Page last updated at 08:40 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Cornton Vale: Women's prison in 'state of crisis'

By Reevel Alderson
Home Affairs Correspondent, BBC Scotland

HMP Cornton Vale
Last year more than 2,700 women were admitted to Cornton Vale

The governor of Scotland's only women's prison has admitted that most of those held there should not be in jail.

Teresa Medhurst said many prisoners have such complex problems they actually feel safer at Cornton Vale than at home.

Her remarks come as the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Brig Hugh Monro, said the jail was "in crisis" and "drifting".

His report said the problems are due to overcrowding and the fact the prison has had three governors in 14 months.

The perennial problem of overcrowding causes significant problems - and it has worsened in recent years.

As many as 420 women have been held in the Stirlingshire prison, more than twice as many as 10 years ago.

But the governor said it is the fact that so many women are on short sentences that really affects operations.

Last year, more than 2,700 women were admitted to Cornton Vale, which Brig Monro agrees has left it "in crisis".

His report criticised the prison for not giving inmates enough to do and letting them spend too much time confined in their cells.

He said: "This is a prison where overcrowding has very severe consequences, and the report addresses many of those issues.

"But certainly I think we need to look at some of those issues, and get these vulnerable women dealt with outside prison, their complex issues solved without having to come to prison.

Brig Hugh Monro
Brig Monro said he would inspect the prison again in about a year

"The situation has deteriorated significantly since the last full inspection in 2006, and I will be monitoring closely how my recommendations are being addressed."

Ms Medhurst agreed that many of her prisoners could be better dealt with in the community.

"The significant proportion of the turnover within Cornton Vale are short-term convicted women, many of whom could easily be dealt with in the community, and could be better dealt with in the community," she said.

"Once a woman has come through the door here, even for a short period on remand, she finds that it's safer to be here than in the community.

"They're given support, they are given shelter, they are given access to services, and they don't need to go out looking for that."

Teresa Medhurst
The prison governor said most inmates are serving short sentences

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the government was spending more money on programmes to prevent reoffending.

"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.

"The orders can be tailored to the individual needs of the offender including more suitable placements for unpaid work in the community and fitting such hours around, for example, school times and childcare arrangements."

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