Election delays prison decision

ANY decision on the future of Noranside Open Prison will not be made until after the Scottish elections in May.

Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has spared the jail from the immediate axe after stepping in to call for a mini-review of the Scottish Prison Service estate.

The news came as a real boost for campaigners who are currently fighting to have the facility retained.

There were fears that an announcement was to be made as early as this month that the open prison would close.

However, Scottish Prison Service chiefs have confirmed the close proximity of the Holyrood elections means no decision over the jail will be taken in the next three months.

The development followed a meeting on Thursday between representatives of the Prison Officer’s Association (Scotland) and Mr MacAskill to discuss the SPS proposal to close Noranside and the POAS case for retention.

It also came in the wake of the presentation of a petition containing more than 4,000 signatures to North Tayside MSP John Swinney at the beginning of last week following a determined campaign by union officials and Noranside staff to press the case for retention.

Mr MacAskill stressed to the union representatives that, while he believes any decision surrounding Noranside is of an operational nature and one that the SPS should make, he considered it should not be taken in isolation.

A government spokesperson confirmed the decision on the future of Noranside Prison will be made on an operational basis by the Scottish Prison Service, which has responsibility for the management of its own estate.

The decision will then be brought to the cabinet secretary as a recommendation for his review.

The spokesperson said: “Given the proximity of the forthcoming election, the cabinet secretary has asked SPS to conduct a mini review of the estate to ensure that the incoming justice minister has the relevant information to rubber stamp any SPS proposals as soon as possible after May 5.”

News of the mini-review was also welcomed by POAS assistant secretary Andy Hogg. He said that, whilst the future of Noranside is undetermined, he was delighted their campaign “has given all parties the opportunity to review the future of HMP Noranside as part of a wider mini estates review which will provide a greater evidence base to determine its future.”

He added: “This simply would not have been achieved if it were not for the support of the Noranside staff and local community getting behind the campaign and acknowledging the work done at Noranside. We are grateful that ministers are listening.”