A FORMER Greenock prison worker says the town's damp-ridden 111-year-old jail must be replaced with a new 'fit for purpose' facility to help offenders and the community at large.

Dr Jacci Stoyle, currently running to be Inverclyde's next MSP, says more than £6m is spent annually on keeping prisoners in the town's jail, with little value for that money because a lack of rehabilitation leads to re-offending.

LibDem Ms Stoyle — who is the prison's former learning centre manager — spoke out after the Telegraph revealed that scores of cells at Gateside have been closed after being deemed unfit for human habitation.

Noting that the cost of accommodating a single prisoner annually was £35,601 in 2018/19, the candidate said this amounts to £6.6m for the currently reduced capacity of 188 inmates at Greenock.

Ms Stoyle said: "We need a fit for purpose building that says you are a worthwhile person, and you have a lot to offer.

"The new women's prison that was planned for Inverclyde was much more conducive to rehabilitation than the current prison.

"Many prisoners have mental health and dependency issues, which require more in-depth counselling services and an emphasis on drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

"It makes financial sense to spend money on these essential needs, whilst prisoners are in the system.

"The through-care project supporting prisoners after liberation for a couple of months is a brilliant scheme and should be enshrined as common practice.

"Spending money on a new prison is an investment and if we can support people to turn their lives around, they will not only contribute to our community, but it will also pay dividends in the public purse."

We recently reported how the prison is currently operating at a fraction of its capacity after 40 cells were put out of commission through dampness and water ingress.

The news came after the Tele also revealed last December that plans to replace the decaying Edwardian jail have been shelved until at least 2026 — despite £8m being spent on a proposed site back in 2011.

Inverclyde Council leader Stephen McCabe says he is 'shocked' at the state of the jail and has demanded urgent action from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

The jail's normal capacity is for 242 inmates but this has been reduced to a maximum of 188.

Ms Stoyle said: "I was passionate, and still am, about the rehabilitation of prisoners, and the part that education can play in this.

"Understandably, people feel annoyed when they hear of money being spent on prisoners, especially when there are so many more 'deserving' causes higher up the queue.

"I hope to persuade people that spending money on good rehabilitation is not only humane, but also makes good economic sense.

"In 2018/19 the annual cost of keeping a prisoner in the jail was £35,601.

"This wasn't because they were pampered - for example, the cooks had £1 per-prisoner, per-day to spend on their food.

"Many prisoners come from deprived backgrounds with alcohol and drug abuse, have suffered neglect and missed school.

"Prevention is better than cure, and we need to take the problem of child poverty serioulsly and tackle this as a top priority.

"But we can't ignore the children who are now grown and need our support.

"As a teacher, I heard many stories that nearly brought me to tears.

"A young woman a couple of years older than my twins was being liberated and told me she didn't know where she would be living - she had no home, no family, no friends to go to.

"Would it have been any surprise if she reoffended?

"A prisoner's journey starts when they are young offenders, and they spend the rest of their lives coming in and out of jail.

"What a waste of their potential, and the useful members of society that they could, and should, have been."