Almost all areas of HMP and YOI Grampian in Peterhead are being “negatively impacted” by under-strength staffing levels which are at “crisis point”.
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland Wendy Sinclair revealed the findings of a major inspection at the jail last week.
However, the inspection team found that prison had “matured” and that despite significant incidents in 2018, was now “largely calm and purposeful” with emerging signs of stability and progress.
Ms Sinclair said: “I am pleased to see the positive developments and initiatives that have been taken forward.
“With 42 areas of identified good practice, this is a good platform to build on for the future.”
But she stressed: “The staffing crisis must remain as the critical focus for the SPS, and the areas of concern in Ellon Hall and healthcare need to be urgently addressed by the SPS and the AHSCP.”
The report found that in the nine standard assessments, eight were rated as either Good, Satisfactory or Generally Acceptable.
Inspectors will return in December to review what progress has been made.
Ms Sinclair said overall, most prisoners felt safe, but some felt intimidated because of verbal abuse from other prisoners.
However, the serious staff shortage issues preclude moving from a steady state to a developmental agenda.
In reality, almost all areas of the prison were "negatively impacted" by staffing shortages.
The inspection team was concerned that non-offence protection prisoners were not routinely provided with at least an hour’s daily outdoor exercise time because of the staffing shortages.
Ms Sinclair said: “The lack of opportunity posed by staffing shortages to use Cruden Hall to further develop and simplify the regime and population management should remain a priority.”
On a more positive note, the inspection found that community and partnership supports were “positive, purposeful and linked to pockets of innovative practice” across a wide range of disciplines in the establishment.
She said: “I was particularly impressed with the range of good practice, partnership links, and initiatives to achieve changed outcomes such as Street Sport, Community work, DVD on visiting HMP Grampian and bring your local MSP to the visit.”
The inspection team was seriously concerned by the threat to the innovative work at the Family Centre owing to financial cutbacks by some partners.
Ms Sinclair said: “The centre offered information, support, advice and guidance to families, and their integrated working with community partners was an instance of good practice worthy of sharing. This would be a huge loss if funding was withdrawn.”
The prison was also lauded for its preparation of prisoners for their successful return to the community through a multi-agency partnership.
The report said the case management process was effective and engaged a wide range of internal and external partners, with a clear commitment to supporting prisoners both before and after their release.
It said the Throughcare Support Team deserved praise for its work in running the two Community Integration Units, developing positive relationships with the community, the judiciary and social work partners while sourcing sound work placements.
The inspection team found that the activities and spiritual needs of prisoners were fully catered for by a proactive chaplaincy team with an inclusive ethos an numerous examples of innovative service delivery.
The report said: “The importance of supporting positive family relationships was recognised and considerable efforts were made to help prisoners to maintain good contact with a range of innovative practice including video links through the Apex Trust.”
It also singled out the work of the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership for its delivery of high quality healthcare and good practice.
In particular, the relationship between the Partnership and Public Health was the best the health inspectors had seen.
Inspectors welcomed the encouraging improvements made in tackling substance misuse, and improving mental health and healthcare service delivery.
However of major concern is that nursing staff are unavailable to conduct a medical assessment of prisoners who are admitted to the establishment after 9.30pm.
That means late arrival prisoners don’t receive critical clinical reception screen to assess their withdrawal status, provide essential prescribed medication, assess their risk of self-harm or suicide and determine whether they are fit to be in custody.
Acting governor welcomes 'balanced' report
Acting governor Mike Hebden welcomed what he described as a "balanced report" for HMP Grampian.
Accepting that the prison faced a number of challenges - particularly with regards to staffing levels - he said it was looking to develop creative ways of attracting new officers to the North-east.
He stressed that the recruitment was not a "unique issue" to the SPS and was faced by various public sector bodies including Police Scotland and NHS Grampian.
But he said the prison was determined to "build a team that feels valued".
Mr Hebden said: "I think it's important to acknowledge the staff who do work here. I am fairly confident we are making progress.
"The big challenge of not having staff is that you don't get continuity. And relationships are what run prisons - to have the same people working the same role with the same people in their care every day is what makes a good prison a great prison.
"I think the inspector was clear to point out we have a decent prison here. And it could be a great prison."
Commenting on claims of intimidation and bullying among prisoners, Mr Hebden said while a national anti-bullying policy had been introcuced to all Scottish prisons since the inspection, it was an unfortunate reality of prison life.
He said: "This is a local prison for people from Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire who bring their own challenges in here with them.
"They've maybe assaulted someone in here, attacked their partner, stolen from their house and are now natural enemies brought together and that's one area we have to be aware of.
"We aim to keep everyone safe and keep on top of that, giving some prisoners extra protection. But it's a fact of prison life that there will be people passing by and, particularly the group of sex offenders, when people are passing by they shout abuse, but that's pretty much going to happen in a prison anywhere."
But he accepted that the prison would be tackling those issues by improving the daily regime including improved access to outdoor leisure time.
Mr Hebden also welcomed the praise for the Family Centre run by Action for Children, saying it was striving to develop family ties and enable families to live as normal lives as possible.
With partners and children often travelling from as far afield as Inverness, Montrose and even Shetland, he said it was crucial to provide caring support for them during their visits to the prison.
MSP praises staff and management
Local MSP Stewart Stevenson praised staff and management at HMP Grampian following publication of the report and said bringing together two prisons with very different cultures in HMP Peterhead and HMP Craiginches was always going to present challenges.
He said: "For me, the measure of the success of a prison is whether those who are released from it are prepared for a return to day-to-day life as someone who contributes to society, and not someone who goes on to re-offend and end up costing the taxpayer more money as they go through the justice system.
“It’s clear from this report that, despite some challenges, the staff at HMP Grampian are carrying on the ethos of the old HMP Peterhead.
"Back then, the officers charged with custody of what was then a sex-offender population were a team who were highly motivated in their jobs by doing their utmost to protect the public by ensuring their inmates got every support to make them not re-offend. Prevention of re-offending remains a top priority for the staff.
“There are issues highlighted in the report which require to be addressed, and I will be raising some of those with the authorities, but overall this is a very positive report.”