Cornton Vale is a women's prison in Stirling, operated by the Scottish Prison Service. Built in 1975, Cornton Vale comprises a total of 217 cells in its 5 houses. It took only convicted women and girls from 1975 until 1978. In 1978 Parliament passed the necessary legislation to allow females to be held there on remand. Lady Martha Bruce was the first governor. Cornton Vale now houses almost all female adults and young offenders in Scotland. In April 1999, the separation of adults and young offenders was attained. It is expected to close by 2020, to be replaced by a number of smaller regional units.
Before 1939, the site belonged to a Church of Scotland labour colony. Opened in 1907, the colony provided a home and training in market gardening for habitual inebriates and others - all male - sent by the Church or by their families. After the First World War, it took in unemployed men, mainly veterans at first. From 1926 to 1931, it received public funds under the Empire Settlement Act, and most of the trainees were helped to emigrate to the Dominions. It continued to train unemployed young men until the Second World War, but was sold off subsequently and re-opened as a male Borstal in 1946. Labour colonies of this kind were quite common in Britain before 1939.
It is now Scotland's only all-female establishment and so nearly all female prisoners and young offenders in Scotland are housed here. The complex provides 230 places for women prisoners in five blocks. Four of these blocks (or houses) have 178 places and are sub-divided into six or seven-room units each with its own dining/sitting room, and almost all have a common kitchen or servery. One of these blocks containing 27 places is currently being renovated to provide a dedicated Young Offender facility.
In 2004 there was a trial period, allowing children up to the age of 5 years to stay with their mothers.
It has been criticised for overcrowding, with 340 inmates being held there in August 2004. A high number of suicides have taken place there. Eleven women killed themselves while serving sentences at Corton Vale between 1997 and 2002. In 2010, Brigadier Hugh Munro declared the prison in a "state of crisis", citing overcrowding, two-hour waits for the toilet, cold meals, lack of activities and a deep problem of prisoner boredom which was impeding rehabilitation.
In 2006, 98% of the inmates had addiction issues; 80% had problems with mental health and 75% were survivors of abuse. It also holds children, in particular the babies of inmates who are imprisoned alongside their mothers and teenagers where there is no suitable accommodation available in young offenders institutions.
In 2006 it was announced that the practice of "double cuffing" all inmates who are in labour to a custody officer until second stage labour and immediately re-handcuffed after giving birth, had ended.
A 2012 review into women's prisons in Scotland, conducted by former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini described Cornton Vale as "a miserable place" and that conditions for prisoners were "antediluvian and appalling".
Responding to the Angiolini report, the Scottish Government initially planned to construct HMP Inverclyde, a large women's prison near the existing HM Prison Greenock. The new prison, built on the former site of St Columba's High School on Inverkip Road, would have 300 places and would cost £75 million to construct.
In 2014 Justice Secretary Michael Matheson announced revised plans. The new Inverclyde unit will only accommodate 80 high-security women prisoners, with the remaining population housed at smaller units at HMP Grampian and HMP Edinburgh and regional custody units each accommodating up to 20 women. The Government also plans to increase use of non-custodial alternatives such as electronic tagging. The new plan called for the Inverclyde unit to open by 2017 and for Cornton Vale to close entirely by 2018. Responding to a 2016 inspector's report, which found unsanitary conditions at Cornton Vale, the Scottish Prison Service said pressures on Corton Vale would ease with the beginning of its rundown in the summer of 2016 (when some prisoners would move to HMP Polmont) but that full closure would not happen until 2020.