Dame Elish Angiolini has told MSPs that they should place emphasis on closing Scotland’s only women’s prison.
The former Lord Advocate said Cornton Vale, near Stirling, was “a miserable place” where some prisoners lived in “antediluvian and appalling” conditions.
Ms Angiolini chaired the Commission on Women Offenders, which was set up in 2011 in order to find a better way to treat female prisoners and reduce reoffending rates.
The commission published the findings of its eight-month review in April, setting out proposals including closing Cornton Vale prison.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has announced that the Government will take forward 33 of the commission's 37 recommendations, and consider the remaining four in more detail. Mr McAskill has asked the Scottish Prison Service to find alternatives to replace the jail.
The commission said Cornton Vale should be replaced with a smaller specialist prison for long-term and high-risk prisoners, as well as regional units to hold short-term and remand prisoners.
Last year inspections by Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, Brigadier Hugh Monro, found that the jail was overcrowded and that prisoners there still did not get the best treatment, despite an inspection report highlighting the same failings in 2009.
Appearing before Holyrood's Justice Committee on Tuesday, Ms Angiolini said staff did not want to work at the facility because it is so difficult.
She said: "Some of the accommodation, the back cells, which has now been addressed, was quite simply antediluvian and was just appalling, but there are some cells similar to that which are still in operation.
"I think that people talk about prison as if somehow it is relatively easy, in the sense that it removes people from the problems they have to deal with in the community, and therefore it is a relief, but it is a miserable, miserable place, despite the best efforts of the prison staff.
"Prison has never really been measured in terms of its effectiveness. What we do know is that prison is extremely expensive, that it is almost like a revolving door for many women offenders."
The commission has recommended introducing unpaid work orders as an alternative to prosecution as well as giving new powers to the Procurators Fiscal to impose a composite diversion order, which would involve both unpaid and rehabilitative elements.
Ms Angiolini added: "We're not suggesting they build all sorts of new fancy buildings. There seem to be a lot of empty primary schools around the country, so anything that can be used which is in a relatively good condition, or existing social work premises."
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