Women

Inverclyde - a new year's resolution?

BRIEFING NOTE ON SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT’S PROPOSALS TO BUILD A NEW WOMEN’S PRISON

The 2012 Commission on Women Offenders (CWO) recommended that Cornton Vale should be replaced with “a smaller specialist prison for those women offenders serving a statutory defined long-term sentence and those who present a significant risk to the public”.

In response to this recommendation, 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.

As Howard League Scotland has made clear before, this represents a clear departure from the recommendation of the CWO report.

Earlier this week, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson MSP and the Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service Colin McConnell gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee. Both were clear that they believed the proposed new women’s prison to be in keeping with the spirit and the letter of the CWO report recommendations.

When it comes to prison, size matters. To achieve a more rehabilitative enviroment in prison, smaller is better. More broadly, Howard League Scotland argues 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. If the proposal for HMP Inverclyde goes ahead, the capacity of the female prison estate will be 500. 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. Moving into 2015, there should be a proper examination of these options and the plan to build HMP Inverclyde should not proceed in its present form.

Find out more:

 

Extended Family Visits

It has emerged that the women’s prison Drake Hall in Staffordshire is being refurbished and will include a facility for extended family visits. That is to say that there will be a facility for prisoners’ families to stay overnight. Obviously having this kind of facility enables much more meaningful contact between prisoners and their family members, particularly their young children. These sorts of facilities are also found in other jurisdictions, such as Norway and Canada and we would certainly regard this provision as best practice for a new women’s prison.

At last week's Cross Party Group on Families Affected By Imprisonment Chief Executive of SPS, Colin McConnell articulated that such a facility was “still a possibility”. We would hope that there is still the chance that it will be built into the design and available for prisoners’ families from the first day of operation. 

This is of particualr necessity in Scotland, a large country in which families have large distances to travel to reach prisons for visits. At the same parilamentary meeting members voiced concerns about the difficulties facing prisoners’ families based in rural areas who wished to visit prisoners held in establishments in the central belt.

We know that those family bonds and relationships are a central part of the desistance process. As SPS and Scottish Government build a prison near the central belt they must make a commitment to develop facilities which support not just prisoners, but their families as well, making visits as easy as possible for everyone involved. 

Read more here:

Baroness Corston: Inverclyde prison 'will fail'

HLS remain opposed to the Scottish Government's commitment to replace Cornton Vale with an even larger women's prison. This stands in direct contradiction to the plan laid out by The Angiolini Report, which illustrated the need for community based one stop shops. These centers would allow women to remain in their community and support them in dealing with their complex needs, such as addiction, homelessness, mental health problems and overcome histories of abuse - all of which we know to influence criminal behaviour.

The government's plan have received another damning indictment, this time from Baroness Jean Corston. In 2007 Corston carried out an extensive review of women's imprisonment in the UK which was widely welcomed and seen as one of the most significant policy reviews on this issue. The value of her insight and strength of her authority on what is best for women's penal policy cannot be overstated or underestimated, therefore. Spekaing to Hollyrood Magazine reviewed the plans for Inverclyde, her verdict being: 'It will fail'. The interview is a powerful statement, arguing that the cost of incarcerating women is too great a price to pay when there exist more effective alternatives, such as the 218 Project, the Willow Centre and Tomorrow's Women.

Read more:
HLS position on Inverclyde: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_JusticeCommittee/Inquiries/20140618...
Hollyrood Magazine: http://www.holyrood.com/2014/09/tough-labour-2/
The Corston Report: http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/corston-report-march-2007.pdf

Past, Present & Future - Women's Penal Policy

Howard League Scotland has been clear about its objection to the proposed new women's prison HMP Inverclyde. We recently provided evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee voicing concerns that the decision to build the new prison is not in keeping with the recommendations of the 2012 report of the Commission on Women Offenders.

It is worth casting our minds back to the early 1970s, when the decision was taken to build HMP Cornton Vale. This documentary, made in 1972, considers the rationale for building Cornton Vale (which the reporter notes "sets the pattern for future Scots prisons"):

Scotland on Screen -Women’s Prisons 1
Scotland on Screen -Women’s Prisons 2

And this following episode of STV's 'Scottish Women' sought to address the spate of suicides that took place in Cornton Vale in the 1990s.

As Scotland embarks on building a new prison for women, can we be sure we have learned the lessons of past failures?

 

PQ re pregnant women in HMP Inverclyde

SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

WRITTEN ANSWER

10 April 2014           

Index Heading: Learning and Justice

 Alison McInnes (North East Scotland) (Scottish Liberal Democrats): To ask the Scottish Government  what provision HMP Inverclyde will make for prisoners (a) who are pregnant and (b) with babies.

(S4W-20345)

Mr Kenny MacAskill MSP:

I have asked Colin McConnell, Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service, to respond. His response is as follows:

HMP & YOI Inverclyde will provide a purpose built mother and baby unit which may also be used, as appropriate, and depending on individual need, for pregnant women who may also be accommodated in mainstream accommodation.

All pregnant women and those with babies will have their physical needs met by the NHS healthcare team, and their general management will be via a multidisciplinary team approach with named lead professionals. Each woman will also have a Personal Officer to co-ordinate her general care and support.

SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT

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