Prevention, early intervention and community service should
replace imprisonment for most women offenders, according to a
Scottish executive report.
‘A Better Way’, the report of the ministerial group on women’s
offending, was chaired by the deputy justice minister, Richard
Simpson. Among its findings it concluded that most women were short
term prisoners (84 per cent in 2000 served less than 3 months),
almost half were untried and held on remand, and for the past
decade more than 50 per cent of women prisoners have been in
custody due to non-payment of fines.
The female prison population in Scotland has increased steadily
Simpson said the executive was determined to reduce the female
population and added: “It is vital we address the individual needs
of women offenders in the criminal justice system, and understand
the problems which often lead women to offend. We need to take
practical measures to tackle the root causes of crime, and break
the cycle which leads women into criminal behaviour.”
Among many recommendations for a new strategy are increased
community disposal options, early intervention with younger women,
tackling drugs and alcohol problems outside the penal system and
greater use of diversion from prosecution schemes.
The report concludes that an earlier Scottish executive target
of halving the number of women held in Cornton Vale, the
country’s only prison for women, is unrealistic, but does
propose a series of annual targets for preventing further increases
in the female prison population in Scotland.
To reduce the number of women in prison for minor offences for
short periods of time by up to 300 admissions a year; 250 less
women to be held on remand; 300 fewer women jailed for fine
default; the number of young women offenders jailed to be reduced
by 75 per year; and community based projects to design specific
alternative action for those aged 16 and 17 years of age.
Simpson said: “The female prison population in Scotland is
slowly rising and the social implications, especially for children,
of this must be urgently addressed when so many of those imprisoned
are mothers or carers.”