A north MSP has claimed delays in the construction of a new prison in the Highlands will cause additional overcrowding at the current jail and lead to more prisoners being sent outwith the region.
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf told Conservative politician Edward Mountain that investment in facilities for female inmates across the country and a replacement for Barlinnnie Prison were top priorities before Inverness jail.
The news comes just weeks after the Scottish Government recently announced, in its update on capital projects, that the expected opening of the new prison, to be called HMP Highland, was being pushed back from spring 2021 to October that year after costs increased from £73.9million to £80.5m.
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Mr Mountain said: “Considering that HMP Inverness seems to be constantly running over capacity, it is vital we build the new prison for the Highlands as a matter of urgency.
“I am disappointed that Inverness is not further up the priority list. This can only result in more overcrowding and prisoners from the Highlands being moved to prisons outside the region, making family contact more difficult.”
The justice secretary made his statement in a parliamentary answer to Mr Mountain at the Scottish Parliament.
The MSP had asked “whether HMP Inverness exceeded prisoner capacity” in 2018.
Mr Yousaf replied: “It did. The average population during 2018 was a 113 people. That is an average occupancy level of just over a 120%”
Edward Mountain then asked: “When prisoners exceed capacity, one of the areas that suffers is rehabilitation and the other is safety.
“Can you confirm that enough resources are being directed at providing sufficient warders and rehabilitation support to prisoners in Inverness and when the new prison in Inverness will be ready for use?”
The justice secretary replied: “It would be fair to say that a priority at the moment is the female custody real estate, then a replacement for Barlinnie, then a replacement for HMP Inverness.”
The site of the new prison next to Inverness Retail Park currently has workers clearing the land, giving hope that construction would begin soon.
A spokesman for SPS said they had an obligation to maintain and secure the site, which is what they are been doing, but that it will not be built for another two years.