Aberdeen Sheriff Court has been ordered to improve its court custody unit (CUU) to prevent prisoners becoming a danger to staff.
Inspectors visited the unit, where prisoners are held before appearing on the dock, last December.
Their damning findings were published yesterday in a report compiled by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, Wendy Sinclair-Gieben.
She raised significant concerns surrounding tensions caused by a lack of space which added “unnecessary risk to the movement of prisoners.”
Her report read: “One concern was the narrow corridor leading up to the entrance door to the CCU.
“Prisoners were taken from the custody vans along this corridor and they queued handcuffed to a member of staff awaiting entry to the CCU.
“Inspectors witnessed as many as six prisoners waiting at any one time.
“While the agreed ratio was one staff member to one prisoner, it was an avoidable situation that had the potential for violence.”
She cited a recent incident, which involved an assault by one prisoner on another by spitting on them while in the corridor.
Inspectors also hit out at “historic graffiti”, the fact paint had been “scratched with vulgarities” and that burn marks remained on the ceilings and windows.
The latter issue, the report notes, had been repeatedly raised by CCU staff with the Sheriff Clerk, apparently to no avail.
And on the day of the inspection, when there were 31 prisoners at the unit, one of the unit’s two toilets was out of use, and the other not clean.
“The floor was dirty, toilet paper was lying on the floor and the bowls were stained with urine,” inspectors said.
And they add: “The difficulties experienced in many Scottish CCUs with overcrowding, disability access and movement tensions, could be addressed through greater use of video-link courts and this should be actively considered and encouraged.”
In the same month as inspectors’ visit to Aberdeen Sheriff Court last December, the Press and Journal revealed that police were called to attend incidents at the court about eight times every month.
Figures showed that for the last three years, the Granite City accounted for 199 of Police Scotland’s call-outs to court, with only Glasgow recording more.
At the time, shadow justice secretary and north east MSP Liam Kerr said the incidents “put the safety of those in the court building at risk”.
And addressing inspectors’ findings yesterday he said: “This report highlights an all-too-common issue with Scottish court buildings – they are simply overcrowded.
“Aberdeen has been under added pressure since the closure of several local courts around the north-east in recent years.
“This lack of space can create flashpoints when prisoners are being moved around in close quarters.
“If the pressure would be eased by greater use of video-links, then that is certainly something that should be considered.”
A spokesman from the Scottish Courts said: “The SCTS is working in partnership with the prisoner escorting provider to drive improvement and maintain standards within the custody suites.
“The Aberdeen unit is regularly repainted and we will be taking steps to remove any offensive graffiti.
“There is an existing project in place managing the roll-out of the equipment required for VC links – from courts to prisons – and that option is now available in 33 of the 39 sheriff courts, including Aberdeen, as well as our three dedicated high court venues in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
“We will be working with the Scottish Prison Service to gradually expand the range of hearings that can be undertaken by video.”