The newest prison project started by the Scottish government is HMP Highland. The £66 million prison is to be built close to Inverness Retail Park and was originally planned to open in 2020. Announcements in November 2018, said the prison will now open in October 2021 with the cost increased to £80.5million. Planning permission was requested in May 2017, the successful decision notice was formally issued in December 2017. It received unanimous support from the Planning Committee. The land is owned by property developers Hazledene Inverness.
Choosing the site has been a controversial endeavour. The Scottish Prison Service originally wanted to build the new prison on farmland next to the suburb of Milton of Leys. This proposal was met with organised local resistance from a group called Highlands Against Proposed Prison Location (HAPPL), who themselves are not against prisons but didn’t want one in the specific location proposed. The group’s social media reached more than 14,000 people within a week of launching. The group relentlessly lobbied councillors and organised public meetings.
A new prison in the Highlands to replace HMP Inverness has been in discussion from at least 2009. The existing Inverness prison sits in one of the most sought-after housing locations in the region. The new prison will serve the courts in the Highlands, Islands and Moray.
Tender documents released in October 2017 show the prison will have 200 cells. It does not specify if these are singles or doubles. In any case, the endless trend of growing prison numbers means that single cells are eventually doubled up, which could increase the prison’s capacity to 400 people in future. The prison will include the full range of buildings including kitchen, laundry, and education, prisoner regimes and vocational training, recreation facilities, visits, staff and administration.
To bring together the planning application, the Scottish Prison Service worked with property agent Colliers and a specialist consulting team including BakerHicks, ITP Energised, Fairhurst Engineers, TGP Landscape Architects, AOC Archaeology and ERM Consulting. Meabhann Crowe, senior planner with Colliers International said: “It is interesting to be involved in a project where the design and the functionality of a building are so different and so modern, it looks like a modern education campus or a hospital and has a very different feel about it.” Modernity means nothing to those subject to the prison’s captivity. What some see as an interesting architectural project will have a very different meaning to the individuals and families affected by imprisonment.
Construction work was set to begin in early 2018. However, a number of further matters still need to be approved, including road layouts and hard and soft landscaping. Construction Environmental Management Plans also need to be submitted. There are also reports of prehistoric remains to be investigated.
In Scotland, the majority of prisoners are white, male and under 36. Mental illness, alcohol and drug use are the main factors in crime (with just under half intoxicated at the time of the offence). A third have been in care and a quarter has a disability6. Who goes to prison in Scotland is also geographically unequal. With capacity increasing, it is likely that more people from the Highlands will be sentenced to prison.