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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 16:15 GMT
Concern over women's prison deaths
Cornton Vale prison
The deaths have prompted a new assessment
Politicians have pledged to make an "urgent assessment" of conditions at Scotland's only women's prison after the deaths of two inmates.

Cornton Vale prison, which has been the subject of concern in the past following a spate of suicides, has come under scrutiny once again after two deaths within days of each other.

Members of the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee said an inquiry should be launched after the deaths of 28-year-old Michelle McElvar and Frances Carvill, 38, at the jail on the outskirts of Stirling.

Clive Fairweather
Clive Fairweather: Had pointed to improvements
Ms McElvar, whose body was discovered last Wednesday evening, was a remand prisoner who had only been sent to the jail from Glasgow Sheriff Court the previous day.

Ms Carvill, from Maryhill, in Glasgow, had been serving a life sentence for murder.

She was taken to Stirling Royal Infirmary on Friday, but died on Monday.

Fatal accident inquiries have been scheduled to take place into both deaths.

There were eight suicides in the jail between 1995 and 1998.

However, earlier this year, Chief Inspector of Prisons Clive Fairweather pointed to "quite remarkable" improvements at the jail, although he did express concern about overcrowding.

Latest deaths

Members of the Justice 2 Committee have visited Cornton Vale as part of an inquiry into women's offending.

Committee convener Pauline McNeill MSP said following the latest deaths the committee should examine Cornton Vale again "as a matter of urgency".

She said: "I took the liberty of talking to Clive Fairweather to say we could be raising it and he said he would be quite happy to come along and speak to us.

"There have been 10 deaths since 1995. I know that in its report the committee felt that one of the achievements of the management was bringing some kind of closure, but clearly that hasn't happened."

Bill Aitken
Bill Aitken: "Alternatives to prison"
The committee's vice-convenor Bill Aitken MSP said the deaths at the prison were "a matter of great concern".

He said: "This is a complex matter. There is an argument that Cornton Vale may be overcrowded, but there is a trend for women unfortunately to be committing more serious offences.

"It may be that an alternative form of treatment may have to be considered for long-term prisoners than what is available at Cornton Vale."

Committee member Mary Mulligan MSPsaid: "The evidence given to us was that things had improved within the prison and to have these two tragic deaths within the last week is very worrying for what the future may hold."

Earlier this year, Deputy Justice Minister Iain Gray said the Scottish Executive would consider alternatives to custody in an effort to reduce the number of women in prison.

See also:

11 Jun 01 | Scotland
Prison turnaround is praised
22 May 01 | Scotland
Prison comes under spotlight
01 Feb 00 | Scotland
'Justice' plea over prison suicide
02 Sep 99 | Scotland
Call for new teen offenders strategy
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