JUSTICE Minister Kenny MacAskill paid a fact-finding visit to the site of the new HMP Grampian yesterday (Monday).
Mr MacAskill met with the governor of the new jail, Jim Farish, and staff members and also representatives from Skanska, the firm charged with building the new jail.
Commenting on how the SPS would benefit from the new HMP Grampian, Mr MacAskill said that it was a very exciting development and Scotland’s first custom-built community facing prison, designed to meet the custodial needs of the north-east of Scotland.
He told the Buchanie: “This is a very exciting development meaning that men, women, young offenders, remand and convicted prisoners from the north east will be held in much greater proximity to their homes than has been the case thus far.
“The dedication, hard work and professionalism of the staff of HMP Peterhead and Aberdeen is widely recognised across the prison service and across Scotland.
“I am confident that assigning these staff groups in a new fit for purpose facility will be of tremendous benefit to the prison service and to the people of Scotland.
“I also believe that the new facilities which HMP Grampian will have will be of great benefit and assistance to the staff working in the prison making their jobs a little easier in increasing the success of the work they do.”
Asked whether community facing prisons were the way forward for the prison service, Mr MacAskill said he believed it was the model for the future, aligning the prison with the communities from which offenders come.
“This reflects the direction of travel which Dame Elish Angiolini supported in her recent report, where she highlighted in particular the benefits for women prisoners of being held closer to home.
“I also believe there are a number of benefits which derive from this model including better through care services for prisoners, better links with the communities they come from and preserving family links which are widely recognised as an important element in reducing reoffending.”
The Justice Minister also felt there were considerable benefits for the north-east from having Scotland’s first community facing prison.
“As well as helping to develop a model which I believe will be the future for our custodial services, it will mean prisoners from the north east will be able to benefit from facilities specifically designed to reduce their reoffending,” he said.
“That plus the benefit for prisoners is also a significant benefit for the communities from which they come.
“The new fit for purpose facilities will maximise the opportunity for prisoners to engage positively to address the underlying causes of their offending behaviour.
“Whether it be through education, training or programme activities to address any specific needs they may have it will maximise the potential for them to engage positively with staff to break the cycle of reoffending and to emerge from HMP Grampian better equipped to become good citizens and better members of society.”
Mr MacAskill said that while a new mix of prisoners under the one roof would be challenging, staff were very much up to the challenge ahead.
“The mix of prisoners also presents a wide range of opportunities to develop new skills and engage more effectively with the range of prisoners from across the north east.,” he said.
“The Scottish Prison Service has experience of managing different groups of prisoners within one facility but there are considerable benefits to be had with HMP Grampian because it has been custom designed to allow these different prisoner population to be managed within one perimeter.
“Having spoken to the staff, I know many of them are looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that HMP Grampian will offer and I for one am confident that they will rise to any challenges which they may encounter,” he added.
The new, state-of-the-art jail is expected to be completed by the end of next year.