Friday, December 28, 2012


Two days before Christmas I found myself driving slowly along the narrow road which takes you the final couple of hundred yards to the main gate of one of Glasgow's most famous institutions.

Sharing the top 3 places of fame are Celtic Park, Ibrox Park and here, Barlinnie Jail, The Bar L, The Big Hoose, where a great many of the former two teams supporters are guests of her majesty. At this time of year it shares with other similar establishments the title of the saddest place on earth. It is freezing and I am about to carry out my duty as a prison visitor, not quite the happiest task I've ever carried out. For anyone who has never been in a large prison it is difficult to describe. Over a hundred years old and it shows, with Victorian stone arches and walls and tiny cells, most now thankfully containing one prisoner where; when I first visited the place some 10 years ago it was common for a cell to hold 2 and often three with no sanitation, not very Christmassy eh? All cells now have personal sanitation thankfully, some say that is spoiling them, invariably people who have never seen the inside of a place like Barlinnie. After a while you tend to forget about the tough guy reputation of the inmates and indeed the warders as you notice that nowadays they get along quite well. Most prisoners are poor souls really and quite unable to survive without help on the outside, take away the help and back they come. When you talk to them they talk about their families, particularly at this time, are they due sympathy? Well sometimes it is not easy to sympathise with some of them but by and large the majority should not be there and it is difficult not to feel compassion, read on.

A couple of years ago a national newspaper "The Guardian" ran a series of major articles by people who are involved in the penal system. These experts stated unequivocally that approximately 80% of prisoners in the English and Welsh prison system suffered from 2 or more mental health conditions. I asked the then Governor of Barlinnie at a meeting of the Prison Visitors Committee if he was aware of the articles and whether their findings were consistent with the Scottish Prison System. He immediately said he was aware of the articles and no they were not consistent with Scottish prisons, he stated that the 80% figure was more in the region of 30% in Barlinnie, we agreed to pursue this further but never got round to it as my tenure as a visitor was ending shortly.

If 81 % illiteracy, 71% innumeracy and 80% of prisoners with two or more mental health problems is the norm and I have no reason to doubt that it is then, despite the courageous and unwavering efforts of the prison staff we have a major crisis on our hands and it has been on the increase for years.

If a prisoner is taken in to prison to start his/her sentence and is illiterate, innumerate and suffering from mental health problems or any one or combination of the 3 and that same prisoner is at the end of that sentence released still either illiterate, innumerate and suffering from mental health problems or one or a grouping of those 3 should we not at least be asking what is it that we want prisons to do, is this acceptable? If the present government proceeds with its plans over the next couple of years we will be facing a tsunami of crime and consequential prison admissions and; under the present regime that can only mean one thing, the situation will get worse and the Government will exploit the situation by acting tough to harvest votes. This has gone on too long, it's time society faced reality, prison does not work, but it might if we start to take rehabilitation seriously. At the moment and historically any suggestion of rehabilitation is disingenuous, dangerous nonsense as long as this scandalous situation continues. Investment is required now to provide gain in the long term, many chaotic lives have been made worse by the system and many lives have been ruined and families destroyed by short term expediency and cowardly decisions by politicians of every colour.

It's time to take on this problem and to make sure that politicians; properly advised by criminologists, educational experts and Mental Health professionals are forced to face up to it and made take the lead. The very last people who should have influence are red top journalists who will say and do anything to demonise prisoners and complain about how easy prisons are. These people should start the learning process about prisons by examining the numbers of suicides, attempted suicides and the incidence of self harm in the system before going away and hanging their heads in shame. Surely we no longer need to ask the question, should we be guided by penal experts or by reactionary politicians on the make and backed up by the likes of Rupert Murdoch?


Byeck said...

I dont think you've quite got the hang of this prison thing, Councillor, so let me help...Theyre banged up because they've been very naughty and prison was never designed to replace the Ritz, though compared to Uncle Joe's Gulags, I suppose Barlinnie is none too bad.

But enough of bringing light to your darkness...I notice my posts on your Arthur's questionable command of English have been censored. Why is this?

Cllr Terry Kelly said...

Byeck said...
Monday, December 31, 2012 9:26:00 AM

If you look carefully you will find yourself described with others in the article on Barlinnie Jail, you are not difficult to find and, after 6 years as a prison visitor I think I do have the hang of this prison thing.

You really ought to know better by now than to accuse me of censorship, it’s a rather cheap shot and if you look carefully again (twice in the one day) you will notice that this argument does not actually involve me. It’s “a hill of beans” of course as Bogart observed in “Casablanca”.

I personally don’t resort to such childish jibes a long as I can understand what my opponent means.If I did I would be inclined to reread your post “dont” appears without an apostrophe and “Theyre” gets similar treatment only for the apostrophe to reappear a couple of words later with “they’ve”

Is it your mission in life to make a fool of yourself while destroying the language of Shakespeare and Milton?

Byeck said...

Kelly @ 2.29
Dont and theyre? Common usage, you pedantic Scottish Person, whereas course and coarse have totally different meanings, even in Cousin Arthur's Chicago.

There I go again, bringing knowledge where there is ignorance. I'm just an old softy when faced with bewildered and confused Renfrew Councillors.

Cllr Terry Kelly said...

Byeck said...
Monday, December 31, 2012 4:29:00 PM

Now that is a very bad response to being caught out, have you no grace at all? no style? Try a joke, a funny story but above all accept that you have f****d up, we all do it even you.

I doubt if you would survive long in Glasgow, you have to learn to roll with the punches here or you are out of the ball game. Cousin Arthur has been in America for 50 years, who was it said “Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language"? three are credited with this lovely quote, was it one of the Irish scribblers George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde? Or was it the great British literary genius Winston Churchill?

Gary Pearson said...

You make good points about the mental health and lack of education of prisoners in the Scottish penal system.

Councilors, should be doing all they can to improve the impact of a sentence particularly in relation to rehabilitation.Albeit the Councilors may be the very people who will end up in Barlinnie Prison sometime soon. The councils long standing ignorance of Homeless legislation was a criminal action by all councilors so see you soon in your new jail duds this time as a prisoner, Terry boy!

Gary Pearson

Cllr Terry Kelly said...

Councillors go to prison? Quite right, if they have committed a crime and are found guilty. I can’t quote you the details of homeless legislation verbatim, I doubt if any councillor can but, I know where to get them if I need to.