THE Scottish Prison Service paid for twenty staff members to enrol on a £18,000 postgraduate course at the same time as spending a fraction of the sum on education for inmates.

Senior SPS figures benefited from the elite course at Cambridge University even though the public body spent barely £600 a head on offenders.

Daniel Johnson MSP, Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on Justice, said: “There is no doubt that the leadership within our prison system needs people of the highest calibre, and that those people need the best training to ensure they can do a vital job for the public and those in custody.

“However, while prison staff are receiving world-leading training, prisoners themselves are not getting the skills they need. We know that giving those who have been convicted of crime the opportunity and skills to work is the best way to prevent reoffending."

A lack of basic education qualifications has been cited as a contributory factor behind individuals reoffending after their release from prison, according to our sister title The Herald.

Campaigners and opposition politicians have called on the Government and the SPS, which runs the country’s prison estate and employs around 4,000 people, to increase investment in training and skills.

Based on data covering August 2015 to July 2017, a screening programme found that 70% of prisoners were functionally illiterate, which meant they were at or below SCQF Level 4.

The same exercise found that 85% of prisoners were without a basic knowledge of maths and arithmetic.

According to the SPS annual accounts, the service spent around £4.5m on education contracts in 2017/18. With 7,461 prisoners catered for in the same year, the SPS spent around £600 per head.

However, the SPS confirmed last week that it had paid for twenty staff, including governors and prison officers, to study for a Criminology MSt at Cambridge in recent years.

The two-year course focuses on prison and penal policy, but the service is now looking at “other ways” of boosting skills.

Read more on this story at our sister title The Herald.