Scottish Prison Service to ditch Cornton Vale name for new national prison on same site


New prison on Cornton Vale site will house 80 women, largely serving long-term sentences

Cornton Vale

Scottish Prison Service chiefs are preparing to ditch the name Cornton Vale when a new national women’s prison is built on the existing site.

Cornton Vale governor Rhona Hotchkiss, who is leading on the development of the women’s custodial estate, said there are “too many bad images and bad experiences” linked with the current facility.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson announced last June that a new prison able to house 80 women would be based on the current site at Cornton Vale in Stirling. The decision came after the Scottish Government decided to scrap plans for a new prison at Inverclyde amid criticism from opposition parties and third sector organisations over its size.

The new national facility, which will be accompanied by five community custodial units dotted around the country, is scheduled to be up and running by 2020.

“The new national prison will be on the Cornton Vale site [but it is] highly unlikely, I think, that we will want to call it Cornton Vale,” Hotchkiss told a Scottish Association for the Study of Offending event held in Glasgow last night.

“We think it’s time for a new break with that; too many bad images and bad experiences linked with Cornton Vale, so we want to change the name to signify that we’re moving away from that and moving towards a new era.”

Cornton Vale faced intense public scrutiny in the mid-1990s after a series of seven suicides in the space of two-and-a-half years at the women’s prison.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Brigadier Hugh Monro, declared the prison to be in a “state of crisis” in 2009, citing overcrowding, two-hour waits for the toilet, cold meals as well as a lack of activities.

Dame Elish Angiolini then labelled Cornton Vale, which opened in the mid-1970s, “not fit for purpose” in her Commission on Women Offenders report three years later.

The SPS put significant investment into the prison in the wake of the review, with the opening of a family centre and help hub the following year among the changes.

The new national prison will house women largely serving sentences of four years or more, though it is expected that some women serving short-term sentences and those on remand will be based there because of the level of support they require.

The SPS is also exploring the possibility for some women serving long-term sentences to be moved to the community units towards the end of their sentences to “rebuild links within their local communities and prepare for release”, Hotchkiss added.

“The idea behind the new prison is that it will, as much as possible, mimic domestic living conditions,” she said. “So women will be held in small units, encouraging them to be as self-sufficient as possible and getting away from that horrible institutionalised feeling.”

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