Drive to improve conditions for female prisoners

It has been recommended that Cornton Vale is replaced. Picture: Ian Rutherford
It has been recommended that Cornton Vale is replaced. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Improving conditions for female prisoners and finding community alternatives to jail remain priorities for the Scottish Government, the Justice Secretary has said.

Kenny MacAskill said work has begun to implement a number of recommendations made by the Scottish Commission on Women Offenders, which includes replacing Cornton Vale women’s prison.

Mr MacAskill was speaking ahead of an event at Hoyrood today to mark a campaign by the Soroptimists women’s awareness group and the Prison Reform Trust to reduce women’s imprisonment across the UK.

He said: “Reducing reoffending, improving the circumstances of women in prison and seeking better community-based alternatives to imprisonment for women continue to be priorities for the Scottish Government - indeed, that’s why we established the Commission on Women Offenders.

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“Work is now well under way on a number of the commission’s key recommendations to improve outcomes for women in prison and in their dealings with justice services in the community.”

The commission, led by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, was tasked with finding a better way to treat female criminals and reduce reoffending rates. It reported its findings and recommendations to the Government last year.

The Government is taking forward many of these recommendations, including new women-specific prison facilities, which will be built at HMP Inverclyde and HMP Edinburgh, improvements to the existing facilities at Cornton Vale in the meantime, the establishment of women’s justice centres and the provision of funding to support a new national mentoring service for women offenders, offering one-to-one support.

Solutions

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Most of the solutions to women’s offending lie outside prison walls in treatment for addictions, mental health and social care, safe housing, debt management and employment and skills.

“For the vast majority, constructive community sentences will work better and avoid the pain of separating small children from their mothers.

“The Scottish Government is making real headway in developing constructive alternatives to prison for women. The closure of Cornton Vale presents an important opportunity to invest in, and expand, community solutions to crime rather than ploughing it all back into new prison places for women.”