Matheson reveals new plans for Cornton Vale

A NEW women’s prison will be built at Cornton Vale after the Scottish Government cancelled plans for a £75 million facility at Inverclyde.

A new facility could be built on the site of the existing Cornton Vale women's prison, according to Michael Matheson. Picture: PA
A new facility could be built on the site of the existing Cornton Vale women's prison, according to Michael Matheson. Picture: PA

Justice secretary Michael Matheson said his “preferred option” was for a new national facility for the most serious offenders, although there would be a greater focus on “community-based” sentences.

He said Cornton Vale in Stirling would have to close, but said he hoped a new jail would be built at the same site.

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He was answering questions from MSPs at Holyrood yesterday after his decision on Monday to scrap plans for a new women’s prison in Greenock.

He said a “new approach” was needed to tackle offending, which would see a growing role for community-based services and a change to the traditional role played by prison officers.

Female prisoners will continue to be held at Cornton Vale, as well as other jails until the new facilities are in place, he said, adding: “The Scottish Prison Service has taken decisive action in addressing the shortcomings in Cornton Vale through accommodating women at other facilities and undertaking significant refurbishment work.

“While the Cornton Vale location may still have a use in the future, I’m clear that Cornton Vale prison, as it is presently configured, will have to close.

“I’m determined that we take a new approach to how we look after women in custody.”

He added: “What I want to do is make sure we have a process which is much more focused on dealing with the underlying causes of criminal activity.”

Plans for the proposed Greenock jail had been criticised by prison reform groups who believed it went against the recommendations of a 2012 report by former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.

Dame Elish also branded Cornton Vale “a miserable place” where some prisoners lived in “antediluvian and appalling” conditions.

Responding to a question from Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford about the future of Cornton Vale yesterday, Mr Matheson said: “My view is that we will continue to require a national facility for long-term serious offenders and my preferred option would be for that to be at Cornton Vale in a new-build facility because I believe that particular site is more accessible than Inverclyde and it will allow us to develop a facility that is fit for purpose and allows an approach that will improve the outcome for prisoners.”

Lib Dem justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes warned there was an immediate need to resolve problems at Cornton Vale, particularly the provision of mental health services and the use of solitary confinement.

She said: “The decision to scrap HMP Inverclyde, although welcome, does not deal with the immediate shortcomings in Cornton Vale.

“Serious concerns remain over the use of solitary confinement – one woman had been held in isolation on six occasions over 17 months, totalling 387 days.

“The justice secretary must provide clear leadership on the next steps for female prisoners at Cornton Vale.

“In the interim, swift action is also needed to improve the conditions and support services at Cornton Vale, which still fall behind what is acceptable.”