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New women’s jail not needed, say campaigners

This news post is over 9 years old

​Alternatives must be sought to prison, says the Howard League

A major prison reform charity has spoken out against plans to open a new jail for women in Scotland.

The Scottish Government wants to site the facility in Greenock, Inverclyde – and a tendering process is about to begin.

However, campaigners – including the Howard League for Penal Reform – are opposed to the plans, saying they go against Holyrood’s own recommendations.

In 2012, the Scottish Government set up a Commission on Women Offenders (CWO), headed by former lord advocate Elish Angiolini.

It recommended that most women prisoners on remand or serving short-term sentences should be held in local prisons, that supported accommodation should be commissioned as an alternative to custody and that a range of alternatives to prosecution and to imprisoning women on remand should be developed.

The commission also said the existing Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling should be replaced with a smaller specialist unit for long-term prisoners and those who present a significant risk to the public.

When it comes to prison, size matters.To achieve a more rehabilitative environment in prison, smaller is better

Campaigners now want the Scottish Government to implement the Angiolini report rather than push ahead with the building of a large, new facility.

A Howard League Scotland spokesperson said: “The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) proposes to replace Cornton Vale with a prison on the outskirts of Greenock to be known as HMP Inverclyde with a capacity to hold 300 women, with the option of increasing this to 350 places.

“The planned prison would hold convicted and remand adult and young offenders of varying legal and security categories and of varying sentence lengths, from short-term to life sentences.

“This represents a clear departure from the recommendation of the CWO report.

“When it comes to prison, size matters.To achieve a more rehabilitative environment in prison, smaller is better. More broadly, we argue that the proposal to build a 350-bed new women’s prison is at odds with the Scottish Government’s commendable aspiration to reduce the prison population and that it undermines all the good work the Scottish Government has done and is doing to implement other recommendations contained within the 2012 report.

“There are currently 390 women in prison in Scotland, the majority of whom do not need to be imprisoned for reasons of public protection. Far from aiming for a reduction in the number of women in prison in Scotland, the Scottish Government is planning for an increase in that number.

“There are a number of other options that would better deliver the recommendations in the report of the Commission on Women Offenders, which have not been considered by the Scottish Government.

“These could include, for example, the construction of a new small specialist prison - as envisaged in the CWO report - within the campus of Cornton Vale and surveying the possibility of converting available public or other accommodation, which might be used as local low security units to be managed by SPS or other agencies.”

A petition on the 38 Degrees site, posted by Edinburgh Women for Independence, has attracted thousands of signatures.

It is understood the tendering process for the new prison will begin later this month.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “In line with the recommendations of the commission, we are working closely with local partners to deliver robust community sentences and services that are appropriate for women who offend and to ensure that for those women who are sent to prison, the environment and facilities are suited to their needs.

“The cabinet secretary for justice is considering the final configuration of the new prison estate, as he recently indicated to the justice committee and this consideration remains on-going.”



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