Cornton Vale prisoners 'forced to use sink as a toilet'

Cornton Vale prison sign Image copyright PA

Conditions at Scotland's only all-women prison have been criticised as it emerged that some inmates are forced to use a sink as a toilet at night.

Inspectors found many prisoners had to wait more than 10 minutes to use a shared toilet overnight and a small number waited in excess of an hour.

In some cases, women were told to "pee in the sink" by staff.

The Scottish Prison Service said the issue would be resolved when some offenders relocate to HMP Polmont.

Cornton Vale is due to begin a phased closure this summer, before it is replaced with a purpose-built facility in 2020.

HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland said "significant progress" had been made at the women's prison since a damning report in 2009.

But inspectors said night-time sanitation arrangements at the jail were "wholly unacceptable in the 21st Century" and called for the "antiquated" night sanitation system to be replaced "as a matter of urgency".

Image copyright Google

Led by prisons chief inspector David Strang, the report's authors received numerous reports about the "distress and discomfort" caused to women who had to wait to use the toilet, particularly those who were pregnant or had health problems.

"Indeed, prisoners were extremely vocal about this subject and it was, by some way, the single strongest criticism that women made about the prison," the report said.

The arrangements had gone on "far too long", according to the inspectors.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said it accepted that facilities at Cornton Vale are out-dated.

Plans to build a new women's prison, for 80 offenders, were announced by Justice Minister Michael Matheson last summer.

'Hard to believe'

It came after he blocked previous plans to construct a 300-inmate jail at Inverclyde.

The inspector's report has led opposition politicians to criticise the Scottish government for failing to improve conditions at the jail since a 2012 report by Dame Elish Angiolini found it was "not fit for purpose".

Scottish Labour's Graeme Pearson said: "It is hard to believe that in 21st century Scotland half of the prisoners at Cornton Vale have no direct access to toilet facilities and are encouraged to use wash hand basins as toilets.

"If women are to be rehabilitated and encouraged to change their ways they must be treated with dignity and respect."

'Appalling' conditions at Glasgow Sheriff Court

The inspectors also found that facilities for female prisoners at Glasgow Sheriff Court are "not fit for purpose" and its conditions are "appalling".

They "did not reflect positively on a 21st century justice system", their report said.

During a visit to the court as part of their review of Cornton Vale, inspectors highlighted:

  • Women had to pass "unscreened, odorous" male toilets when they moved between the custody unit and the court itself
  • Five or six female prisoners were held in each cell "which was far from ideal"
  • The area had only one toilet that was screened from the room but did not have a full door so it provided only minimal privacy
  • It was "degrading and inhumane" for all concerned
  • On occasion, women were also held in cells that had no "call" buttons, were covered in graffiti and only had a male urinal.

A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service said it was working with the Scottish Prison Service to improve facilities within custody cells.

The inspection of Cornton Vale also found:

  • The prison was no longer in a state of crisis
  • There had been substantial improvements in some of the living accommodation
  • A marked reduction in the overall population had led to improved living conditions
  • Prisoners said they felt safe and relationships between inmates and staff appeared positive and professional
  • Work undertaken with the most vulnerable prisoners was "impressive" but would be enhanced with more consistent mental health nursing provision
  • Visiting arrangements had improved significantly with the introduction of a new family centre and "help hub"
  • Some employment opportunities were not available because of staff shortages

The report was welcomed by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

A spokesman said: "SPS is pleased to note that a number of areas of good practice have been identified, particularly in relation to family contact, where opportunities are available to women to maintain meaningful contact with their children and their family."

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