Suicide prison sets woman free in error

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A female prisoner has been freed by mistake from Scotland's only women's jail, it was revealed yesterday.

Helen McIntosh, 27, was released from Cornton Vale in Stirling, where five women have killed themselves in a 15-month period, just hours before the release of a report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, Clive Fairweather, said staff there had been "overwhelmed" by an influx of inmates arriving there with drugs problems.

The Scottish Prison Service said that McIntosh, of Glasgow, serving six months for theft, was due for release on 14 January, "but an administrative error meant she was released from prison on Tuesday evening". The service said prison managers were conducting an inquiry. The woman is not thought to be a public danger.

Mr Fairweather's report said staff at Cornton Vale had struggled to cope with an influx of prisoners with drug problems, and in a 15-month period five women there took their lives. Three-quarters of the 50-plus women in the remand wing were on some form of medical or suicide observation. Since March this year, this proportion never dropped below 61 per cent - and it had risen to 93 per cent.

Mr Fairweather said: "The conditions in this [remand] wing were not unlike a mixture between a casualty clearing station and a psychiatric ward."

He made 25 recommendations, and more general suggestions for reducing the numbers of women arriving in jail with drug problems. In the short term more use of community service orders, in the medium term more use of drug-addiction clinics as an alternative to prison and in the long term, use of bail hostels for low-risk remands.