IT would be a “travesty” if the Scottish Government delayed the replacement for Glasgow’s Barlinnie jail again, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland has warned. 

In her annual report for 2023/23, Wendy Sinclar-Gieben also highlighted overcrowding problems across Scotland’s 15 prisons which acted as a barrier to rehabilitation. 

She said there was a lack of strategic clarity for tackling numbers and a continued use of “antiquated Victorian” facilities that breached human rights guidelines.

“The routine over reliance on HMP Barlinnie for surge capacity when prisoner numbers are high accentuates the risks until the new HMP Glasgow is built and becomes operational.”

Ms Sinclair-Gieben was also concerned at the treatment of mentally well people after inspecting four prisons last year - Castle Huntly, Addiewell, Inverness and Shotts.

She reported: “I was genuinely concerned to see so many acutely mentally unwell people being held in custody while awaiting in patient care. 

“There is no doubt that prison staff were doing their best, but we noted they had to cope with profoundly distressed patients who should have been in hospital.”

The Herald reported in June that the replacement for 130-year-old Barlinnie, the country’s largest jail, was facing yet another delay.

Priced at £170m in 2015 with a 2018 start date, the project has been delayed by difficulties finding a new site, and latterly by rampant inflation in the construction sector.

It is now expected to cost more than £400m and open in 2027 at the earliest.

In the foreword to her report, Ms Sinclar-Gieben effectively urged ministers to find the money to replace Barlinnie and Inverness jail.

She wrote: “Scotland has demonstrated the ability to achieve significant justice reforms in the past. We now need to see the same commitment and focus to drive further reform with innovative thinking that can deliver a justice system Scotland deserves but still within an appropriate funding envelope.

“However while recognising the difficult fiscal challenges facing the Scottish Government it would be a travesty to see any delay in the arrival of the muchneeded HMP Glasgow and HMP Highland.” 

Tory MSP Russell Findlay said: “This damning report confirms the many warnings from prison staff about the catastrophic conditions inside Scotland’s jails. It must serve as a wake-up call for SNP ministers.

“Crumbling Victorian-era prisons, rampant drug use and a lack of basic resources is endangering staff and making rehabilitation impossible, thereby continuing the cycle of crime on our streets.

“Yet this complacent SNP government has no sense of urgency, with the desperately needed Glasgow and Highland prisons already subject to significant delays.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur added: "Scotland's prisons are not serving prisoners, prison staff or the wider community well.

“If the government is serious about breaking the cycle of reoffending we need to see a properly-funded justice system that can deliver robust and credible community sentences where appropriate.” 

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “We welcome the Chief Inspector’s report and her continuing recognition of the outstanding work of our staff in challenging circumstances, particularly in the face of a rising population.

“While it is not for us to determine who should be sentenced or remanded to custody, the impact on our establishments is significant.

“We are managing a rapidly rising and increasingly complex prison population, and many of our establishments are full beyond their design capacity. The safety and wellbeing of those in our care and of our staff remains our priority. 

"These pressures are increasingly restricting our staff's ability to do the quality work that supports the personal development, rehabilitation, and chances of successful reintegration into communities for those in our care.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “ While prison is needed for those who pose a risk to public safety, we recognise that the imprisonment rate in Scotland is high and we are taking action to address that.

"That includes ongoing work to implement our National Strategy for Community Justice, and protecting investment in community-based interventions which we know are more effective at reducing reoffending than short-term imprisonment.

“The wellbeing, safety and human rights of all those who live in our prisons will continue to be a priority for the Scottish Government and the prison service, and we will work with them and other partners to respond to specific issues raised in the report.”