SHOCKING new figures have revealed that Cornton Vale women’s prison is the most violent in Scotland.
More fights and assaults per prisoner have been recorded at the notorious institution over the past five years than any male jail north of the border.
Even large, male-only prisons with fearsome reputations, such as Barlinnie, recorded fewer attacks than Cornton Vale over the period.
Since 2006, Women at the Stirling prison have committed 489 assaults compared with 447 at HMP Barlinnie, even thought the Glasgow jail has four times as many inmates.
Justice groups last night condemned the figures as “shocking” and blamed ongoing problems of overcrowding and boredom for much of the violence.
Cornton Vale’s prisoners include Theresa Riggi, who is serving 16 years for killing her own children at their home in Edinburgh.
Conditions at the jail have been the subject of serious concern for many years. Eight inmates were found hanged in their cells between 1995 and 1998, and two died in one week in 2001.
Figures recently released under the Freedom of Information Act show shocking levels of violence among prisoners inside Cornton Vale compared with male prisons.
As well as 489 cases of assault, where one prisoner attacked another, there have been a further 664 fights recorded between female inmates.
The assault rate for Cornton Vale, adjusted for its typical population of 377, is 1.29 assaults per prisoner over the five years. Aberdeen is the next worst prison at 0.87 assaults per prisoner.
Cornton Vale’s combined rate for assaults and fights is 1.53 per prisoner, much higher than the Scottish prison average of 0.86 and still ahead of next-worst Aberdeen at 1.34.
Prisoners at Cornton Vale also topped the Scottish league for the number of reports of inmates using threatening and abusive words or behaviour. Cornton Vale had 886 cases compared with second placed Edinburgh, which had 800 reports.
Convicts in Cornton Vale also appear to be the rudest in Scotland, with 127 incidents of “disrespect” compared with 111 at second placed Perth.
There were also 27 reports of “indecent and obscene acts” at the female prison compared with 30 at privately-run Kilmarnock, which has a population of around 600 inmates.
James Kelly MSP Scottish Labour Shadow Justice Minister said: “These are worrying statistics and it is important to understand what lies behind the level of reported assaults. The statistics could be linked to the poor standards in the prison which were recently criticised by Brigadier Hugh Monro in his inspection report. It is important that these issues are properly considered by the special commission that has been set up to examine the treatment of female offenders in Scotland’s Justice system.”
Isabella Goldie, Head of the Mental Health Foundation Scotland Office said: “These statistics are shocking. The fear of violence will put these women’s wellbeing at risk and is likely to have an even greater impact on women who are already vulnerable such as those with mental health problems.
“We know that the HM Inspectorate of prisons has made previous recommendations to improve care for vulnerable women which hasn’t been addressed in this recent inspection. We are therefore concerned that women with mental health problems might not be getting the support that they need. The violence is likely to be a symptom of boredom and overcrowding, which were also identified as areas of concern within the 2011 inspection report. This is particularly worrying given the high numbers of vulnerable women.”
John Scott, a defence lawyer and head of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland said: “When you put so many damaged people there there is going to be violence.
“The recent report from prison governors highlighted that they received a significant number of women with mental health problems and a significant number of women who have been abused.”
He said the news that a female prison was Scotland’s roughest should not come as a shock: “It’s surprising only until you realize who we are sending to prison. Prisoners at Cornton Vale tend to be the most damaged individuals in prison or elsewhere.
“And for some of them violence is a lifelong means of communication.”
Bill Whyte, director of the Criminal Justice Social Work Development Centre for Scotland, said: “We are failing these women and we are failing the community.
“Cornton Vale was built for one purpose and it is bulging at the seams.
“It’s too late to help these women when they are already in prison but what we can do is focus on stopping them ending up in custody in the first place.”
Brigadier Monro said in his report released this week that conditions at Cornton Vale remained “unacceptably poor”.
And he said the atmosphere of boredom in the prison created an environment that lended itself to re-offending.
But when asked to comment on the nature of the offences taking place in the jail, he said female and male violence could not be compared. He said: “A violent assault in Cornton Vale will not in any way be comparable with an assault in a male jail. You’re talking about pushes and shoves and hair pulling, compared with considerable violence in male prisons.
“I’m very concerned about Cornton Vale. Action is being taken to improve it and I will be going back to do follow up inspections. And there’s a commission led by Dame Elish Angiolini looking at instances of female offending.”