MORE than 90 per cent of prisoners in Barlinnie are sharing cells designed for one person, bosses have revealed.

Colin McConnell, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), said he hoped the stark figure would shock politicians.

It comes after a watchdog found Scotland’s prisons are under severe pressure from underfunding, overcrowding and growing violence.

Mr McConnell described the prison service as “stressed, strained and stretched”, and said conditions can occasionally be volatile.

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Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Justice Committee, he outlined the scale of overcrowding in facilities such as Barlinnie, in the north east of Glasgow, which is currently operating at around 50 per cent above capacity.

He said: “I think this is really important that the committee appreciates some of the pressures, and therefore the conditions that people are being held in.

“The number of cells today that are holding more than one person - there are 1,568 cells in the SPS holding more than one person.

“So we’ve got over 3,000 people who are in shared cells. Only half of those cells are actually designed for two people.

“So, if you then focus in on Barlinnie…92% of the people living in Barlinnie today are sharing cells designed for one person.

“Now, I say that perhaps to shock you a bit – and I hope it does.

“But to also put in context that we really are trying our best to make sure that we’re fair and we give people access to as much regime as possible, and of course that we absolutely comply with the requirements of the law, and of course the requirements of human rights.

“We have to face the facts, however, that for as long as the prison population remains this high, or gets higher, these things will be squeezed at the margins.

“And I couldn’t, in all honesty, give you an assurance that in every regard, everything will absolutely be as it should be. There will be compromises.”

Jim McMenemy, head of operational planning and performance management at the SPS, said there had been a “continual increase” in violence in the prison service.

This is partly because more prisoners have to share cells due to overcrowding, he said, while members of serious organised crime gangs are also being taken into custody in greater numbers.

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Last month, Audit Scotland said “multiple pressures” threaten the financial sustainability and the safe and effective operation of the prison service.

It pointed to growing prisoner violence and a high and rising level of staff sickness absence.

Scotland’s incarceration rate is one of the highest in Europe, with prisoner numbers rising from 7,413 to 8,212 during 2018/19.