Women’s Prisons, Scotland


The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is undertaking two projects in redesigning the women’s prison estate. One is bulldozing HMP Corton Vale, a notorious women’s prison in Stirling, and replacing it with a smaller sized prison for 80 people. The second project is constructing five new Community Custody Units (CCUs) or ‘mini-prisons’ across Scotland. The female prison population in Scotland has risen by 120% since 2000. Recent research showed an increase in self-harm at Scottish prisons: incidents in women’s prisons nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016.

Corton Vale

Corton Vale Prison near Stirling was built in 1975. It had capacity for 307 women. It was nicknamed “the vale of death” after 11 prisoners killed themselves between 1995 and 2002. The most recent inspection report of Corton Vale in 2016 described it as “wholly unacceptable in the 21st century”. Prisoners were told to pee in the sink if they needed the toilet in the night.

The prison is now closed, with prisoners moved to HMP Polmont in August 2017. A new smaller prison will be built in its place. Tender documents show that the deadline for bidding for the construction contract is June 2018. The new prison at Corton Vale is meant to be open by 2020.

Community Custody Units

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is planning to open its five new mini-prisons by 2020. A SPS spokesman said: “Units will have security, a perimeter fence and be staffed 24/7 but they won’t look like traditional custodial facilities.”

The locations of two of the CCUs have been announced. One will be in Glasgow at the former Maryhill Health Centre. It is being called the ‘Lilias Centre’ and will house up to 24 inmates. There will be two mother-and-baby rooms, six studio apartments, and shared rooms for the other 16 prisoners. Over 80 people have already signed a petition against the unit. One local resident said: “We also don’t think this is the best environment for the women as there’s a pocket of this area that is rife with drug use. It’s like putting temptation in the way. I think it will be very difficult for the prison service to change people’s minds.”

The preferred site for another CCU in Dundee was announced in April 2018. The site is a former primary school and will be for around 16 people. Residents are scared it will “bring the area down again”. Amanda Reilly, a local resident who lives just metres from the proposed site says: “Housing and a green space would be much more acceptable for this site. Please help us stop this happening.”

Carceral Welfare: A new form of custody

These new prisons highlight a shift to a carceral welfare model – where “rehabilitation” comes through coercion. Sentences below 12 months are not recommended because of the limited time available to “rehabilitate” prisoners.

Tom Fox of the Scottish Prison Service said: “What we’re trying to do is act as a citizen repair workshop. When women have finished their sentence, we want them to go out to the community and live empowering lives.”

The concept of ‘citizen repair’ embodies an individualist approach to criminal justice, in which the idea is to ‘fix’ or ‘repair’ individuals seen as damaged in a certain way – rather than looking at systemic causes of crime or harm. The location of the mini-prisons has apparently been chosen by identifying the postcodes that women imprisoned in Scotland are most likely to come from. The irony is that these areas are among that are hardest-hit by government cuts and austerity.