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Howard League blog · 28 Apr 2017

Scotland’s plan to reform (and reduce) women’s imprisonment

Yesterday I wrote about our visit to Scotland. We went to explore three particular issues: Scotland’s plan to reform (and reduce) women’s imprisonment, the punishment system that does not include imposing additional days, and the new structure for independent monitors of prisons.

Plans for women are, on the face of it, offering serious reform.

On 23 April there were 371 women in prisons in Scotland. There is a commitment to close Cornton Vale prison after a series of poor reports but part of it still housed women. Women were also detained in Grampian, Greenock and Edinburgh. We visited the women’s wing in Edinburgh prison which starkly illustrated why women should never be held in a wing inside or attached to a men’s prison. They always come off badly, with limited access to activities or resources as the sheer number of men give them priority. Whilst the women’s cells were a decent size, with windows that opened and a discrete shower and toilet, they were spending far too much time locked up.

The enthusiasm about the proposals for radical change was heartening and we were assured by officials and the minister that there is a firm commitment to see them through.

The plan is to restrict the number of beds so that the number of women in prison is significantly reduced. A national facility will be built on the site of the old Cornton Vale prison with only 80 beds and they are currently consulting women about what the prison should look like and provide. That in itself is a pretty revolutionary!

The other prison wings should close and instead five new small units will be built across the country so that women can be held closer to home. Each unit will be only 20 beds. Whilst they will be run by the Scottish Prison Service, in order to provide assurance to the courts, they will be working closely with local authorities and the idea is for permeable walls so that women link closely with communities.

This should result in halving the number of women in prison at any one time and providing a much improved service for those who are detained.

I have some trepidation in case it does not come to fruition, but I am clinging to the repeated reassurances from everyone we met that it will happen. My fingers are crossed.



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