Scottish Government urged to 'turn off tap' on female imprisonment
Ministers have been urged to “turn off the tap” on women’s imprisonment ahead of an announcement today on the Scottish Government's approach to female offending.
The Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice (SCCCJ) and the Scottish Working Group on Women's Offending (SWGWO) have called for steps to be taken to “immediately reduce” the capacity of the women’s prison estate.
Three units of 50 beds each – located in the north, east and west of Scotland – should replace HMP Cornton Vale, which has a capacity of just over 300, the groups have said.
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Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson is set to outline government plans today following his decision earlier this year to shelve plans for a new facility at Inverclyde (above).
In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary, SCCCJ and SWGWO warned that current proposals focusing on the female custodial estate are “not bold enough” and risk overlooking a need for work around prevention and diversion.
Among a number of recommendations to be made are that ministers scrap prison sentences of six months or less at the very least – the presumption currently stands at three months.
Legislation should also be enacted to ensure that if there is no likelihood of a custodial sentence being handed down, the court cannot remand the accused to custody, Matheson has been told.
A major investment should be made in training in trauma-related practice, while tenancies should be protected for those women who are remanded in custody, it is recommended.
And services, such as community justice centres, should also be funded to provide a 24 hour on-call service to Police Scotland, so that police have alternative solutions for women at risk of arrest or detention
The recommendations follow on from a summit held by SCCCJ and SWGWO in April that brought together a range of experts on women's justice and on related health, housing, justice and family issues.
SWGWO chair Anne Pinkman, who is also chief officer for the Fife and Forth Valley Community Justice Authority, said: “We believe we are offering the minister the most practical way to bring Scotland's treatment of women into line with ethical and accepted standards.
“At the moment our overuse of custody and our treatment of damaged and vulnerable women is shameful. The impact on them, their children and families is way out of proportion to the offences. Our plan can work, and not only work, but actually save money that we can ill afford."
In a statement sent to Holyrood on Friday evening, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Justice Secretary announced in January his decision not to proceed with HMP Inverclyde as a large national prison for women as it did not fit with his vision of how a modern and progressive country should be addressing female offending.
“Since then an intensive period of consultation has been underway with our own experts in Scotland as well as international experts from across the world to identify the right approach for Scotland and our communities.
“The Justice Secretary has made it clear that it is time for Scotland to take a new approach to dealing with female offenders and he will make an announcement on the way forward next week.”