Residents at a meeting to discuss plans for a women’s custody unit in Dundee were told “police would be on standby for incidents” — as prison bosses insisted the unit won’t be like Castle Huntly.
Representatives from the Scottish Prison Service met with residents to discuss the proposal, which could see a new detention unit built at either the site of Rosebank Primary or Our Lady’s Primary.
The SPS plan on opening the centre, and another similar facility in Glasgow, by the end of 2020, providing facilities for women either serving short sentences or coming to the end of a longer one.
A decision on the final site has not yet been taken but if it goes ahead, the majority of women who will stay at the site will be allowed out into the community to attend commitments such as doctor’s appointments.
In a heated discussion, residents said they feared the area would suffer, with fears aired about inmates’ access to drugs and a possible impact on house prices.
Margaret Wemyss, chairwoman of Coldside Community Forum, said the proposal was “unfair” on the Hilltown and that the space ought to be used for social housing.
However, Tom Fox, head of corporate affairs at the Scottish Prison Service, said the new-style facility had to be located in communities to help those staying in them “re-integrate” with society.
He said: “These women are going to need access to community support and services that will support their rehabilitation back into their community.
“Around one third won’t have community access.”
Caroline Johnston, governor of Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling and women’s strategy lead with the SPS, said the women allowed into the community would be assessed beforehand.
She added: “It’s not the case that women will be free to walk about communities because that is just not the case.
“This will not be like Castle Huntly. This is not designed to be an open prison.
“It’s about supporting and helping women to reintegrate back into the communities that they come from.”
Reassurances from SPS bosses that “police would be on standby for incidents” were met with cries of “we don’t want that here”.
In all, 33 sites were considered in the Tayside and Fife area, 23 of which were in Dundee.
Prison bosses narrowed their choices down to the two Hilltown sites based upon “high quality” criteria, Scottish Government policy on reusing publicly owned land and figures on where existing female inmates are originally from.
However, when pressed, they were unable to say how re-offending rates at existing facilities similar to the one proposed stacked up, claiming they didn’t have the data on them at the time.
Alastair Kay, of Dundee City Council, said no deal had yet been cut with the SPS with regards to any potential site.
Reaction following the meeting was mixed.
Tom Henney, 70, started a petition among residents in Rosebank Street against the project and came to the meeting with a map that showed a build-up of sheltered and supported housing, as well as food banks and soup kitchens, around the proposed Rosebank site.
He said: “I can appreciate that the councillors couldn’t say anything tonight but I hope that, if the proposal comes to pass, that they will do the right thing.”
Theresa McGrath, 83, said she feared a repeat of a previous rehab centre project in the area, adding: “I think this is the same thing happening all over again.”
The SPS hopes to have a planning application in for a site in either June or July, and will host a number of drop-in community consultations in the weeks ahead.