to remand for women offenders. I would like to see greater progress in this area.

"It is recognised that serving a prison sentence intrinsically increases the challenges for someone when they return to their community. I applaud the Scottish Government for announcing their intention to extend the presumption against short sentences to 12 months.

"However, more needs to be done to reduce the number of prisoners being remanded in custody, which can be for several months. Remand should only be used in serious cases."

Five years ago, the women's prison population was at a record level, having doubled over ten years.

The Commission on Women Offenders, which was established to look at ways to improve life for women in the justice system made 37 recommendations for change in a 2012 report focussing on service redesign, alternatives to prosecution and alternatives to remand.

One of the key recommendations was the replacement of the overcrowded Cornton Vale prison.

Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is now creating a smaller prison on the existing Cornton Vale site and some custodial units around the country.

Mr Strang also said that if prisons were about more than just punishment there was a lot of work to do to ensure that rehabilitation is a core outcome" for the criminal justice system.

He said: "Scottish prisons cannot achieve this on their own and this is where I see the greatest potential for progress.

"Despite the development of strategies, policies and frameworks, it is not yet evident that there is the detailed co-ordination between agencies that is required to turn these plans into reality.

"It is widely accepted amongst academics and practitioners that to reduce reoffending there must be a focus on the individual person, with the appropriate support and encouragement provided to allow them to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to return to their community as a productive citizen.

"If someone is leaving prison with no place to stay, unsure if they will be able to receive the medical care they need, and with only £58 in their pocket to survive on for 6 weeks, this can hardly be regarded as offering the level of support and encouragement they need. Such a situation would challenge the most resilient, motivated and resourceful of individuals."

In 2010 the Scottish Government legislated for a presumption against prison sentence of less than three months and this year, in the Programme for Government, Nicola Sturgeon announced that this would be extended to 12 months.

Mr Strang who called for the extension said he "applauded" the move but that more needed to be done to cut the number of prisoners in custody.

He said it was "disappointing" to note that the utilisation of the Open Estate dropped by almost 15 per cent during the past 12 months, and almost a quarter in the last two years, with prisoners "openly complain about the lack of access to timeous programmes to facilitate their progression".

He added: "Staff are also unsure of the impact of recent changes to the way access to programmes are organised and this has caused unnecessary confusion and concern within the prisoner population."