31 July 2006

Sex Offenders Probe May Delay Decision On Prison

by Andrew Kellock, Press & Journal

PLANS to hold a fresh round of consultations on how sex offenders should be managed could delay a decision on the future of a north-east prison.

Campaigners in Peterhead had hoped they would know before the end of this year whether or not the Aberdeenshire town will become the base for a new "super jail".

But it may be early 2007 before Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson makes an announcement on the way forward because Scotland's recently-formed criminal justice authorities are being asked for their views.

A Scottish Prison Service spokesman admitted last night a decision was still "months rather than weeks" away.

Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson described the news as "disappointing" - and said he feared more delays could push up the estimated £50-£70million bill for building a new jail at Peterhead.

The SPS launched a wide-ranging consultation exercise last summer, and admitted for the first time that a new "super jail" - to replace the dilapidated buildings at both Peterhead and Craiginches in Aberdeen - could be created.

Organisations and individuals gave their feedback on six options.

And 51% of those who responded backed a new building at the existing Peterhead Prison complex at the port's Invernettie.

Another 28% signalled their support for replacing the jail, and possibly Craiginches, on a site elsewhere in Aberdeenshire.

Only 18% were in favour of replacing Peterhead prison with a new one in the central belt.

And just 3% backed refurbishing the Victorian-era prison.

There was no support at all for making operational changes at the jail to allow it to comply with human-rights rules on issues such as slopping out.

Mr Stevenson has asked the justice minister to meet with him and members of Stop the Closure of Peterhead Prison, the warders' wives who won their high-profile battle to save the award-winning sex offenders' unit from the axe.

The MSP said: "More consultations will, inevitably, mean a further delay to the decision on the jail's future.

"This is disappointing and unnecessary.

"Peterhead has established itself as a centre of excellence for the treatment and rehabilitation of sex offenders, and no other community in the country has shown any willingness to take on its role.

"Costs do not stand still, so another delay will also lead to an increase in the bill for delivering the new prison."

Criminal justice authorities (CJAs) are partnerships between councils and other agencies involved in strategies to stop people reoffending.

An SPS spokesman said: "We plan to consult with the CJAs as to what they see as the best options for the management of sex offenders.

"This consultation will be carried out over the next few months"

Peterhead Prison was earmarked for closure by former Justice Minister Jim Wallace following a wide-ranging estates review.

He was forced into a U-turn by campaigners, but they still want a commitment that the jail and the programmes it runs to treat and try to rehabilitate rapists and child molesters and reduce the risk of them reoffending has a long-term future.

The prison holds about 300 of Scotland's worst sex offenders.

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