How Scotland's toughest prison is trying to break the cycle of 'revolving door' inmates

Governor of HM Barlinnie Michael Stoney tells ITV News many prisoners "have suffered a lot growing up" and they need a "non-threatening approach" to help their recovery

Raised in care, in and out of prison “14 or 15 times” since he turned 16, Derek Hobbs has followed a familiar path.

His is the familiar story of Scotland’s revolving door prisoners.

“If I left prison to my own temporary furnished flat instead of a hostel, I would flourish and I would not come back to prison,” he told ITV News.

“It’s the fact that every time I get let out I am either homeless on the streets or in a hostel.

"When you’re in those environments you’re surrounded by drink and drugs, and that’s where I have relapsed every singe time.”

Another common theme with these prisoners who spend their adult lives in and out of incarceration is addiction to drugs or alcohol.

HMP Barlinnie has a governor, Michael Stoney, who is trying to break that cycle, treating substance abuse as a matter of health and life skills.

Inside Barlinnie: Peter Smith goes inside Scotland's biggest prison and is given exclusive access to how it's tackling the problem of inmates struggling with addiction

The men he sees time and time again are so often self-medicating either for mental health issues or to help them cope in a world that makes them feel inadequate or unwanted.

“So many of these men have often grown up without being given the tools to cope with day-to-day life that you and me take for granted,” he told ITV News.

“If we have a hard day, we find a friend or a loved one to talk to; if we have a lot of fear, we go to a place we can feel safe.

“We are talking about a large number of people who come into prison and have absolutely none of that.”

His strategy is to treat the person rather than the addiction.

His prison officers are given leeway to use their own initiative to give prisoners the skills and tools they’re going to need to cope on the outside.

Barlinnie has set up a ‘Community Hub’ where inmates can find books, counselling services, and education.

"Prisoners already trust prison officers, I think a lot of people don't know that," Barlinnie prison officer Jim Millar explains

There is practical advice on getting a house or opening a bank account when they leave prison - tasks some of them have never known how to do because they never had anyone who cared enough to show them.

“This is huge for prisoners,” says Barlinnie prison officer Jim Millar.

He’s been assigned a specialist ‘health and wellbeing’ role in the Hub.

“The purpose of this is to prepare prisoners for the outside world,” says Debbie O’Rourke, Barlinnie’s dedicated ‘Life Skills’ officer.

“It’s for people who can’t cope and tend to come back in again.”

Barlinnie life skills officer Debbie O’Rourke says the purpose of the project is to "prepare prisoners for the outside world" and teach them basic skills like cooking

That’s something she says is happening too often. She worked in a secure unit for young people and now sees them as adults in Barlinnie.

“It’s just a constant revolving door,” she says.

The cost to the public of keeping people in that cycle of addiction, crime and incarceration can be measured: it’s about £35,000 per prisoner, per year.

That’s the point of intervention.

The prisoners are a captive audience and the governor is trying to break them out of that revolving door.

If he never has to see their faces again - if young Derek Hobbs can leave prison this time and avoid returning for a 16th time - it’ll mean his strategy at Barlinnie is working.