Closing a prison would be one of the best ways of cutting crime, according Scotland’s prisons watchdog.

David Strang, the outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, said too many prisoners were still being sent to jail for short stretches – which the Scottish Government acknowledges is likely to lead to more crime, not less.

Many struggle to access programmes designed to change behaviour while in jail and prisoners are often liberated without a home to go to or having to wait weeks for benefits – all of which may lead to reoffending, he said.

Mr Strang called for money to be redirected from prisons to community-based services, to help people find work, housing and learn new skills. He also warned too many people were being held on remand simply to make life easier for the courts.

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Mr Strang, who is leaving his post after five years as Scotland’s prisons’ inspector, added: “We need to shift resources from custody to the community. If they are in prison for a short sentence nothing can done constructively with them.

“If they have education needs and haven’t got a job or housing, being in prison for two to three months isn’t going to help them do that.

“We need more alternatives in the community and that means resources. But you can’t shift resources until you close a prison.”

He said this would mean further cuts to prisoner numbers which have fallen from 8300 to 7500 in recent years. “There is scope for cutting prison numbers by reducing the number of people on remand. 19 per cent of people are untried, on remand. Some will need to be there in the case of crimes such as murder or rape,” he said. “But a lot of people are remanded in custody simply to make sure they turn up at court so the trial can go ahead. We must be able to do that better using electronic monitoring.”

In his valedictory report, Mr Strang added: “I have seen too many people in prison for short sentences who I believe should not be in prison and whose incarceration is more likely to result in further victims of crime.”

Prisoners who leave a jail only to end up in homeless accommodation are also more likely to come back through its gates, he says. “It is too easy to revert back to their previous lifestyle of reoffending in the company of unhelpful influences, and any positive progress made in prison is lost.”

The report proposes replacing four prisons built at the beginning of last century, which are increasingly unfit for modern use.

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Mr Strang also called for prisoners to be allowed to go online, particularly to manage benefits and housing applications but also to learn new skills. Inmates currently have virtually no access to the internet while use of standalone computers in education centres is often limited and applications basic.

“The world has changed dramatically. If you have been in prison for the last 10 years it is a completely strange world for you,” Mr Strang said. He said the introduction of the benefit Universal Credit had highlighted this. “People have to apply online, but if you don’t get access to a computer in prison you can’t apply.”

He said restrictions arose from a genuine fear people will abuse the internet, by trying to contact a victim of crime, for instance and said he was not callling ofor inmates to have a computer in their cells, but added: “it must be technically possible to have restricted access to particular websites.”

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Poor health and addiction issues remain a problem in Scotland’s prisons with 43 per cent of prisoners receiving daily medication and more than half of all prisoners admitting they were drunk at the time they committed their offence, he said, while the report warns that the number of women prisoners remains “stubbornly high” ahead of a reshaping of the womens’ prison estate.

He said the justice system should be aiming to prevent people becoming victims of crime, but claimed Scotland cannot rely on prisons alone to deliver this. “Much of what people in prison need cannot be delivered by the Scottish Prison Service alone,” the report says, adding that change is “dependent not so much on the criminal justice system, but on wider social justice issues of poverty, inequality, exclusion and marginalisation.”