The staffing crisis which has caused mounting problems at the north-east’s super jail has been detailed in a new report.
A review by the Auditor General for the Scottish Parliament, Caroline Gardner, has found that HMP Grampian is this month running with 34 vacancies for uniformed staff.
The number of full-time prison officers at HMP Grampian had fallen from 241 in January 2016 to 203 in December last year, with a series of troubles being attributed to the drop.
The new findings reflect concerns raised by inspectors in a separate report earlier this year – which blamed staff shortages for inmates being left in their cells for up to 23 hours a day in a breach of UN regulations.
That dossier also raised “major concerns” that the shortage meant any bullying among prisoners was left “unchallenged”.
It was claimed that the recruitment crisis could be increasing the risk of officers being attacked.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland found that “almost all areas were negatively impacted by staffing shortages”.
Ms Gardner’s new report explained that the staff problems have emerged at a time when prisoner numbers have increased, with the number rising by nearly 9% in 2018/19 to 8,212 across the country.
And she expects that number will continue to increase.
Meanwhile, stress-related sickness among staff in Scotland rose by nearly one third in 2018/19, and additional payments to staff working longer hours increased by 65 % to £4.25 million.
Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, yesterday said the Scottish Government takes the pressure facing the nation’s prisons “very seriously”.
Mr Yousaf added: “We have been working closely with the Scottish Prison Service to manage the rising population and have already made additional financial provision available to help meet cost pressures.”
“As successive independent inspection reports have highlighted, prison officers do a good job in increasingly complex and challenging situations – and no-one should ever take for granted the good order that is maintained in Scotland’s prisons.”
Ms Gardner added: “Scotland’s prisons are running well over operating capacity.
“The Scottish Prison Service faces a combination of severe pressures on many fronts; this poses a threat to operational safety, effectiveness and financial sustainability.”
A government spokeswoman added: “The Scottish Prison Service aims to remain within a vacancy rate of 1% and has achieved this goal for the majority of recent years, however, we recognise HMP Grampian’s staffing pressures.”