‘This is not a cushy perk for prisoners’

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Slap-up Christmas dinners, flatscreen TVs, en-suite cells . . . any move to spend more taxpayers’ money on prisoners will always raise an eyebrow or two.

It’s a well-worn argument. Why should the convicted criminal have access to better services and a relatively higher standard of living than they would if they were a law-abiding citizen?

Indeed, the Evening News has been among the first to highlight cases where the treatment of inmates has, at least on the face of it, appeared contrary to the idea that they are inside to be punished.

But today’s news that £150,000 is about to be spent on dedicated booze counsellors for both Saughton and Addiewell is rather different.

The link between alcohol and crime cannot be denied – the evidence is around us every day.

According to Alcohol Focus Scotland, society shells out £385 million a year in criminal justice and emergency services as a result of the demon drink. Meanwhile, prison authorities reveal 800 inmates at Saughton are already treated for drink problems by current ad hoc services every year.

So a move to devote more resources into treatment and, hopefully in at least some cases, break the spiral of offending can only be welcomed.

This is not another example of a cushy perk for prisoners. The simple fact is that, while this help exists “on the outside”, many of the people involved would be unlikely to ever access it and would be well off the radar of health professionals.

The best chance of directing treatment and therefore ensuring some level of success could well be while they are in prison and free, to a large extent anyway, from the temptations that exist in their everyday lives.

It will not work in every case, and certainly no-one is claiming there is zero access to illegal alcohol in prison, but it has to be worth the effort.

The relatively low outlay could well be recouped quite quickly. And perhaps, more importantly, it may save a few lives at the same time.