“Victorian conditions” suffered by female prisoners at Cornton Vale

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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Findings that women at Cornton Vale Prison are regularly having to go to the toilet in a sink during the night, has been branded “completely unacceptable” in the 21st Century by a damning report into conditions at the prison.

Inmates have had to wait for as long as an hour to gain access to toilets in the middle of the night, according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland, with some encouraged to relieve themselves in the sink in their cell, which the report said was “unacceptable”.

Critics described the way women are living in the prison, in Stirling, as being “Victorian conditions”.

“almost half of the population had to rely on the antiquated night sanitation system. This meant that during the night they did not have direct access to toilet facilities and often had to wait, sometimes quite extended periods of time, before they could use a toilet.”

It added: “Without prompting, prisoners in three of the four discussion groups informed us that they had been told by the staff in the control room to “pee in the sink”, when they had not been able to get access to a toilet quickly enough.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said the report highlighted a “violation of prisoners’ basic dignities”.

She said: “It is to the SNP’s shame that they have failed to end the Victorian conditions at Cornton Vale. The lack of appropriate bedding and description of women being left for up to an hour to go to the toilet at night could have come straight from another era. Six years after the first of a series of damning reports on the treatment of women offenders, it is appalling to learn women are still being told to go to the toilet in a sink.”

She added: “It is frankly scandalous that women are being held six to a cell, forced to go to the toilet in view of others and as a matter of routine made to walk past unscreened male toilets.”

Earlier this week, justice secretary Michael Matheson announced that around half of Cornton Vale’s 220 inmates will move to accommodation at Polmont Young Offenders’s Institute over the summer, ahead of work planned to build a new smaller prison for women on the site. The work is due to begin in 2018.

The report said: “Almost half of the prison population did not have direct access to toilet facilities. This created serious problems and as a consequence many prisoners felt degraded. The arrangements for sanitation were no longer appropriate and the situation needs to be remedied immediately.”

Scottish Labour Justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said: “It is hard to believe that in 21st Century Scotland half of the prisoners at Cornton Vale have no direct access to toilet facilities and are encouraged to use wash hand basins as toilets.

“If women are to be rehabilitated and encouraged to change their ways they must be treated with dignity and respect. SNP Justice Minister Michael Matheson should be ashamed of these findings.”

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons David Strang said: “I look forward to seeing the action plan produced by HMP & YOI Cornton Vale in response to this report, which I hope will lead to improvements within the prison.”

The report said other aspects of prison life, including the food, clothes, healthcare and basic personal products provided for each prisoner were “satisfactory” or “generally acceptable”, however the way the prison dealt with bullying problems was branded “poor”.

The inspectors’ report also raised concerns that “staff systematically discouraged prisoners from submitting complaints”, saying a “small but not insignificant minority of prisoners stated they had suffered repercussions as a result of raising their complaint”.

A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokeswoman said the announcement last week that the prison would start being shut down from this summer “means that what has been described by the Chief Inspector in terms of night sanitation arrangements will no longer be an issue”.

She said: “SPS is pleased to note that a number of areas of good practice have been identified, particularly in relation to family contact, where opportunities are available to women to maintain meaningful contact with their children and their family.

“SPS is rolling out a training package on handling, managing and responding to complaints to staff and management at HMP & YOI Cornton Vale. This training will ensure that staff continue to fully support women throughout the complaints process.”

Scotland has the second highest female prison population in northern Europe.