Inverclyde - a new year's resolution?

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.

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