Scotland’s biggest prison is at risk of “catastrophic failure” while another should be “bulldozed”, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland has said.

Concerns have long been expressed about the state of HMP Barlinnie, with the Victorian-era jail due to be replaced – although the start of construction on a new facility has been pushed back from November 2023 to November 2026, with no firm costings.

Last year, the prison’s governor Michael Stoney made a similar warning.

Appearing before the Public Audit Committee at Holyrood on Thursday, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben called for action from the Scottish Government on the country’s ailing prison estate.

She said: “We have an ageing population, the demographic is very different to where it was 20 years ago.

READ MORE: Holyrood to get update on prison numbers as overcrowding worsens

“We need to accept that is the case and build an estate or manage an estate that is fit for purpose, or reduce our population by looking at community alternatives.

“Barlinnie is overcrowded, I think Barlinnie is at risk of catastrophic failure, you’ve got Greenock which, frankly, should be bulldozed.”

The reality of overcrowding, she added, means prisoners’ access to rehabilitative activities and to positive relationships with staff is reduced and the “risk to society and further victims is increased”.

She said: “For me, I think it is something that this Parliament needs to address and address fast.”

But despite the ailing infrastructure at HMP Greenock, she said it is “one of the best prisons I’ve inspected”.
The Herald: HMP GreenockHMP Greenock (Image: PA)

She added: “Their staff-prisoner relationships are superb, the community relationships are superb, health is good.

“There are many, many aspects of Greenock prison that I think are really wonderful.

“I would love to see another Greenock that is fit for purpose, because Greenock isn’t – it costs a fortune to maintain, it has water ingress, it has real issues.”

The prison estate, the chief inspector said, must be re-thought.

Among her suggestions is the potential creation of a secure care home for older prisoners, removing them from the general prison population and allowing them to receive the requisite care.

READ MORE: New Barlinnie prison costs to rise further Constance warns MSPs

Ms Sinclair-Gieben was also vociferous in her praise of prison staff and the prison service, with those who work in Barlinnie in particular able to avoid potential mass unrest due to the conditions in the prison.

“We haven’t had anything like the levels of insurrection that could have been predictable and I think that is down to staff-prisoner relationships,” she said.

She also praised the women’s estate, saying the prison service and the country as a whole should be “so proud of what it has done there”.

Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene said: “The chief inspector’s astonishing comments are a damning indictment of how the SNP have let Scotland’s rat-ridden, Victorian-era prison estate go to rack and ruin.

“Many of Scotland’s jails are simply not fit for the 21st century and the Barlinnie replacement in Glasgow is way behind schedule and drastically over-budget, exacerbating the overcrowding problem and putting staff at risk.

“We are on the precipice of our prisons reaching maximum capacity, which means ministers will either have to mass-release inmates or direct judges not to send people to prison at all.

“Neither will offer any comfort to the public or victims of crime.”

The Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service have been contacted for comment.