CAMPAIGNERS demanding better conditions for women prisoners will next week stage the first demonstration outside a jail in Scotland for almost 25 years.
Activists from the left-wing alliance Rise will lead the protest at the gates of the country’s sole women-only prison HMP Cornton Vale, in Stirling, after a damning inspection report revealed inmates had been told to “pee in the sink” because of a lack of toilet facilities at night.
Jennie Gunn, Rise’s lead candidate in Mid Scotland and Fife, said: “Timely access to sanitation is a human right. The fact many women at Cornton Vale are being denied that access to is not only a breach of prisoners’ rights, it’s an affront to their human dignity. Cornton Vale is not fit for purpose. Rise activists intend to make that clear when we protest outside the prison.”
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The protest, which will start at 7pm on Tuesday is understood to be the first demonstration outside a jail in Scotland since 1992 when demonstrators gathered outside Saughton Prison in Edinburgh after anti-poll tax campaigner Tommy Sheridan was sentenced to six months behind bars for defying a court order to help prevent a warrant sale.
Speakers will include The National columnist and Rise’s lead candidate in Glasgow Cat Boyd and Rosie Kane, a former Socialist Socialist Party MSP. The prisons inspectors’ report found that almost half of Cornton Vale’s inmates had to rely on an “antiquated night sanitation system” under which they were locked in their cells without direct access to a toilet.
Inspectors said that in September last year, there were 357 incidents where prisoners had to wait between six and 10 minutes to go to the toilet. In a small number of cases prisoners had to wait for over an hour for access to a toilet.
Inspectors said they received “numerous accounts about the distress and discomfort” this could cause. Some inmates said staff had told them “to ‘pee in the sink’ when they had not been able to get access to a toilet quickly enough”. A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said: “Clearly people have a right to protest. We recognise some of the issues at Cornton Vale, and the need to take action, but we have to do so without sacrificing the needs of the women in terms of access to the support services they need.”
In a 2012 report commissioned by the Scottish Government, former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini found Cornton Vale to be “not fit for purpose”.
Earlier this month the Scottish Prison Service announced that 100 inmates will be moved elsewhere this summer to allow building work to begin on a new national women’s prison at the site.