Local MSP, Rhoda Grant, Labour, is continuing to press the Scottish Government to prioritise female prisoner facilities in the Highlands and Islands.
Rhoda Grant has been campaigning for better facilities for female prisoners since October 2017 and has been focusing on the facilities for women in the new Inverness prison. The construction of the new Inverness prison has been put back to 2023
In March 2018, the Inspector for Prisons in Scotland, David Strang, called for more suitable accommodation for female inmates in Inverness. The current policy is that any women remanded or sentenced in the north of Scotland can be sent to HMP Grampian or Corton Vale in Glasgow.
In response to her question to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the Scottish Government, Humza Yousaf said:
“In June 2015, my predecessor announced ambitious plans for the future of the female custodial estate, which include a new 80-place national facility to be built at Cornton Vale and up to five new community-based custodial units, each accommodating about 20 women, at locations across Scotland.
“The first two community custodial units will be located in Glasgow and Dundee. The Scottish Prison Service is working towards opening the first of the CCUs by December 2020 and the national facility by summer 2021.
“The custodial arrangements for women from the north of Scotland will remain as they are at present. That means that, whenever possible, women who are sentenced or remanded by a court in the north of Scotland will be located in HMP and YOI Grampian, which offers a range of interventions and services that are specifically designed for women.”
“It is a difficult issue. It is fair to say that the number of women in custody who come from Inverness and the north of Scotland is very low—at the last count, it was about 13. Those women are at different stages along their journey of imprisonment, so it is not as simple as building a CCU, which is for women who are at a particular point in that journey. There are complexities, which I know Rhoda Grant will appreciate. I suggest to her that she continues to have conversations with the SPS about CCUs.
“In the meantime, we will continue to invest in technology. Of course, I appreciate that that is not a replacement for direct contact visits, but it can certainly bring families closer and help offenders on their rehabilitation journey.”
Commenting afterwards Rhoda Grant said:
“Women offenders need to be accommodated closer to home to allow loved ones, particularly children, to visit easily and to encourage rehabilitation back into society. It is neither acceptable nor right that families in the north should have to travel these distances to visit. Women being placed so far away ultimately means that support of friends and family no longer exist when they are released and this can encourage the revolving door of crime.
“I will continue to pressure the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service to place a Community Custody Unit in the Highlands and Islands so that women from this area can stay close to home.”
A Community Custody Unit (CCU) is a careful monitored unit where women can serve part of their custodial sentence where they can be re-integrated back into society. These units will allow stronger ties to family and provide support with issues such as domestic violence and drug abuse. Security will be on-site and these women will be suitably assessed for serving part of their sentence in these units.