HMP Grampian is a high-security prison located in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire which opened in March 2014. With a capacity for 560 inmates, it is Scotland’s newest jail and replaced the former HMP Peterhead and HMP Aberdeen. The £140 million complex was intended to house adult male prisoners (including sex offenders), female prisoners (convicted and on remand) as well as young offenders. However, it no longer accommodates juvenile males due to changes in Scottish sentencing policies.
History and Opening
Planning for the new north-east super prison began in 2008 under the SNP government. After receiving planning permission in 2010, construction commenced in 2011 with Kier Group appointed as the main contractor. The project itself did not escape controversy – its remote location and expansive grounds led some to criticize the large expense when Scottish prisons were dealing with overcrowding issues. However, officials stated that creating a modern facility with space for rehabilitation services was necessary to replace the Victorian-era prisons it succeeded.
HMP Grampian was completed on time and on budget by early 2014, being hailed as one of Europe’s most advanced jails with state-of-the-art security. The then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill opened the prison on 28th March, with the facility becoming fully operational by June of that year.
Location and Layout
The prison complex sits on a 47-acre site just outside Peterhead, next to Longside Airfield. Its isolated position raised concerns over access for visitors, staff recruitment and infrastructure costs. However, the large footprint allowed a spacious and modern design very different to traditional Victorian prisons.
HMP Grampian’s X-shape layout comprises five key residential blocks sprouting from a central administrative hub. The main blocks are:
- Ellon Hall – houses adult male prisoners
- Banff Hall – female prisoners
- Cruden Hall – originally held young offenders but now unused
- Aberlour Unit – step-down facility for those nearing release
- Dyce Hall – segregation and control unit
The housing blocks were built to modern standards with enhanced conditions and amenities for inmates. Ellon and Banff have three spurs each holding up to 140 prisoners in single cells with integral sanitation. Most cells feature televisions and telephones, with some having special accessibility features. The halls provide association and recreational areas, exercise yards, workshops and classrooms.
However, Cruden Hall for juvenile offenders is currently mothballed due to the fall in youth custody numbers across Scotland. The 60 capacity unit remains on standby if policy changes require its use for young males again.
HMP Grampian is consistently near its maximum capacity thanks to taking inmates from busy courts in Aberdeen, Inverness, Peterhead and Lerwick. Its location means transfers from other Scottish jails are infrequent.
Capacity and Overcrowding Issues
The design capacity is 556 but operational capacity is often higher at around 600. Like many UK prisons, HMP Grampian has faced capacity pressures and overcrowding at times. Up to 650 inmates have been held which puts strain on facilities and staff resources.
Categories of Prisoners
Around 75% of HMP Grampian’s inmates are adult males from across northeast Scotland serving sentences ranging from a few months to life. There are also remand prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing at the courts in Aberdeen, Inverness and Peterhead.
A smaller female prisoner unit houses up to 60 offenders including young offenders and those on remand. Convicted females tend to have shorter sentences for non-violent crimes.
Facilities and Regime
For a modern jail, HMP Grampian offers prisoners a reasonably extensive range of activities and services including:
Work and Education
Inmates have access to prison work like cleaning, laundry, kitchens, recycling and gardens. Many are employed on industrial work for companies paying market wages. Education facilities allow prisoners to gain vocational skills as well as basic literacy and numeracy. There are also peer mentor roles to provide employment experience.
Healthcare and Mental Health Provision
As a busy local prison, HMP Grampian has a significant proportion of inmates with drug addiction and mental health problems. An NHS unit with doctors, nurses and psychiatrists provides physical and mental healthcare. Drug rehabilitation services are also available but understaffing has affected some programs.
Visits and Family Contact
Despite the remote location, HMP Grampian provides regular visit sessions including facilities adapted for children. Most prisoners qualify for at least two 1-hour visits per month. There are also special family visits which allow longer contact and parenting programs.
Security and Control
HMP Grampian utilizes layers of modern physical and procedural security to prevent escapes and maintain control over its varied prisoner population.
