Prison inspection flags ‘particularly troubling’ overcrowding issues at HMP Low Moss

Issues with overcrowding in a Scottish prison have led to its population exceeding its design capacity from 10 years ago, an inspection has found.

Inspectors said the problem at HMP Low Moss became “particularly troubling” during the coronavirus pandemic, after an effort to create more capacity resulted in reductions to the individual living spaces available to prisoners.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) conducted an assessment of the facility in Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire, from January 31 to February 11.

In a report published on Tuesday, the watchdog said the “enduring crisis” surrounding overcrowding in the system is “echoed” by the prison.

While it acknowledged that the introduction of an additional 100 spaces provided “much-needed capacity for the overall estate”, the creation of double cellular accommodation out of designated single cell accommodation was cause for concern during the Covid-19 pandemic due to restrictions on the amount of time prisoners were allowed out of their cells.

“Significant numbers” of prisoners were limited to the minimum requirement of one hour of open-air exercise during the pandemic, the inspector said, while infection control rules meant isolated prisoners only received one hour of fresh air every third day.

However, the watchdog added: “We were pleased to see that the governor addressed and resolved this human rights issue during the inspection.”

It also found that permanent additional staff resources were not allocated to the prison following the introduction of the extra spaces, and identified a “clear need for a full capacity modelling exercise” due to an expected requirement for additional staff in both the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and across the partner disciplines of the NHS and Fife College.

Such an exercise would need to address challenges in releasing staff in order to attend training, the report said.

The inspector said it received “conflicting perceptions” of staff in the SPS during its time at HMP Low Moss.

The watchdog said it observed and was told of examples of “good compassionate care and support for prisoners”, and praised the support offered to vulnerable prisoners in Kelvin Two Bravo – but it also reported relationships between prisoners and staff “were not always so positive”.

However, it commended the prison’s processes around the management of staff absences and staff discipline, which it said was “supported and underpinned by good relationships between the governor and local trade unions”.

In terms of healthcare quality at the facility, it said that in order to ensure patient care is not compromised, a “good management culture of mutual understanding and co-operation” between the NHS and SPS should be embedded to “every level below the management”.

The performance of the prisoners’ transport service was “deeply troubling”, the watchdog said, citing “significant evidence of late arrivals and missed hospital appointments” – though it acknowledged that improvements had been noted since the inspection was carried out.

An SPS spokesman said it welcomed the report and the “recognition of the strong management and excellent service delivered at HMP Low Moss, with 30 areas of good practice”.

“There are also a number of issues raised, which we will reflect upon and take any action necessary,” the spokesman added.

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