Female inmates left feeling ‘downgraded’ by shared facilities

Inmates at Cornton Vale said they were left feeling 'downgraded' because they had to share toilets and showers. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Inmates at Cornton Vale said they were left feeling 'downgraded' because they had to share toilets and showers. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Some inmates at a women’s prison felt downgraded because they no longer had a single cell and had to share toilets and showers, an inspection found.

A review of Cornton Vale prison and young offender institution in Stirling examined the impact of reducing the size of the facility and transferring more than 100 women to HMP Polmont.

The inspection team, which included representatives from Health Improvement Scotland (HIS), visited the prison between 11 and 16 October last year.

Inspectors found good progress had been made adjusting to new arrangements brought in last August, with all women having unrestricted access to toilet facilities - which had not been the situation a year previously.

But inspectors found some women did not have a single cell and had to share toilet facilities with others.

The report said: “One issue reported to us by a number of women was a sense of feeling downgraded as many of them no longer benefited from being in a single cell. They now had to share toilets and showers with other women.”

But staff said that since the move, they felt they could now deliver a more professional service.

A reduction in the number of women also allowed staff more time to work constructively with inmates to make the most of their time in custody, inspectors said.

But the report, by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) David Strang, suggested that the Scottish Prison Service should look at alternative arrangements for locating pregnant women.

It said: “One area of concern, universally raised by prison staff, healthcare staff and women themselves, was the location of some pregnant women within Ross House.

“Given the nature of those held there and the potential volatility of a small number of the vulnerable women, HMIPS and our colleagues from HIS are of the view that pregnant women should not routinely be located in Ross House.”

Plans for the future of women in custody in Scotland project a total population of 230 places - 80 in Cornton Vale, 50 in HMP & YOI Grampian, and 100 in five community custody units.

The report said this would require “a significant reduction” in the number of women held in custody, which currently totals more than 300 prisoners.

Inspectors recognised a reduction in the number of women in prison over the last three years, but said there would need to be sustained efforts to ensure the downward trend continues.

Mr Strang said: “I am encouraged by the changes we found at HMP & YOI Cornton Vale.

“There are still challenges for staff, who are caring for some of the most vulnerable women in Scotland.

“When women return to the community after serving their sentence, it is vital that the right support is in place to encourage a successful reintegration into the community.”

A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokeswoman said: “SPS is pleased to note that the inspection team identified a number of areas of good practice, particularly in relation to purposeful activity.

“The report highlights a number of improvements in terms of the provision of, and access to, healthcare. The provision of prisoner healthcare is the responsibility of the NHS, and SPS is working with NHS Forth Valley to support staff in the delivery of health services within the establishment.”