Right to outdoor exercise ‘clearly breached’ at HMP Polmont, inspectors find

Inspectors have raised concerns prisoners’ rights to an hour’s exercise in the fresh air every day are “clearly being breached” at Scotland’s national holding facility for children and young offenders.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) noted in its latest report on HMP YOI Polmont (pictured), which also houses adult female prisoners, that staff are currently unable to guarantee the right to one hour’s outdoor exercise each day under the Mandela Rules for the treatment of prisoners.

The report said the difficulty lay partly in the number of “designated enemies” young men have within the facility, limiting the time they can enter its two outdoor exercise yards.

HMIPS has recommended the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) invests in creating extra outdoor exercise areas with fixed equipment to overcome the problem.

The report said: “Although the regime timetable indicated that all prisoners were being offered the opportunity of one hour per day in the fresh air, this was not taking place in all areas.

“Despite having to run two regimes in Blair House, women were still afforded one hour’s access to fresh air per day. However, this was not always the case in the young men’s residential areas where most areas were receiving 45 minutes per day, which is a breach of Prison Rule 87(1) and their human right.

“The number of enemies was cited as one reason for lack [of] adherence to Rule 87(1), with one example being in the under-18 section which held four children, they could not all go out together.

“Uptake for early morning access to fresh air was minimal due to the time and also the process where young men had to tell the officer at the morning safety check and thereafter not allowed to change their minds.

“It was reported that offence and non-offence protections were less likely to take fresh air due to abuse from mainstream prisoners.”

HMIPS noted another “significant concern” raised during the most recent inspection of HM YOI Polmont related to the “continued use” of routine body searching of women following visits from family or friends and during cell searches.

Its report said the potential for the practice to re-traumatise women who may have previously been abused is “high”, and it urged the SPS to use technology to move permanently to “intelligence-led searching only”.

Overall, seven of the nine standards inspected, including health and wellbeing and purposeful activity, were rated as “satisfactory” and two as “generally acceptable”, which was said to reflect “a calm, stable, forward-looking prison”.

HMIPS insisted, however, it believes no child should be held in prison while “more therapeutic alternatives” are available, and the “very small number” being held in HMP YOI Polmont should be moved to more “secure care”.

Its report said: “HMIPS would like to see expedited the removal to secure care of the very small number of children still held in HMP YOI Polmont.

“Despite the significant cultural shift observed, HMIPS believes that children should not be held in prison while more therapeutic alternatives are available in Scotland.

“This move would bring more cells into availability, mitigating to a small degree some of the significant overcrowding concerns held by HMIPS.”

An SPS spokesperson said: “This is a really positive report which praises the establishment for strongly moving forward, and the vision, purpose, energy, and direction shown by the leadership team.

“It is particularly pleasing to see staff recognised for their work in identifying people with additional needs and ensuring support is in place, and for the care and compassion they show with vulnerable individuals in ‘Talk To Me’ case conferences.”

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said: “I welcome this very positive report which highlights that HMP YOI Polmont is a calm, stable and forward looking prison providing excellent resources to young people and women in its care.

“The report recognises and praises the progress made by NHS Forth Valley Healthcare team in addressing the healthcare issues raised in the previous inspection report.

“The senior management team and the care, compassion and dedication of SPS staff who ensure that individuals with additional needs receive the required support, were also rightly praised.

“We are committed to keeping The Promise, ending the practice of under-18s in prison and supporting care-based alternatives.

“HMIPS itself has also called for such measures, which are contained in the Children (Care and Justice) Bill currently undergoing parliamentary scrutiny.”

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