Two new prisons in Edinburgh and Greenock to replace Cornton Vale
TWO new women’s prisons will replace Scotland’s notorious Cornton Vale under radical plans to improve conditions for female offenders.
The most serious criminals will be sent to the new units in Edinburgh and Greenock where they will serve their sentences in specialist facilities alongside jails for men.
Community jails will also be set up across the country, in locations such as Peterhead and Inverness, so less serious offenders and those on remand can be closer to their homes and families.
The proposals have emerged in a consultation document produced by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) following demands from senior justice figures for HMP Cornton Vale, which was built in 1975, to be demolished and replaced after a series of critical reports.
Each of the units is likely to have a mother-and-baby unit, a separate unit for young women and appropriate medical facilities.
They could be opened in 2015 using a £20 million capital fund already made available by the Scottish Government.
One is likely to be sited near Saughton jail in Edinburgh, while the other is planned for the new prison being built at Inverclyde.
However, longer-terms plans for a new purpose-built “national” women’s prison, either on the existing Cornton Vale site near Stirling, or in Glasgow, may founder due to lack of funds, the document says.
Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only women’s prison, has been criticised by inspectors because of ageing facilities and overcrowding.
Last year, the Scottish Government’s Commission on Women Offenders, led by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, concluded that it was “not fit for purpose” and should be replaced with a smaller national centre and community prisons. As well as overcrowding, it pinpointed the scale of self-harming, lack of constructive activity and a failure to deal adequately with women’s mental health issues as key problems. It made 37 recommendations for change, of which 33 were accepted immediately by the Scottish Government.
The SPS’s consultation report – Women in Custody – admits the organisation cannot afford to build a single national centre immediately but says it has set out alternative plans. It says its proposals “deliver a better regime for women offenders as early as possible” while taking into account what is “realistically achievable”.
It states: “The key outcome should be to improve chances for women while in custody and better prepare them for release.
“In addition to local community facilities across the estate, there needs to be a national specialist prison for women offenders.”
But it adds: “The SPS does not have the resources to build a new national prison for women.”
Instead, building a new specialist unit in Edinburgh and fully using the accommodation at the planned HMP Inverclyde “would enable the SPS to provide more quickly the types of supports and services the Commission envisaged.
“The two units combined would, in effect, provide a national prison which could be functioning around 2015-16.”
It would also have the advantage of allowing prisoners from the west of the Central Belt to serve their sentences closer to their home communities. More than half of the females imprisoned in Scotland come from the Glasgow, north Strathclyde, Lanarkshire and south-west Scotland areas, the report says.
Following the consultation, SPS recommendations will be submitted to government ministers in the autumn.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “It is intolerable that some of the most vulnerable women in Scotland should be held in one of its bleakest, most outdated and understaffed institutions.
“Proposals to replace Cornton Vale with a smaller specialist prison or regional units for women offenders are welcome as part of what must be a much wider solution.
“Sentencing reform and effective community measures for women should dramatically reduce the need for custody places. Women’s prison numbers in Scotland could be halved by co-ordinated work on drug and alcohol treatment, criminal justice social work, mental health, social care and family support.”
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman David McLetchie said: “The proposals call into question whether or not a new national prison for women offenders would ever be built.
“The test will be if the Scottish Government commits to funding this in the longer term, or will it be satisfied with imprisoning women in the enhanced facilities in Edinburgh and Inverclyde.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald said that, regardless of which option was taken forward by the SPS, it was “essential that the new provision for female prisoners meets the standards that should be expected and importantly offers female prisoners the opportunity to receive the treatment and support needed so that they re-enter our communities with a new direction in their lives.”
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “A series of actions are being taken forward over the short, medium and longer term to implement the Angiolini Commission recommendations, because it is clear that the current system is failing Scotland and the status quo cannot continue.”
In April, the Commission on Women Offenders, chaired by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, recommended the closure of HMP Cornton Vale.
It pointed out that when built in 1975, there were fewer than 100 prisoners within the prison. Now it has capacity for 375, but overcrowding in recent years has forced the Scottish Prison Service to provide accommodation for women in HMP Edinburgh and HMP Greenock.
The report stated: “The design and condition of the buildings at Cornton Vale is inadequate, of poor quality and not fit for purpose. This has been described by the 2009 and 2011 reports by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.
“The mother and baby unit in its current form is not appropriate and requires complete redesign; doors are heavy and present a health and safety risk to toddlers. Mothers and babies spend long periods of time alone and there are no kitchen facilities to prepare food for babies and toddlers.”
Nursing staff said the facilities were inadequate and women in the prison said it was difficult to maintain relationships with their children.
The report also pointed to statistics showing a higher percentage of female prisoners were under the influence of drugs when they offended, more were HIV positive than in the general population, and 80 per cent had mental health problems.
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