The families of women prisoners in the Highlands and islands are having to travel long distances to see their relatives.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, questioned the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, in Parliament this week about facilities for women prisoners from the Highlands and Islands and Moray.

Mr Stewart asked the Cabinet Secretary what plans the Scottish Government has for a new women’s community integration unit in the Highlands and Islands.

The Cabinet Secretary replied that in 2015 the Scottish Government announced plans for a new 80-place national women’s facility at Cornton Vale and up to five new community based custodial units (CCUs) which would each accommodate around 20 women at locations across Scotland. 

He said the national facility and the first two CCUs in Glasgow and Dundee were due to be operational by the end of 2021.  The Cabinet Secretary said the decision on the next phase of CCUs will depend on risk profile, community locations of women in custody and on lessons learned from bringing the first phase of CCUs into operation.

Mr Stewart said that in 2019 there were 24 women in custody from the Highlands and Islands and Moray who were serving their sentences in HMP Grampian or Cornton Vale.  The MSP said that distance from families affects relationships at home and behaviour within the prison environment. 

He asked if the Cabinet Secretary will consider a Community Integration Unit within the Highlands and Islands for women who are serving short sentences, on remand, on community integration or are at the end of their sentence.

The Cabinet Secretary said there were no longer facilities for women prisoners in Inverness because of the low numbers of women prisoners in the area but said Mr Stewart made the important point that locations for the other custody units have not yet been decided upon and that Mr Stewart should make representation to the Scottish Prison Service if he thinks there is a justifiable case for a Community Custody Unit in the Highlands and Islands.

David Stewart said “Together with my colleague, Rhoda Grant, I will indeed make representation to the Scottish Prison Service on this.  The new Community Custody Units are being designed to accommodate twenty women.  In 2019 there were 16 women from the Highlands in custody with the other eight being from island communities or Moray.

“Distances within the Highlands and Islands and Moray are already vast and to ask family members to travel further into Grampian or the Central Belt to visit female relatives is completely unjust.  We will be making the case for facilities to be made available within the Highlands and Islands.”

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, who has also campaigned for local facilities said “Prison sentences not only impact on the prisoner but on their families too and we must ensure families, particularly children, can easily visit a loved one whilst they are serving their sentence.  This is even more important where that access is to their mother.