Pregnant prisoners handcuffed 'almost to the point of giving birth'
FEMALE prisoners in Scotland are still being handcuffed before and after giving birth, despite an agreement to end "humiliating" security measures at the jail, according to a chief inspector's report.
Dr Andrew McLellan, Scotland's chief inspector of prisons, also attacked the routine practice of double-cuffing, where a prisoner's wrists are handcuffed while the woman is chained to a security guard.
In his previous report into conditions at Cornton Vale, Dr McLellan described the practice as "humiliating" and recommended that appropriate security measures be implemented when women were escorted to and from the jail.
He also said that the prison should ensure inmates were treated "with reasonable standards of personal dignity and humanity".
But his report today reveals that, despite a verbal agreement between private escort company Reliance Custodial Services and the prison service to ease security, staff have not implemented the recommendation.
In one case, a prisoner's baby was too poorly to leave the local hospital at the same time as its mother, so arrangements were made with Reliance to escort the woman to the hospital every day so that she could bond with her child.
Although she was classed as low-risk, staff refused to remove the inmate's handcuffs despite the room having no windows. The mother was not allowed to hold the baby, because of the risk of infection from the handcuffs.
In another case, security staff refused to remove handcuffs from a prisoner who was in a full-body scanner.
Dr McLellan claimed Reliance had reached an informal agreement to end routine double-cuffing, but this had later been "withdrawn" by the firm.
He said: "Serious concerns were raised in the report of 2006 about handcuffing of women who were being taken to hospital about to give birth. At that time assurances were given that the practice had stopped.
"It has not - the incident described in this report is of a woman handcuffed almost until the point of giving birth; and then handcuffed immediately afterwards and during every subsequent contact with her unwell baby. Cornton Vale has no control over this practice, but it must not continue."
Dr McLellan also said that double-cuffing had once again become "the norm".
His report found a failure to act on four of five other recommendations.
It criticised conditions at the jail, highlighting a lack of "purposeful activities" for women on remand and revealing that inmates could wait up to an hour before being given access to the toilet.
It also found that a fire in one area of the prison, which housed 30 women, had "put even more strain on facilities" at the jail.
A spokesman for Reliance insisted that "best practice" was adopted when guarding pregnant women and mothers.
He denied that female prisoners were ever handcuffed during the advanced stages of labour, while they were giving birth, or when nursing or bonding with their newborn children.
He said: "Every single case involving the confinement of pregnant female prisoners is reviewed and risk-assessed with the staff of HMP Cornton Vale, and every case is managed in accordance with that risk assessment."
Kenny MacAskill, the Cabinet secretary for justice, said the report highlighted the need for a "coherent" penal policy where prison was used for serious offenders, and effective community punishments were used "to deal with those caught in the revolving door of short sentences".
He added: "A major review of community sentences - with the aim of revitalising them - is a first step in that process and already under way."
The minister said that in coming weeks "we will be announcing further developments to widen the national debate about who ends up in our prisons".
'THEY TOOK ME TO HOSPITAL IN CHAINS'
ANN-MARIE Harvey claims she was shackled to a guard as she gave birth to her daughter.
Ms Harvey, 23, from Edinburgh, was serving a short sentence for petty theft in November 2005 when she had her second child.
It was an experience from which she has found it difficult to recover.
"It really depressed me," she said. "I was taken in chains from the prison to the hospital. I was handcuffed to a lady when I gave birth. I also had to breastfeed while a male security guard stood in the room."
She said she had been stuck in a "revolving door" at the jail, serving about a dozen short sentences for crimes carried out to feed her heroin addiction.
She said medical staff "made life hard" for inmates by taking their methadone away soon after they arrived.
Ms Harvey claimed motherhood had helped her to break the cycle of crime.
"I've changed my life completely, got a new house and am off drugs," she said.
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