Scottish Liberal Democrats uncover research showing "dire" HMP Grampian performance

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has secured previously unpublished research into conditions at HMP Grampian which document the serious problems encountered by staff and prisoners since it opened in 2014.

The research, acquired through freedom of information requests, was written by world-leading academics from the University of Cambridge who were tasked to conduct surveys on the quality of life in the new flagship prison. They were commissioned by the Scottish Prison Service to examine its "environment, relationships and culture".

Their report in June 2015 identified "signs of promise and stabilisation" but noted:

  • "the results of the 2015 study were relatively poor overall"
  • the prison was "performing at the lower end of a quality continuum";
  • "Grampian exhibited many of the characteristics of both new and poorly performing public and private sector prisons";
  • "female prisoners, in particular, expressed high levels of distress and rated their overall quality of life very poorly";
  • "Grampian was struggling to find its purpose and vision, and effectively translate these into practice";
  • "regime inconsistencies and disorganisation, which increased frustrations and stress amongst staff and prisoners";
  • "low levels of safety and security";
  • "many prisoners were being exploited or bullied, and the high availability of drugs created additional tensions in the halls";
  • "custodial care for prisoners was limited, and at times, punitive";
  • "low staff morale linked to unstable staffing levels, perceived lack of senior management care, support, and recognition, and a desire for stronger vision and leadership";
  • "a general sense that staff were just waiting to be 'activated';
  • many staff were left feeling "powerless and insecure in a seemingly unstructured and precariously-run working environment".

Their follow-up report, given to the SPS in May 2017, recorded "marked improvement" but it also found:

  • Staff reporting that they are "run ragged" and that the prison is "running on goodwill";
  • in Ellon wing particularly staff described themselves as "stressed, "stretched to the max" and "at a breaking point";
  • "limited availability of full-time activities, employment, and meaningful/purposeful engagement for prisoners, especially for women, protected prisoners and long-termers";
  • "divisions and 'competing' agendas prevented the Grampian vision from being collectively achieved in practice";

Mr McArthur commented:

"There is no escaping the fact that HMP Grampian's performance particularly in the landmark 2015 survey was dire. While there has been some improvement since, there are still issues of serious concern.

"Since it opened, prisoners and staff have had to put up with a lot. This is much more serious than teething problems.

"No prison can rely on the goodwill of its staff and run them ragged to get by. If we are serious about improving rehabilitation then prisoners need to take up the courses and training that will enable them to get on in life once they leave.

"As well as improving conditions at HMP Grampian and realising the original vision for the facility, the prison service must learn from the mistakes made there as it moves to completely overhaul the female prison estate. We can't afford for the staff and prisoners involved in that reform to suffer in the same way."

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