Scottish prisons provide a lucrative target for religious bloodsuckers. Secular groups are outraged.

FIGURES released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that, since 2008, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has spent a total of £5,404,666.74 on chaplaincy services for the country’s 14 public prisons.

The cash, according to this report, was spent on ministers of various faiths and on religious books and equipment. The SPS did not provide details of what items were bought to fulfil the religious needs of prisoners, but it gave one example: the chaplaincy service at Polmont bought a New Testament Bible in Vietnamese at a cost of £12.99 plus postage.

A Scottish Secular Society spokesman angrily denounced the spending.

He said:

There is a boom in priests, pastors, rabbis, imams and laypeople attaching themselves to the secular institutions largely funded by the taxpayer. Entrance into prisons is vital missionary work for churches or mosques that find their congregations dwindling.

There is a widespread abuse of their services. A recent study found an increase in ‘shared spaces for prayer reflection and meditation’, despite the declining popularity of religion over the past 10 years.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill outside HMP Edinburgh, where £807.22 was spent per prisoner providing 'spiritual guidance' over the past five years.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill outside HMP Edinburgh, where £807.22 was spent per prisoner providing ‘spiritual guidance’ over the past five years.

He added:

It is common practise for people who are not particularly religious to highlight their faith once in prison to gain access to special diets.

Government figures in 2011 showed that 40 percent of prisoners said they did not belong to any religious group while 56 percent described themselves as Christian.

A spokesman for the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities said they supported the spending.

We support the right of all prisoners to be able to observe their religion. The Jewish community provides a chaplaincy service to Jewish prisoners, for which no fee is charged.

Not surprisingly, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Scotland called for MORE to be spent:

If you consider how little this amount is of the total budget, it really is not that much. Religion is an essential human right and this is a less than fair percentage of the total budget.

No-one was available for comment from the Scottish Catholic Church, The Church of Scotland or the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The £1-million or so spent annually means that an average of £644 per inmate has been spent on spreading superstition since 2008.

Scotland’s most religious prison is Castle Huntly open jail, near Dundee, where the average spend per prisoner is £1,943.29 over the period. Peterhead – notorious as the former home of Scotland’s most serious child sex offenders – came second at £1,864.35.

The least religious jail is Perth at just £458.13, followed by Shotts, North Lanarkshire, at  £703.80 and the young offenders institute at Polmont, near Falkirk, at £753.80.

Spending is increasing year-by-year. The total for “staffing costs” for 2008/09 was £1,004,942.44 but that has risen steadily every year to the 2012/13 total of £1,142,388.89.

Based on the average spend per prisoner over the period, Inverness is Scotland’s third most religious prison at £1,006.22. HMP Dumfries came fourth at £1,005.38.

Barlinnie, Scotland’s biggest jail – and reputedly the toughest – still spent an average of £943.90 per prisoner since 2008, putting it in seventh place.

Cornton Vale, the female-only prison near Stirling, spent an average of £827.32.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn