A NEW unit to house women prisoners is to be built at Saughton Prison as part of moves to replace Cornton Vale.
The women’s regional unit at Saughton will house around 100 female offenders from across east and west central Scotland when it is complete – replacing the set-up where women are held alongside men within HMP Edinburgh’s main base.
Plans for the jail are part of a national drive to improve prison conditions for women following a critical Scottish Government commission, led by former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, which found that facilities at HMP Cornton Vale near Stirling were “not fit for purpose”.
Local political leaders have welcomed progress in providing specialist accommodation for some of Scotland’s most serious female criminals.
Councillor Catherine Fullerton, SNP member for Sighthill and Gorgie, said: “It’s good that male and female prisoners at Saughton are separated as much as possible.
“It will help with rehabilitation and also with visiting – especially for the children and families of offenders.”
Due for completion in 2016, the women’s prison will be built within the Saughton estate and to the east of the current site in west Edinburgh.
Prison bosses said the application could also be amended to include proposals for a revamp of the main HMP Edinburgh entrance and provision of a new community integration unit.
Moves to provide dedicated facilities for women come after Cornton Vale, which was built in 1975, was slammed by inspectors in a series of reports because of ageing facilities and overcrowding.
Dame Elish’s commission found the prison to be blighted by self-harming, lack of constructive activity for inmates and a failure to deal adequately with women’s mental health problems.
Some prisoners at Cornton Vale have already been moved to HMP Edinburgh because of accommodation and welfare issues.
Cllr Fullerton said: “Prisoners need to be humanised. Of course, they are in prison for one reason or another but that doesn’t mean they should be kept in conditions that are not fit for the 21st century.”
Bosses at the Scottish Prison Service said that they were pleased proposals for a bespoke centre for female prisoners were moving ahead, adding that the new facility would also include a mother-and-baby unit.
A spokeswoman said: “The progress being made to establish a purpose-built regional facility at HMP Edinburgh reaffirms our commitment to redesign the support and care given to women in custody following the recommendations of the Angiolini commission.
“The unit will have the capacity to house 100 women when once completed, and will be equipped with facilities for mothers and babies, and young offenders.”