Perth Prison’s acting governor has defended the jail following claims it is the most violent in Scotland.
Brenda Stewart was reacting to recent figures released through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which showed 13 serious assaults at the prison in the last year, compared to seven the previous year.
She said there were no cases of serious injury to prison staff by inmates in the 2015-16 financial year.
“It absolutely isn’t the case that this is a particularly violent prison — in fact it is a very safe, controlled environment,” she said.
“I’m not trying to minimise anything but prison by its very nature, and the prison population, is really complex.
“And there will be instances when people will flare up, there will be issues where there are on-going disputes that may have occurred in the local community and come into the prison.
“But it’s unhelpful to have a label that says Perth Prison is the most violent in Scotland.”
“It’s a matter of fact that a number of the men in here have committed violent offences but I’ve had a recent meeting with the Independent Prison Monitors who work on behalf of HMCIP (prison inspectorate), and they speak to prisoners and give their own report.
“In general, they do not see their prison represented in the recent figures — they see Perth Prison as a safe place.
“They look at things like standards of decency, personal safety, purposeful activity and found prisoners here feel safe and are treated well by staff.
“This is a really good example where statistics can be interpreted in a way that doesn’t give a proper context.
“A prison by its nature has to be a very controlled environment and therefore, we take issues like the way prisoners behave with each other and the way prisoners behave with staff very seriously.
“In a lot of ways we set very high standards in terms of the behaviour expected as it’s a large, complex community.”
Ms Stewart confirmed that HMP Perth has an average capacity of 630 inmates, with the majority of prisoners from Perth and Kinross, Dundee and Fife.
There are more than 100 on remand awaiting a court appearance, around 100 long-term prisoners serving sentences over four years.
The remainder are short-term inmates.
“The prison population is a localised one and there can be a very high turnover,” Ms Stewart said.
“I lead the reducing violence strategy group, which has an aim of keeping prisoners, staff and visitors safe, and that’s the way you get a well-run prison.
“And there is a whole range of things we do in order to do that, and these include dealing with anger management, addiction issues and offender behaviour.”
Ms Stewart said a negative stigma attached to a prison can last for years.
“Once a place has a label it is very difficult to lose that,” she said.
“I feel that these statistics can have a very detrimental effect and takes away the focus of an awful lot of the good work that is going on in prisons.
“We have a family fun initiative where children can come in on a Friday afternoon and I also recently invited teachers from Perth and Kinross, Dundee and Fife to see the prison so this would increase people’s understanding of it.”