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4th November 2014 - The State Hospital,  Carstairs   

Kelly Watson and Sandra Dunlop

The casual visitor to Carnwath or Carstairs may be surprised, at certain times of the year, to hear the wail of sirens.  There is no call for alarm; the security system at “the Penny” or State Hospital, is being routinely tested.

During the course of an hour long presentation, members of Biggar Probus Club together with guests from Carluke were enthralled to learn of the history of the maximum security facility that has been part of the local scene since before World War II.

The history was presented in the form of a multi-choice questionnaire, the answers being illustrated with slides.  Certainly the group of which I was a member did not score well, and this could well be attributed to the low key approach that the authorities have always adopted.

Prior to its building, people with mental of learning difficulties who committed crimes were confined to local asylums. The State Hospital grounds cover an area of about seventy acres The hospital was completed in 1939, and opened in 1948, primarily as a secure place of containment.  The original building was known as the West Wing, the East Wing being added in 1957.  At this time the facility catered for about 500 inmates. 

 As the focus of treatment of inmates is rehabilitation into the wider community, the hospital has been successful in reducing the population from about 500 to the present 130, and the average stay from over 20 years to about 7 years.  These excellent results come at a cost - £37 million a year, most of which is salaries paid to the 700 staff.  The average age of the inmates, all male,  is 41.

At the present time, a new facility is under construction and slides of typical resident’s rooms were shown – adequate “Travelodge” standards rather than the 5 star facilities some critics aver. There were as well slides of the recreational and workshop facilities.  The security arrangements were mentioned – apart from the perimeter fences, these measures are unobtrusive but thorough.

Very many thanks to staff members Kelly Watson and Sandra Dunlop for this interesting and thought provoking insight into this world class medical facility.

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