Scotland's female prisoners are to be relocated to Polmont pending the redevelopment of the national prison for women offenders at Cornton Vale.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has confirmed that more than half of the women currently housed at Cornton Vale will be moved to the prison at Polmont over the summer to allow preparatory work to begin. Some women will remain at Cornton Vale in accommodation which is suitable for their specific needs. Construction work on the new 80-bed prison is expected to begin in mid-2018. It will be supplemented by five smaller community-based custodial units each accommodating up to 20 women across the country.

Space has become available at Polmont, formerly the young offenders institution, thanks to the falling rate of youth offending in Scotland. The number of under-18s in custody has reduced by 70% over the last 10 years.

Mr Matheson said the move to Polmont’s newest accommodation, Blair House, would offer improved facilities for women in custody, allow parts of Cornton Vale to be decomissioned and "progress with our vision for a smaller, high-quality national prison and five community custody units across the country".

He added: “By housing these women in smaller, community bases units closer to their families, alongside providing additional support to address the underlying issues which fuel their crime such as drugs, alcohol or mental ill-health, we can stop them from committing further crimes in the future."

Colin McConnell, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service said that Cornton Vale had been a serious concern for the service and for the justice system for far too long. He commented: “The move for a large number of women to the fresh and modern conditions at Polmont will in itself be a significant improvement, making things better for them but also better for those who will remain at Cornton Vale for now. That the move is taking place is rewarding in itself, but it is of course part of the overall plan to provide accommodation for women in custody that is purposefully designed and specifically located to meet their needs and to ensure overall that the system as a whole works much more effectively and efficiently."