Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rennie tells Salmond: you should be bothering about Cornton Vale, not slating judges

I was more than a little bit perturbed to see First Minister's Questions today completely dominated by Alex Salmond's thrawn refusal to apologise to Lord Hope. Yes, it's an important issue, but ultimately, Lord Hope can look after himself. A vulnerable female prisoner with mental health problems in Cornton Vale can't, and, as yesterday's inspection report shows, she's unlikely to get the care in the women's prison that she needs.

Only one person raised the Government's consistent failings at Cornton Vale. Unsurprisingly, it was the Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie. He feels really strongly that prison should be about rehabilitation, and giving people the support they need to turn away from crime and contribute positively to the community and I know he's as angry as I am about the situation at Cornton Vale.

I find it really worrying to have a First Minister who repeatedly describes prisoners as the vilest people in society. Sure, there are some pretty nasty pieces of work in our jails, but they still deserve to be treated like human beings, given somewhere comfortable to sleep (like a bed, not a mattress on the floor), access to basic sanitation and health care.  When Salmond attacks lawyers for fighting for human rights for prisoners, it makes it sound like he doesn't value a fair justice and penal system that treats everyone equally.  You also have to remember that addiction and poverty is at least partly responsible for some particularly vulnerable people ending up on the wrong side of the law.

You might think you could never end up in such a place - but what if you were charged with an offence and put on remand? You would experience the appalling conditions described by the inspector and you might realise that the stuff in the likes of the Daily Fail, saying prisoners have a life of luxury, is a bit wide of the mark.

I can't imagine Willie is going to be giving up on Cornton Vale any time soon. After First Minister's Questions, he said:

“Instead of foolishly attacking Scottish judges and lawyers, the First Minister should focus his anger on the unacceptable conditions at Cornton Vale prison.
 “This week’s damning inspection report heavily criticised Cornton Vale for failing its women prisoners. Some prisoners have not even been provided with a bed and are sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
 “The First Minister did not tell me what he will do to address his Government’s appalling failure towards the women in the prison system.
 “He must take responsibility and make immediate improvement to conditions and rehabilitation opportunities at the prison. This is the only way that the cycle of reoffending will be broken.”

Just as an aside, it was quite amusing to see Annabel Goldie describe Salmond's blustering, bellicose manner in his Holyrood Magazine article as if this was some new phenomenon. Does she not know him at all?

And Iain Gray has suddenly discovered he cares about justice. All that stuff with Richard Baker must just have been a bad dream, then.

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