FOR more than a century it has been home to Scotland's worst criminals, notorious men sentenced to hard time for the most serious of crimes.

Thousands have passed through the Victorian halls of HMP Barlinnie through the decades, sentenced to wile away their days for high crimes and misdemeanours alike.

But now speculation is mounting that the prison's last days may be coming, with reports that three sites have been identified as the potential home of its successor.

The Herald:

For years a move to close Barlinnie has been in the works, with the The Herald reporting far back as 2014 that property consultants had been engaged with a brief to find a place to house of new 'super prison' to replace Scotland's largest jail.

Now it appears that the process is close to an endgame, with only a final decision from the Scottish Government required to unleash the public funds needed to begin the process.

It has been reported that the new building, dubbed HMP Glasgow, would cost around £100 million and be based either within the city limits or just outside.

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Should this come to pass, the old 19th century wings of Barlinnie, built to house criminals from Glasgow, would be sold off to the highest bidder, and may well be transformed into social housing or designer flats for well-to-do citydwellers.

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said at the weekend: “The Government have a surplus land disposal policy. In the first instance, we would have to offer the land to other parts of government to use it for other purposes.

“Barlinnie is a Victorian prison and in need of replacement.

“We’ve enjoyed unprecedented levels of investment in our prison estate in the last decade, which has seen us tackle a number of major priorities.

“Barlinnie remains one. Its replacement is in the government infrastructure plan. We’ve been active in looking at a number of potential sites to relocate the prison.”

The Herald:

Executions were once announced with a notice on the prison's door

Such a switch would be a surreal twist in the history of Barlinnie, known to Glaswegians as the 'Big Hoose' or the Bar-L.

Opened in 1882, it was envisaged as an enlightened effort to reform the brutal penal policy Victorians were familiar with.

Many were put to work - with baking, basket-weaving, carpentry, shoemaking all jobs done by prisoners, as was breaking the sandstone at a nearby quarry for the further halls which would take the prison up to capacity.

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Now cracked and blackened with age, the stone walls of Barlinnie grew to house a notional 1,000 souls but would see the population swell to almost twice that as time went by.

Stories abound about the dangerous overcrowding within, with prisoners crammed on top of each other in cells two metres wide by three and a half long designed for single occupancy.

Today is is home to around 1,600 prisoners, and conditions have approved. In 2004, after years of criticism and warnings over human rights, prison bosses were able to end the practice of 'slopping out', where inmates had to keep chamber pots in the cells overnight and empty them in the morning.

The Herald:

The Special Unit helped rehabilitate some of the worst offenders

But Barlinnie retains dark secrets. While designed to rehabilitate wrongdoers, in 1946 it became the last home some of its inhabitants would ever see when it became a place of execution.

Between then and 1960, when the public's attitude to capital punishment hardened, ten men were put to death in Barlinnie's 'hanging shed', their bodied taken from the noose and placed on a mortuary slab in a chamber below.

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The last man to die in the hangman's noose was barely a man at all.  Anthony Miller, the second last prisoner ever executed in Scotland, was just 19-years-old when he was sentenced to death, for the murder of a gay man in Glasgow's Queen's Park recreation ground.

Miller, who, along with accomplice James Denovan, lured John Cremin to an isolated spot with the intention of robbing him, but beat him to death in the confusion.

The teenager's last words as he went to the gallows - "please, mister" - would later become the title of a play about his execution.

The Herald:

Aside from its place as a site of capital punishment, Barlinnie has always had violence at its core. In 1987 it became the site of Scotland's longest-running prison siege, when inmates took over the jail.

A warden was paraded on the rooftop with a knife at his throat, as angry inmates demanded an end to what they said was the brutality of some staff members.

The Herald:

Mr Mandela at the jail

Nelsom Mandela famously visited the prison in 2002, and it was also home to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Both of those men have passed on now, leaving their names to history. Though there have been suggestions that their place in Barlinnie's lore could be marked with a new museum on the site celebrating its past and its stories.

A final decision rests with Government Ministers. Their spokeswoman said: “ “Plans for the improvement of the prison estate will be part of ongoing budget considerations for 2019/20.”