The announcement came as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Brigadier Hugh Monro, issued a damning follow up to his hard-hitting report on overcrowding and poor conditions at Cornton Vale, the women’s prison and young offenders’ institution, saying he was “very disappointed” by the lack of progress.
He wrote of his follow-up inspection: “Despite the warnings raised in my full inspection report in late 2009, Cornton Vale remains an unacceptably poor establishment with significant failings across all key areas of provision.
“Overcrowding is the root cause of many of the issues I have highlighted. I believe there is an immediate need to both reduce the prison’s population and review the design capacity of the establishment.”
This prompted the Government to set up the Angiolini Commission to tackle the roots of the problem, stating: “The commission’s remit will be to find a more effective way of dealing with women offenders with a view to reducing reoffending.”
Justice Secretary Kenny Macaskill said the situation was “unacceptable”, adding: “Enough is enough. Elish Angiolini will bring her substantial experience and talent to examine one of the most pressing social justice issues of recent times.
“The number of women in prison has more than doubled over the last decade. This situation cannot go on. In the 21st century, we must find a more effective way of dealing with these women and I am confident that the commission will help us to do that.”
Dame Elish commented: “In my 28 years as a prosecutor, I saw at first hand the tragic impact of women offending and re-offending.
“Although some women are violent and need to be in prison to protect communities and themselves, many are deeply vulnerable people for whom offending is a result of chaotic lifestyles, mental health difficulties and severe addiction problems.
“Many will have been the victims of abuse – physical, sexual or mental – in their childhood.
“Although this does not excuse breaking the law, we must be able to find better ways of addressing their behaviour than merely resorting to locking up more and more of them, particularly when that breaks up families and affects the life chances of children.
“We have a real opportunity to address the issue, and I am delighted to be able to lead this important work.”
In his report, Brigadier Munro found:
l Continued overcrowding was a “major concern”
l Prisoners’ treatment and conditions were “not acceptable”
l The treatment of vulnerable women with mental health issues was a “source for concern”
l There was an atmosphere of boredom due to lack of activity, hampering rehabilitation
l A failure to make Cornton Vale a strategic priority
He said: “The dignity, safety, infection control and health issues are even more stark than in 2009.
“I also noted that relationships between prisoners and staff had further deteriorated with an unacceptable culture and a lack of trust.”
He said the number and complexity of mental health cases were among the most serious in any Scottish prison.
One former inmate who spent nine weeks in Cornton Vale in 2009 told The Herald of her experience in the jail.
“Most of the time I was very bored. Education was limited – there were reading and writing classes, a computer class and a book group, but that was it.
“The prison is definitely overcrowded. I always had to share a cell. I got moved to different units twice because there were so many new women coming in and they needed the space. The people who were in for a life sentence were not supposed to share but they were all sharing because the place was so overcrowded.
“The one good thing was the contact for the families outside. It was really helpful.”
Turning Point Scotland, the social care charity, operates a highly-praised “218” females-only service. Chief executive Martin Cawley said: “We welcome the commission and the opportunity for it to find more effective ways of dealing with women offenders.
“There needs to be alternatives to prisons that delivers better outcomes for our communities and allow women to tackle the issues that have led to their offending.
“The 218 service managed by Turning Point Scotland is an example of this approach that is cost effective and delivers real results.”