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Kate Donegan, Cornton Vale Prison governor
"There is inevitable soul searching among staff after these suicides occur"
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Saturday, 11 December, 1999, 10:01 GMT
Prison 'powerless' to stop drugs

Drugs Staff are 'powerless' to halt drug smuggling

A Scottish prison governor has revealed that staff are powerless to stop drugs being smuggled into a Stirling jail.

Prison staff at Cornton Vale - Scotland's only all-female jail - are unable to prevent drugs being taken in because they are not allowed to carry out invasive body searches.

Prison governor Kate Donegan said the public perception that drugs got into jails because staff were not doing their jobs properly was not supported by facts.

Kate Donegan Kate Donegan: "Women hide their drugs internally."
Speaking on The Kirsty Wark Show on BBC1 Scotland, she said the reality was that women prisoners often hid drugs internally.

She said staff were not allowed to undertake internal body searches - a fact remand prisoners exploited to bring drugs in for their own use or to sell on to other inmates.

Ms Donegan said: "The reality for my population is that most of the women hide their drugs internally."

"Now we're not permitted to search and do internal body searches.

"So women know that if they're going to be remanded or they're expecting a sentence, then they will come prepared with drugs hidden internally, either for personal use or to sell to others when they do come in to prison."

That's the principal route for illicit drugs coming in
Kate Donegan

Asked if this meant some women were entering the prison with the intention of selling drugs, Ms Donegan replied: "Oh yes. We have anecdotal evidence that women are in fact being paid outside to bring drugs in, usually to sell them.

"But that's the principal route for illicit drugs coming in - although very sadly some visitors try very hard indeed to get drugs in illicitly at visiting time too."

The news comes as a sheriff criticises staff at the jail for being slow to inform an inmate's family of her suicide.

Staff criticised

In a fatal accident inquiry at Stirling Sheriff Court, Sheriff Principal John Wheatley rejected allegations that the death of 27-year-old Mary Cowan could have been avoided if Cornton Vale staff had taken "greater care".

However, he said justifiable criticism was levelled at the failure of prison staff to get in touch with Miss Cowan's family in the immediate aftermath of the hanging.

Miss Cowan, from Glasgow, was found hanging in her cell at the prison near Stirling on 3 July, 1998. She was the eighth inmate to commit suicide at the jail since 1995.

The single mother, who was on remand awaiting sentence on a shoplifting charge, died the next day at Stirling Royal Infirmary.

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See also:
10 Dec 99 |  Scotland
Prison slow to tell family of suicide
04 Nov 99 |  Scotland
Governor's plea for women's sentencing reform
26 Aug 99 |  Scotland
Drugs main concern for prison chiefs
02 Sep 99 |  Scotland
Call for new teen offenders strategy

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