Scotland politics

Staff praised for successful women's prison move to Polmont

YOI Polmont
Image caption Polmont Young Offenders' Institution has seen a significant reduction in the number of prisoners

The process of relocating more than 100 women prisoners from Cornton Vale near Stirling has been praised by the prisons' inspector (HMCIPS).

The move was part of the plans to close Scotland's only women's jail.

The women are now housed at Polmont near Falkirk which has seen the number of young offenders held there reduce significantly in recent years.

The chief inspector, David Strang, said although there were teething problems they were tackled quickly.

His report said: "The management and staff in Polmont faced considerable challenges in managing the transfer of over 100 women from Cornton Vale to Blair House at Polmont whilst at the same time maintaining delivery of a full regime for the young men they continued to hold.

"Polmont management and staff should be commended for the successful transfer and integration of the women into the new arrangements. While there were inevitable teething problems with such a transfer, these were tackled quickly and appropriately."

More modern

He said the arrival of the women at Polmont had not had a detrimental impact on the regime and opportunities for the young men, while the women were able to benefit from accommodation which was more modern than at Cornton Vale and which had in-cell sanitation facilities.

The Scottish government announced in February 2016 it was to redevelop Cornton Vale which had been criticised for poor facilities for female prisoners, and had suffered eight suicides in three years in the 1990s.

In 2010-11 there were a maximum of 438 women held there, but at the start of May 2017 there were only 68 in Cornton Vale, with other women prisoners at Edinburgh (69), HMP Grampian (34), Greenock (44) and Polmont (66).

Image caption Cornton Vale is to be demolished with an 80-place national facility for women prisoners to be build on the site

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said: "Faced with a significant decline in the number of young offenders in Scotland, the decision was taken to decant women from Cornton Vale to allow the complete redevelopment of the site.

"Later this year we expect to begin work on a new 80-place national facility on the Cornton Vale site."

Polmont, which was the only institution for offenders aged under 21 has seen its peak numbers fall from 784 in 2011-12 to 355 in May 2017.

One of the accommodation wings, Blair House, was refurbished for women prisoners, with bright coloured paint, the use of colourful and inspiring graphics and upgraded seating in the communal areas.

Affordable toiletries

The report said: "The women were positive about the single cell accommodation in Blair House which benefitted from en suite facilities.

"However, there were concerns raised about the lack of affordable toiletries for women on the canteen list with, for example, shampoo and conditioner for men available at a lower cost than the equivalent products for women.

"It was also reported by women that access to razors was only permitted in the morning for a short period of time.

"Whilst we understand that this was a safety concern, there was little flexibility in the regime that recognised the differing requirements of the female population."

HMCIPS called on the prison service to provide liquid detergent to allow women to wash their underwear in their cells, after washing powder was banned over fears drains could become blocked.

The chief inspector's report also looked at the treatment of male young offenders.

He praised Throughcare Support Officers (TSOs) who work with young offenders to prepare them for release back into the community at the end of their sentence, but said too many were still leaving custody without accommodation, healthcare support and finances in place.

"Of the 82 young men supported by the TSOs, 28 (34%) were liberated without an address to go to.

"In addition to the lack of shelter and security which this represents, it also has implications for their inability to access appropriate healthcare and medications," he said.

"These are not issues which are in the gift of the SPS to resolve alone.

"Greater efforts need to be made to provide joined-up support from mainstream service providers, to ensure that young men and women leaving Polmont are not set up to fail."

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