Staffing and Organization
Around 350 frontline prison officers and specialist staff work at the prison supported by an additional 100 administration and facilities personnel. Staffing shortages have been an issue with the demanding environment contributing to stress and burnout.
The senior management team is headed by Governor Brian McKirdy who oversees prison operations. He is supported by a Deputy Governor and various heads of unit for security, regimes, administration etc.
Rule-breaking or violent prisoners may serve stints in the segregation unit at Dyce Hall under close supervision. Special extraction teams equip with protective equipment respond to serious incidents across the site. The separation space is also used to reintegrate problematic prisoners to the main wings.
Issues and Controversies
While modern and fairly well-equipped, HMP Grampian has experienced its share of issues common to many contemporary prisons.
Drugs and Violence
Gang culture and the smuggling of contraband including drugs and weapons has fueled violence at the prison. Assaults on staff and between inmates occur regularly despite security efforts. Several prisoners have died due to drug overdoses and suicides have also been recorded.
High turnover of prison officers and staff shortages have impacted regimes at HMP Grampian. At times up to one third of officer posts have been vacant making safely managing a near capacity jail very difficult.
Many staff do not stay long in post with the remote location, long commutes and stressful nature of the work taking a toll. Staff sickness rates are high while morale is often low.
Ongoing recruitment aims to fill the staffing gaps but hiring has lagged behind leavers. The expansive facility requires significant personnel for effective running while competition from other employers makes attracting applicants to prison roles difficult.
Reoffending rates amongst former HMP Grampian inmates remain higher than desired. Limited access to some rehabilitative services inside the prison and lack of throughcare support on release fails to break the cycle long term in many cases.
Following nearly 10 years of operation, HMP Grampian faces challenges but also opportunities going forward.
A recent review of Scotland’s prison estate recommended expanding HMP Grampian’s capacity to relieve overcrowding pressures elsewhere. If approved, further housing blocks could add another 200 inmate places over the next 5-10 years.
Focus on Reducing Reoffending
There are also plans to enhance rehabilitation services at the prison including increased addiction support and skills training. More emphasis will be placed on throughcare programs assisting prisoners with housing, jobs and finances when they leave custody. The long running issue of staff retention must also be addressed perhaps with better pay and conditions.
If resourcing allows, the future HMP Grampian aims to be a prison that provides offenders with a pathway to turn their lives around and not return to custody. Delivering on this promise while safely managing high risk prisoners in a remote location remains an ongoing challenge.
In its first decade, HMP Grampian has established itself as an integral, if sometimes controversial, component of Scotland’s prison estate. Despite facing problems familiar to many modern jails, the facility has provided northern Scotland with a replacement for outdated Victorian prisons unfit for the 21st century. With expansions and a renewed focus on rehabilitation planned, the complex at Peterhead seems likely to be a site of incarceration and potentially positive change for years to come.
Q: When did HMP Grampian open and how much did it cost to build?
A: HMP Grampian opened in March 2014 after three years of construction. The total project cost around £140 million pounds to complete.
Q: What is the full prisoner capacity and how many people work there?
A: The design capacity is 556 but operationally HMP Grampian holds up to 650 prisoners at times. Approximately 450 staff work at the complex including uniformed officers and other personnel.
Q: Has anyone ever escaped from HMP Grampian?
A: As a high security prison, no one has escaped from HMP Grampian since it opened. Prior breakouts occurred at the old HMP Peterhead it replaced.
Q: What amenities and facilities are provided to prisoners?
A: Inmates have access to single ensuite cells with amenities like TVs and telephones. The halls offer association rooms, exercise yards, workshops, education centers and more. Healthcare, family visits and rehabilitation services are also available.
Q: What problems has the prison experienced and how are they being addressed?
A: Issues like drugs and violence, staff shortages causing regime impacts and high reoffending rates have challenged prison authorities. Plans are in place to expand capacity, address resourcing gaps and enhance rehabilitation programs.