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Cornton Vale prison "in crisis"

27 January 2010

Scotland’s prison for women, Cornton Vale, is in “crisis” and falls short in the provision of adequate conditions and treatment for prisoners and young offenders, according to a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Brigadier Hugh Monro said Cornton Vale was suffering from a lack of strategic attention; the basic necessities, including the standard of food, bedding, toilets and showers, in the older house blocks were not of an adequate standard; and the fabric of the estate looked and felt run down. He said prisoners did not have enough to do and spent too much time confined in their cells, they sometimes had to wait far too long to access a toilet, and the arrangements for prisoners who needed to be held out of normal association were inadequate.

However, the report also pointed that a number of good initiatives were in place to ensure that contact with families was maintained, and that there were excellent links with community-based organisations to help prisoners reintegrate back into the community.

"Cornton Vale is in a state of crisis,” Brigadier Monro said. “The conditions in which most of the women live on a day-to-day basis are unacceptable.”

He said an ever-increasing prisoner population was one of the main reasons for this situation, but the establishment also seemed to be “drifting”. “It lacks a sense of purpose from the highest levels. Scotland's national facility for female prisoners is suffering from a lack of strategic attention: this establishment needs stability in senior management,” he said.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the report highlighted the impact of overcrowding on the conditions at Cornton Vale. “There are, quite simply, more women in Cornton Vale than there should be.

"Many of the women locked up in Cornton Vale have complex and wide-ranging needs. But if we don't tackle those needs – in the prison and in the community – then we will continue to see the same women returning to Cornton Vale time after time, for a few weeks at a time.

"The presumption against short sentences and the proposed introduction of community payback orders will ensure that more women can serve their sentences in the community,” he said.

Click here to read the full inspection report.

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