Cornton Vale Prison

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 10 January 2018.

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Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the future of Cornton Vale prison. (S5O-01644)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

In 2015, I announced that Scotland would adopt a new approach to supporting women in custody. That approach includes plans for a new, small national prison for women to be located on the current site of HMP and YOI Cornton Vale.

On 11 July 2017, the demolition of Bruce house commenced, signalling the continued commitment to replace Cornton Vale with a smaller national facility for 80 women on the site. A separate assessment centre will also be included on the site to cater for up to 25 women. Initial preparatory work has already been completed with further work continuing in 2018 and beyond.

The first public consultation event was held as part of the proposal of application notice on 6 December 2017 and a second will be held on 16 January 2018. Following the conclusion of the planning process, it is anticipated that the procurement process to identify a contractor will conclude in August 2018, with construction commencing thereafter in winter 2018. Plans remain on track for the national facility to be operational by the end of 2020.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that traditional prisons have not always achieved the outcomes for female prisoner offenders that we would want? Is it not, therefore, crucial that we continue to look at alternative custodial arrangements such as the community-based custodial units that he has mentioned? Can he provide any details of the likely implications for future staffing at Cornton Vale? If he cannot do that today, will he provide me with that information at the earliest possible juncture?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Yes, I agree. That is why the proposal that is being taken forward for Scotland’s new female custodial estate includes the design of the initial two community custodial units. The first of the CCUs will be located in Maryhill in Glasgow and at a site in Dundee. The purpose behind the units is to allow women to be held closer to their families and to provide them with the opportunity to engage with community-based services in those localities.

The CCUs will focus on helping women to develop the strategies that can support them in successfully reintegrating into the community and moving away from a lifestyle that involves offending.

On staffing, the approach that we are taking for the new facilities, especially the national facility, is still in the process of development, so I am not able at this stage to determine the exact staffing profile, because the model is still being fully defined.

I am happy to provide the member with more detailed information when it becomes available. Meantime, I assure him that the fullest consultation will take place with staff at Cornton Vale and their trade union representatives.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland recently visited Cornton Vale prison. Its report highlighted concerns relating to the availability of mental health specialists and suitable medication and suggested an audit of prison officer training to improve mental health awareness. What assurances can the cabinet secretary give that the proposed restructuring of Cornton Vale prison will not affect the mental welfare of prisoners with complex mental health conditions?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

One of the purposes behind moving to the new model is to ensure that there is better engagement with community-based services within the locality, particularly for women who might have an underlying mental health issue, so that when they leave the community custodial unit and go back into the community, the services that have been supporting them are still there—rather than having a situation whereby once women leave a single national facility, they have to engage with mental health services in another part of the country if they require them.

The recommendations and findings in the Mental Welfare Commission report are being considered by the Scottish Prison Service in partnership with NHS Forth Valley, which is responsible for providing healthcare services at Cornton Vale.

I assure the member that mental health issues, particularly support for women, are a key factor behind the new model for dealing with women who come into custody that we are moving to.