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HM Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on HMP and YOI Cornton Vale


3. Custody and Good Order

Security and Safety

3.1 There have been no escapes since the last inspection.

3.2 In the period 1 April 2005 to the week of inspection there had been two serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. In the same period there had been 31 minor prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. There had been no serious prisoner-on-staff assaults and 13 minor prisoner-on-staff assaults. In the previous year, 2004-05, there was one serious prisoner-on-prisoner assault 12 minor prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, one serious prisoner-on-staff assault and nine minor prisoner-on-staff assaults. The most striking statistic here is the increase in minor prisoner-on-prisoner assaults between 2004-05 and 2005-06 (up from 12 to 31). It is recognised that there has been an increase in the population in Cornton Vale but nevertheless the reasons for this increase in minor assaults should be examined.

3.3 There was one death in custody (subject to FAI) and 65 instances of self-harm in 2004-05. In the year 2005-06 to date of inspection there were two deaths in custody (subject to FAI) and 58 instances of self-harm. The reduction in self-harms is welcomed and striking, particularly given that there were 130 instances in 2002-03.

Custody and Order

3.4 The Custody and Order Manager has line management responsibility for the Gate, ECR, Visits and Reception. He also oversees escorting arrangements, physical security, and operational readiness and intelligence management. Reception and visits are covered elsewhere in this report.

3.5 The current arrangements for escorts are having an unintended impact at Cornton Vale. In the past, the level of security applied was determined by a risk assessment and based on the prisoner's supervision level as determined by SPS security procedures. There was often the option for the prisoner to be escorted by a member of staff known to her. This was of significance when the reason for the escort was particularly sensitive, for example an intimate gynaecological examination or a children's hearing. There was scope under this arrangement for handcuffs to be removed completely. The current practice is that all prisoners being escorted are routinely "double-cuffed", i.e. hands are cuffed together as well as a second pair of cuffs attaching the prisoner to the escorting officer. This level of security would normally be expected where the danger of escape is high. Not only is it now routinely applied to all escorts, but pregnant women have suffered the humiliating experience of being handcuffed to a custody officer throughout labour, almost to the point of childbirth. Sometimes male officers have been present. Male officers have also been present when prisoners attend an intimate gynaecological examination. Even without emphasising the abuse many of these women have suffered and the poor experience many have had in their relationships with men, any consideration of decency would question these escort practices. It is recommended that SPS should ensure that women under escort are subject to the level of security appropriate to the risk they present and that they are treated with reasonable standards of personal dignity and humanity.

3.6 The closure of the Female Units in Inverness, Aberdeen and Dumfries at the time of inspection has led to all women from these areas now being located in Cornton Vale. This means that they must spend a significant amount of time in a vehicle when attending court. This should be reviewed.

3.7 Weekly Custody and Order meetings take place. All of the residential areas have representatives who attend. These meetings are minuted. Inspectors viewed minutes from recent meetings. The focus of the meetings is prisoner management systems, including intelligence gathering and downgrading policy. It also discusses individual cases. Action points are recorded and reviewed at forthcoming meetings. The minutes indicate that managers try to ensure that policies are applied consistently across the prison. They also discuss staff matters such as shortages and dress standards. This meeting fulfils a useful function that could be further enhanced if the discussions and outcomes were cascaded to all staff.

3.8 The ECR in Cornton Vale has become more and more cramped as new systems are introduced and more accommodation becomes available. There are plans to refurbish it in the near future. It remains functional.

3.9 Cornton Vale has a well organised Control and Restraint training system. PE staff provide the training and the levels of competence are above the necessary levels.

Prisoner Complaints Procedure

3.10 Prisoners have the complaints procedure explained to them by the Business Improvement Prisoner as part of their induction. Complaint forms are readily available in all of the residential units. The Business Improvement Manager organises and chairs the Internal Complaints Committees ( ICC). ICC members have been identified and have received role specific training. This specialist group comprises residential officers and chaplains. The training includes a session with the Complaints Commissioner. ICC's take place weekly on a Tuesday. A room in the Links Centre is reserved for the purpose.

3.11 The prison does not maintain a local database of complaints and although there has been work undertaken in the past to ensure that complaints are entered onto PR2 this no longer happens. Prisoner complaints should be entered on the SPS prisoner records system.

3.12 The prison could not provide data on how many complaints have been submitted recently and what the different issues were. This would be useful management information. Copies are kept of CP2's, CP3's and the complaints which go to the ICC. A sample of these was inspected and the answers given were satisfactory and timescales were met. However, the establishment should introduce a more robust audit trail of prisoner complaints.

Prisoner Disciplinary System

3.13 An innovation at Cornton Vale is the range of options available after a prisoner is placed on report for a disciplinary offence. The offence can be dealt with by referring to what would be generally understood as the 'Orderly Room'. However, if the offence is drug related this can be referred to a 'Care Orderly Room' where a case conference type approach is taken and the outcome is generally an agreed action plan for the individual. If this plan is completed the original charge is dealt with at the lower end of the scale rather than an automatic disciplinary sanction. This approach is well used and becoming part of the culture of Cornton Vale. Use made of this approach is as follows:

November 2005


December 2005


January 2006


February 2006


3.14 Where cases are referred for adjudication in the normal way, there is also an option to refer the individual(s) concerned to a restorative process, most commonly used where there has been some form of conflict. In this, trained facilitators work through the issue with those concerned trying to agree an outcome which is then binding. Restorative Practices are described in more detail at paragraphs 8.13 - 8.15.

3.15 These options try as far as possible to remove the individual from formal disciplinary sanctions, concentrating on reaching workable solutions or outcomes. This is an area of innovation and good practice.

3.16 Adjudications are held in one central area and are conducted by all members of the management team although one manager has responsibility for most adjudications to ensure consistency. The room itself is reasonable for the purpose and the proceedings are consistent with established practice. The adjudications are conducted in a relaxed and relatively informal manner which gives those involved every opportunity to participate.

Night Duty

3.17 Cornton Vale has one manager and seven officers attached to night duty. Ross House is the only residential area in the establishment which has officers permanently on site: it is supervised by two officers at all times. Given the unpredictable and vulnerable nature of the population there, this is to be welcomed. Two officers are based in the ECR, two are on peripatetic patrol covering the other residential areas and one is located in the gate. It is the responsibility of the Night Duty Manager to deploy their staff as they judge the needs of the prison to be.

3.18 Night duty instructions are very good. They are updated regularly by staff and the Personal Performance Management System is used to do so. Officers are set objectives to review and update the instructions in their area.

3.19 Night Duty Managers keep a log of night shift events so that colleagues can review the previous week's events when taking up duty. This helps to maintain consistency. Records indicated that night duty staff have to call the Doctor approximately once a week. The Doctor often attends the prison in these circumstances or if appropriate will advise staff by the telephone.

3.20 Night Duty is well managed in Cornton Vale.