CONTINGENCY plans for accommodating inmates at Scotland’s biggest prison must be “of the highest priority”, a Holyrood committee has warned.

HMP Barlinnie is approximately 500 people above its capacity and is the “biggest risk of failure”, according to Audit Scotland, which believes it would put the whole prison system in jeopardy.

The Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee has warned that there is no strategy for accommodating prisoners if HMP Barlinnie becomes uninhabitable and has urged the Scottish Government and Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to develop “robust contingency plans” as their top priority.

READ MORE: Scottish Prison Service agrees deal for site of Barlinnie prison replacement

An investigation into the prison system by MSPs found Scotland’s jails are deteriorating due to “10 years of capital underspend” to balance the books in the face of Government cuts, which it said are undermining the rehabilitation of convicts.

It is claimed a replacement for HMP Barlinnie in the Glasgow area will be built by 2025 but the committee’s report states work is “likely” to overrun, warning that “the impact of the delay in the capital programme cannot be overestimated.”

Committee convener Jenny Marra said: “Audit Scotland says HMP Barlinnie presents the ‘biggest risk of failure in the prison system’ but warns there is no clear contingency plan for accommodating the 1,460 prisoners it currently holds should it fail.

“Developing a contingency plan for Barlinnie in the event that it fails must be of the highest priority.

“Given the state of prisons generally, the Scottish Government and the SPS must develop robust contingency plans should any other part of the prison estate become uninhabitable.”

Overcrowding in Scottish prisons, with many inmates forced to share cells designed for just one person, is “undermining the Scottish Government’s policy objectives of rehabilitating prisoners and reducing reoffending”, the report adds.

MSPs are calling for the SPS “to be funded for the prisoner population that it currently holds and for the expected increase”, arguing there is “no evidence” prisoner numbers will fall in the short-term.

The SPS has managed to remain within its budget allocation over the last 10 years due to repeated underspending on capital projects such as upkeep of buildings, leaving parts of the prison estate at risk of becoming unsuitable for housing inmates.The report found the SPS has been hit by a 12.5 per cent real-terms reduction in its revenue budget, while capital programmes for HMPs Barlinnie, Inverness and Greenock are all behind schedule.