Polmont inmates’ spending extended periods in their cells due to fears of violence

Inmates at Polmont Young Offenders Institution spend extended periods in their cells due to the “fear of interpersonal violence”, an inspection has found.

Despite an improvement in the relationship between prisoners and staff, interaction between inmates is limited by fears of violence and the use of “keep separate lists”, Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland David Strang said.

“Considerable progress” was found since the last inspection in terms of creating a learning environment at Polmont, but the uptake of opportunities was described as “disappointingly low”.

Polmont currently houses young male offenders aged between 16 and 21 but more than 100 female prisoners are to be transferred to the centre from Cornton Vale later this year.

Mr Strang believes this will “bring a different set of challenges for the management and staff”.

The report said: ” The compelling and progressive vision established by the governor?in?charge and supported by the vast majority of staff referred to respect, self-determination, personal responsibility, personal learning and self-development.

“The strapline used to articulate the vision of what the institution was looking to achieve was ‘Creating a learning environment by making every contact an opportunity to learn, with the aim of creating young men who are successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors’.

“However, these two core rationales seemed to sit slightly uneasily against the contention that the young men needed to be locked up for prolonged periods because of their unpredictable and potentially damaging behaviours.”

Mr Strang praised the ” compassion, care, thoughtfulness and respect” shown by staff.

He added: “Whilst the interactions witnessed were professional and respectful this must be counter-pointed with the limited time that the young men were permitted to be out of their cells.

“It was surprising that during conversations with SPS staff, at all levels, the majority-held view was that social interaction opportunities were limited because of the fear of interpersonal violence, therefore extended periods of confinement to their cells was required in order to maintain good order and discipline.”

Incidents of serious violence were found to be low in the April 2016 inspection but Mr Strang wants to see a bigger uptake in activities.

He said: “D espite significant investment in the activities areas, it was disappointing to note that only just over a third of the population engaged in daily activities. As a result, a sizable proportion of the young men spent extended periods of the day locked in their cells.

“Whilst we were encouraged by management’s assertions that the arrival of the women during the summer of 2016 would not impact on the progress made to date, or that planned for the future, I am concerned that the introduction of a second, equally diverse parallel regime will not be without its challenges.

“Developing a culture where young men take responsibility for making constructive decisions about their lives is virtuous and should be applauded. Such an approach requires consistent encouragement of, and a level of trust in, the young men.

“This aspiration is potentially undermined if the young men are not afforded the opportunity to exercise such responsibility.

“Without in any way compromising security and safety, HMYOI Polmont should seek to encourage the whole population to participate actively in more activities out with their cells.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Scottish Prison Service.