Amid mounting pressure from campaigners, justice secretary Michael Matheson yesterday announced the proposed Greenock prison had been cancelled.
The new 300-capacity jail was expected to replace the ageing Cornton Vale facility in Stirling, Scotland’s only women’s prison, which is due to close in 2018.
While yesterday’s decision won widespread support from across the political spectrum, it is unclear exactly what will replace the axed “super prison”.
And there are questions over what interim arrangements will be put in place for women currently serving sentences at Cornton Vale.
Visiting a residential unit in Glasgow which works with female offenders as an alternative to jail, Mr Matheson said the super prison “did not fit” with his “vision” for addressing female offending, saying smaller units could be “much more effective”.
He said: “Since taking up post as justice secretary, I have been looking closely at proposals for a new prison for female offenders at Inverclyde. I’ve also listened carefully to the views expressed by a number of key interest groups.
“I’ve decided that the plans for a prison for women in Inverclyde should not go ahead. It does not fit with my vision of how a modern and progressive country should be addressing female offending.
“We need to be bolder and take a more radical and ambitious approach in Scotland.
“When it comes to the justice system, we must be smarter with the choices we make and be more sophisticated in the way in which we deal with female offenders.”
Labour had threatened to force a vote in the Scottish Parliament this week unless the SNP listened to concerns about the facility.
The party’s deputy leader Kezia Dugdale said: “This is a victory for campaign groups, vulnerable families and simple common sense.
“As Jim Murphy and I have made clear, all of the evidence shows that locking up vulnerable women has a terrible effect on families and children. We’re glad the SNP have backed Scottish Labour’s call to scrap the super prison. We should be looking to do things differently in 21st century Scotland and this is a step in the right direction.”
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.
Yesterday she said she was “delighted” the government had now decided to implement the commission’s recommendations. Other areas of the commission’s report which are being introduced include extending the range of non-custodial alternatives with the roll out of Fiscal Work Orders from 1 April.
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “The proposed replacement prison was too big and in the wrong place. It ignored the recommendations of the Commission on Women Offenders, which called for a small specialist prison for the most dangerous and serious offenders, coupled with community justice centres around the country and small local prison units. The new justice secretary has made the right decision in halting his predecessor’s misguided plans.”
Maggie Mellon, from Edinburgh Women for Independence, which campaigned against the prison, said: “It’s fantastic news, and we congratulate the justice secretary for making this bold decision.”
The justice secretary yesterday visited the 218 service in Glasgow, a 12-bed residential unit run by the charity Turning Point Scotland, which works to tackle problems such as addiction and mental health issues.
Mr Matheson said the centre was an example of “exactly the type of sophisticated approach I would like to see as part of our plans for the way in which we look after women in custody”.
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