Review may mean the end for Cornton Vale

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SCOTLAND’S only dedicated prison for women would be demolished under radical new proposals to overhaul the way the justice system deals with female offenders.

A study to be published later this month is understood to recommend that Cornton Vale be knocked down and replaced with a smaller maximum security jail to house a minority of the most dangerous inmates.

Minor offenders would serve their sentences in specialist justice centres operated by probation officers, social workers and drug support staff, the Commission of Women Offenders is expected to say.

Chaired by the former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, the commission was established last July following a damning report of the Stirlingshire jail by inspectors.

The recommendations, to be published on 17 April, will suggest radical measures to deal with women offenders. Around 60 per cent of the women have mental health issues and 60 per cent have drug addictions and would be better suited to community sentences.

The pressure on Cornton Vale, built in 1975, is increasing. Last month, the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research found Sheriffs were increasingly likely to hand down custodial sentences, and longer terms, to women. But the new proposals will mean a dramatic reduction in the number of female prisoners in Scotland, which last year stood at around 435. Around 310 are currently at Cornton Vale, with 100 temporarily at Saughton, Edinburgh.

Clive Fairweather, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, said Angiolini’s report would have a positive impact. He said: “There has been a gradual increase in violent crimes by women, but there are still lots of prisoners in Cornton Vale who are no danger to the public.”

Angiolini said last year that offending in women is often a result of mental health difficulties and addiction problems, adding: “We must be able to find better ways of addressing their behaviour than locking up more of them.”