Cornton Vale report prompts women prison inquiry

Cornton Vale prison Cornton Vale is Scotland's only women's prison

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A commission examining how female offenders are dealt with in the criminal justice system is to be set up by the Scottish government.

The inquiry will look at more effective ways of reducing offending among women.

The announcement comes as the chief inspector of prisons has again criticised conditions at Cornton Vale, Scotland's only women's prison.

Brigadier Hugh Monro said he was "very disappointed" at the lack of progress at the prison, near Stirling.

He inspected Cornton Vale in February 2011 as a follow up to a visit in 2009.

Brigadier Monro said: "Despite the warnings raised in my full inspection report in late 2009, Cornton Vale remains an unacceptably poor establishment with significant failings across all key areas of provision.

"Overcrowding is the root cause of many of the issues I have highlighted.

"I believe there is an immediate need to both reduce the prison's population and review the design capacity of the establishment."

There are currently 394 prisoners at Cornton Vale, but it was designed to house only 309.

The report's main findings were:

  • Overcrowding is "major concern"
  • Prisoner treatment and living conditions "not acceptable"
  • The treatment of vulnerable women "remains source of concern"
  • Limited access to activity creates "atmosphere of boredom" and "prevents positive rehabilitation"
  • Cornton Vale still not prison service priority despite "far reaching issues"

Brigadier Monro added: "Insufficient progress has been made to improve both physical conditions and the quality of the regime.

"The dignity, safety, infection control and health issues are even more stark than in 2009.

Start Quote

We recognise that further work still needs to be done and share HMIP's concerns about the impact which current levels of overcrowding”

End Quote John Ewing Scottish Prison Service

"I also noted that relationships between prisoners and staff had further deteriorated with an unacceptable culture and a lack of trust."

The announcement of the commission follows a study in March 2011 for the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research which found that the number of women in Scottish prisons had almost doubled over the past 10 years.

Researchers said the numbers have risen despite there being no evidence that women were committing more crimes.

The report concluded that Scottish courts were increasingly likely to give custodial sentences to women and were imposing longer jail terms.

A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokesman said many of the problems experienced at Cornton Vale were "direct consequences" of overcrowding.

The SPS said it had created facilities for female prisoners at Greenock, Aberdeen and Inverness prisons - and was proposing to move 116 prisoners from Cornton Vale to Ratho Hall at Edinburgh prison in July 2011.

John Ewing, SPS chief executive, said: "Whilst progress has been made, we recognise that further work still needs to be done and share HMIP's concerns about the impact which current levels of overcrowding has on the service we can deliver."

Mr Ewing also welcomed the Scottish government commission on female offenders.

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