Scotland's only all-women jail should be demolished as part of efforts to reduce reoffending and improve conditions, former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini QC argued on Tuesday.
She said Cornton Vale prison, near Stirling, should be replaced with a smaller specialist prison for long-term and high-risk prisoners plus regional units to hold short-term and remand prisoners.
Dame Elish made the comments as she published the findings of the independent Commission on Women Offenders - an eight-month review on women in Scotland's criminal justice system.
A report by Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland Hugh Monro last year uncovered overcrowding conditions and poor treatment of inmates, many of whom have mental health or substance abuse problems
Cornton Vale's population has surged from around 200 in 1999 to more than 309, with another 132 female prisoners held in units at Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Greenock prisons.
Research published last year found the number of crimes committed by women had not changed over the same period.
Today's report made 37 recommendations, including handing judges the power to impose combined custodial and community sentences and suspended sentences.
Dame Elish said: "We no longer can ignore the significant cost to society of locking up women, the majority of whom have committed offences while suffering from addiction, trauma or mental health problems.
"We need to get better at tackling the root cause of their problems in the community," she said.
She stressed that the report focused on practical measures that could be achieved during this Parliament to reduce reoffending.
Welcoming the report, Mr Monro said: "At last I feel hopeful that conditions for female prisoners can be improved and I urge speedy and determined implementation of the recommendations."
Prisoner Officers Association assistant general secretary in Scotland Andy Hogg said the report had recognised the challenges staff face in dealing with overcrowding conditions.
"Prisons are chock-a-block with people who do not need to be there, which prevents staff from carrying out vital rehabilitation work," Mr Hogg said.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill admitted that the Scottish government must find "better and more cost-effective" ways of dealing with female offenders, most of whom are locked up for low-level crimes.
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