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First women’s community custody unit set to open

The unit will focus on “custody in the community” where women will be supported to live independently in a form of shared accommodation.

The 16-space Bella Centre unit will open on August 1 in Dundee. The building has no bars on the windows, no barbed wire or high walls. 

It will include ‘shared house-style’ accommodation with communal living spaces. Women staying there will have responsibility for their own personal care, laundry and housekeeping. 

There will also be a Community Hub where women can meet with visitors and access a range of activities and local services. 

The women who stay there will have undergone a “robust” risk and needs assessment, the Scottish Prison Service confirmed. 

SPS said:“Living in the CCUs will enable these women to foster stronger and closer links within the appropriate community support agencies they will be working with prior to release.”

Photo issued by the Scottish Prison Service 

The centre is part of a wider £600 million plan to improve Scotland’s custodial estate. 

The Bella Centre will also have a sister centre in Glasgow and work is still ongoing on a replacement for HMP YOI Cornton Vale (national facility for female offenders). 

Community Safety Minister Ash Regan said: “The Bella Centre marks a step change in the way Scotland supports women in custody, and is the first facility of its kind in the UK.

“It takes a gender-specific and trauma-informed approach to better prepare women for re-integration back into their communities.

“Enhanced access to the community will enable women to retain family ties while allowing supportive partnerships in the locality to flourish. This visionary new centre has been specifically designed to better prepare women for release and to reduce reoffending.

“It relies heavily on collaboration with and between a wide range of partners, enabling a multi-disciplinary approach that will serve the rehabilitative needs of women, supporting them to reintegrate back into their communities.”

Earlier in the year, Northamptonshire saw the opening of the first category C ‘Smart’ prison, built for offenders who have demonstrated good progress with their sentences. 

Smart prisons also do not have bars on the windows and provide offenders with access to services such as gyms, snooker tables and tennis tables. Cells are described as “rooms” and prisoners as “residents”.

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