The idea of criminals having routine access to the wards at the Western General will cause widespread concern among staff and patients.
Patients and their families will think that the last thing they want is to feel they have to be on their guard when they have enough else to worry about. A hospital should as far as possible be a haven for them as they cope with illness. The busy staff at the Western will feel that they have more than enough on their plates already without this extra burden on their time and goodwill.
The plans to send prisoners to the hospital to help prepare them for life after their release is clearly unpopular and fraught with difficulties. There are many serious questions which must be answered before the project should be allowed to go ahead. Who will be responsible for the behaviour of these offenders while they are on the wards? Will porters, cleaners and cooks be expected to supervise them while they are carrying out their regular duties?
There are promises of a “robust monitoring plan” and strict vetting of those prisoners who are allowed to take part. But how exactly will this work in an environment where there are many vulnerable individuals who need proper protection? Patients and hospital staff deserve a proper explanation so that they can feel confident that the scheme which is being set in place will work.
This is going to be a tough project to make a success, but we should not dismiss it without proper consideration.
The rehabilition of offenders is something at which we have been woeful in Scotland over the years. Around half of Scots released from prison end up reoffending, almost double the rate of some European countries. It is estimated that reoffending costs the country £3 billion a year and the cost in human misery is incalculable. We have to try to find better ways of helping those criminals who can reform to do so.