The visiting committee for police cells came to an end this week after 138 years of inspections to ensure prisoners are being treated humanely and being housed in satisfactory conditions.
The committee, which was a local authority responsibility, had its final meeting on Monday. The service has been replaced by a system of voluntary independent prison monitors appointed directly by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
Councillor Amanda Westlake, along with fellow members Allison Duncan and convener Malcolm Bell, had the authority to inspect any of Lerwick Police Station’s legalised cells at any time. Ms Westlake will be the only one of the trio to continue as a voluntary monitor under the new set-up.
She said: “I will carry on going as an independent person, listening to what prisoners have to say, and if their rights are being upheld and if they are being treated humanely and fairly. Hopefully any matters arising can be resolved.”
Ms Westlake said that the monitoring service was still desperately short of applicants. She encouraged people to come forward and apply for a post which was unpaid but brought its own rewards in seeing prisoners were being treated humanely and fairly.
She said: “I would urge anyone else that could offer skills and experience to come on board and I would like to see more Shetland folk involved.
“We have our fair share of prisoners that go down to Peterhead and they have family and relatives in Shetland that worry about them.”
Ms Westlake, who has carried out inspections in most of Scotland’s prisons, said the job might not be for everyone, but she had enjoyed the work she did over the past three and a half years.
The number of inspections undertaken by monitors looked like increasing dramatically, Ms Hawick said, and this was creating problems for the service owing to the poor response to the invitation exercise.
She said Scotland’s 10,000 strong prison population meant prisons were “bursting at the seams”. But ironically, the prison Shetland prisoners are most likely to be remanded to, HM Prison Grampian in Peterhead, was about 100 short of capacity owing to the difficulty in recruiting nursing and medical staff.
Cells become “legalised cells” when they are used to house prisoners who have appeared before the court and been committed to proceedings. They are remanded in custody and may be in prison for some time pending completion of their proceedings. As such, the legalised cells and treatment of prisoners have to meet certain criteria to be legal.
Lerwick is one of a few police stations in Scotland with legalised cells, all in remote areas, that can hold prisoners on remand for up to 30 days.