New women’s prison for 80 to replace Cornton Vale

A NEW women’s prison for just 80 inmates is to be built with five separate, smaller custodial units as part of a new approach to female offending.

A prisoner mops one of the holding cells in reception at Cornton Vale Prison.

The Scottish Government said there would also be more emphasis on community-based alternatives to jail, such as electronic tagging, as it aims to cut the 300-strong female prison population.

As well as a new national prison at Cornton Vale near Stirling, there will also be five custodial units across the country which will each accommodate up to 20 women.

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The units will provided “intensive support” to help overcome issues such as alcohol and drug addictions, mental health problems and domestic abuse trauma.

The plans were unveiled by justice secretary Michael Matheson after he scrapped controversial plans for a new “super prison” in Inverclyde earlier in the year.

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He said: “When I announced in January my decision not to proceed with HMP Inverclyde as a large national prison for women, I said that it did not fit with my vision of how a modern and progressive country should be addressing female offending and that we needed a bolder, more radical and ambitious approach in Scotland.

“Simply locking women up in a large facility doesn’t work. We’ve seen the damaging impact that going in and out of prison has for the women, for their families and for their communities.

“What we need is a new approach. We need to continue to transform and improve services for women so that we can help them to break the cycle of 

Mr Matheson said the new approach would see less serious offenders housed in smaller units closer to their families.

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

Dame Elish branded Cornton Vale “a miserable place” where some prisoners lived in “antediluvian and appalling” conditions. Her commission, which was set up by the Scottish Government to examine how best to deal with female offenders, said there should be a smaller, specialist prison for long-term and high-risk prisoners, as well as regional units to hold those on shorter ­sentences and remand.

John Scott QC, convener of penal reform charity the Howard League Scotland, welcomed yesterday’s announcement, but said: “At present it is unclear what the timescale for decommissioning existing capacity will be.

“We would be very concerned if this did not take place before the creation of the proposed new prison places.

“Evidence suggests the creation of new-prison capacity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”