Scotland

Justice Secretary considering new jail plan 'carefully'

Image copyright Scottish Prison Service
Image caption The proposed women's jail in Inverclyde would be state-of-the-art, and would focus on education

The Scottish government has said no decision has been taken yet on the future of the women's prison planned for Greenock.

The £75m HMP Inverclyde has been the subject of fierce criticism from campaigners and opposition parties.

They said the government should be reducing the number of women behind bars.

BBC Scotland understands the justice secretary will make a statement later this month.

At First Minister's Questions at Holyrood the Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser asked: "Is it true that contractors working on the new women's prison project in Greenock will be told tomorrow that the project is not now going ahead?"

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the justice secretary was considering the matter very carefully.

'Right decision'

She told MSPs: "It is an issue that (Justice Secretary) Michael Matheson, and indeed myself as first minister, and the government have been looking at carefully, because we want to make sure that the decision that is taken here is the right decision.

"And I also want to make clear that my view is that all of us across the chamber should be determined to work to reduce not just the prison population generally, but the female prison population in particular."

Later Scottish government officials said work is currently going on to clear the former high school site in Inverkip Road, Greenock.

The contract for that was signed in 2014, and is due to run until March 2015. No other contracts have been signed, a spokesman said.

It has been expected construction work would begin in September 2015, creating a 300-capacity prison which would replace Cornton Vale in Stirlingshire which is Scotland's only all-female jail.

The proposal was for HMP Inverclyde to open in September 2017.

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy called on 13 January for the government to rethink the proposals, and accused the government of planning for failure.

""We're imprisoning too many women, and too many mums in particular," he said.

"The number of women in prison [in Scotland] has doubled since devolution and that's not right."

Replaced

The Commission on Women Offenders chaired by Dame Eilish Angiolini reported in 2012 that the female prison population in Scotland had doubled in 10 years.

It called for Cornton Vale, which has a capacity of 309, to be replaced with a specialist prison for women offenders serving long sentences and those who present a significant risk to the public.

Credible, sustainable alternatives to imprisonment should be developed for other offenders, it said.

The report said only 2% of female prisoners had been jailed for serious violent crime, more than half were re-offenders, and around 80% had mental health problems.

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said other than the ground works which were continuing, no contract for a new prison in Inverclyde had been signed, and none had been advertised.