Scotland politics

Cornton Vale inmates to be moved to HMP Polmont

Female prison guard

The closure of Scotland's only female prison will begin this summer, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has confirmed.

More than half of the inmates at HMP Cornton Vale in Stirling will be relocated to HMP Polmont, near Falkirk, later this year.

It marks the first phase of plans to close the facility.

Mr Matheson has also said that construction of a new national women's prison will begin in mid 2018.

The Scottish government announced plans to build the facility, which will cater for 80 offenders, last summer.

It will be built close to the existing Cornton Vale prison and will house the country's most serious female offenders.

'Totally unacceptable'

Another five regional units will also be created by 2020 to house up to 20 female prisoners each.

Mr Matheson said the move to Polmont's newest accommodation, Blair House, would offer improved facilities for women in custody until the new units are complete.

He added: "By housing these women in smaller, community bases units closer to their families, alongside providing additional support to address the underlying issues which fuel their crime such as drugs, alcohol or mental ill-health, we can stop them from committing further crimes in the future.

"It is totally unacceptable that we have the second highest female prison population in northern Europe. This government continues to prioritise efforts to reduce the number of men and women serving custodial sentences.

"The actions we are taking are about tackling this problem head on through smarter approaches which can reduce prison numbers in Scotland."

Mr Matheson blocked previous plans for a new 300-inmate jail in Inverclyde in January 2015.

Cornton Vale, which was built in 1975, has had a notorious history, being nicknamed "the Vale of death" after 11 prisoners killed themselves there between 1995 and 2002.

'Serious concern'

Despite attempts to improve conditions, ministers decided Cornton Vale would close after former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini's 2012 report said it was "not fit for purpose".

The most recent tally of women prisoners in Scotland put the total at 412, with 76 of them being on remand.

Of the total, 222 were being held at Cornton Vale.

Scottish Prison Service chief executive Colin McConnell said: "Cornton Vale has been a serious concern for our service and for the justice system for far too long and it's truly rewarding that with the government's support and leadership we are now on the journey to seeing the back of it.

"The move for a large number of women to the fresh and modern conditions at Polmont will in itself be a significant improvement, making things better for them but also better for those who will remain at Cornton Vale for now."

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