No bars, razor-wire or high walls as new women’s community custody unit set to open in UK first

The UK’s first women’s community custody unit is to open in Dundee

By Lucinda Cameron
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 1:29 pm

The 16-space Bella Centre unit will focus on “custody in the community” and women there will be supported to live independently and develop a range of life skills.

The building, which will open on August 1, has no bars on the windows and no barbed wire or high walls and was designed to blend into the surrounding area.

Community Safety Minister Ash Regan, who toured the facility on Thursday, said it marks a “step change” in the way Scotland supports women in custody.

The centre’s completion is part of a wider £600 million plan to improve Scotland’s custodial estate.

The Bella Centre will have a sister centre in Glasgow and work is progressing on a replacement for HMP YOI Cornton Vale near Stirling, the national facility for female offenders.

Currently, most female offenders are detained at Cornton Vale, HMP YOI Polmont, Gateside prison in Greenock and Edinburgh’s Saughton Prison.

Cornton Vale has been pencilled-in for replacement for more than a decade due to changes in the way women inmates are treated and the crumbling fabric of its buildings.

No bars: Rooms for detainees at the Bella Centre are like no other 'prison' in the UK

Ms Regan said: “The Bella Centre marks a step change in the way Scotland supports women in custody, and is the first facility of its kind in the UK.

“It takes a gender-specific and trauma-informed approach to better prepare women for re-integration back into their communities.

“Enhanced access to the community will enable women to retain family ties while allowing supportive partnerships in the locality to flourish. This visionary new centre has been specifically designed to better prepare women for release and to reduce reoffending.

“It relies heavily on collaboration with and between a wide range of partners, enabling a multi-disciplinary approach that will serve the rehabilitative needs of women, supporting them to reintegrate back into their communities.”

The facility has shared house-style accommodation with communal living spaces downstairs and individual bedrooms upstairs.

Women will be supported to develop life skills by taking responsibility for their own personal care, laundry and housekeeping.

There is also a Community Hub where women can meet with visitors and access a range of activities and local services which will help them to develop the skills and support networks necessary for successful reintegration into the community.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said every woman allocated to a community custody unit will have undergone a “robust” risk and needs assessment process.

SPS said: “The units will accommodate women of mixed custodial sentence lengths and women will, following appropriate risk assessments, have the opportunity to access the community.

“Living in the CCUs will enable these women to foster stronger and closer links within the appropriate community support agencies they will be working with prior to release.”