Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill - Women's Penal Policy

Last week, we invited nine experts working with women offenders to review what progress there had been in the two years since the publication of the report of the Commission on Women Offenders. This included reviews from organisations such as SACRO, the Violence Reduction Unit, Families Outside, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Circle Scotland, the 218 Service, two Community Justice Authority Chief Officers and the Convener of the Scottish Working Group on Women Offenders. Below Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill outlines his own view on progress to date:

The Scottish Government asked the Rt. Hon. Dame Elish Angiolini DBE, QC to chair the independent Commission on Women Offenders because the issue of how women are dealt with in the criminal justice system, and the reasons why the female prison population has been rising over the last decade, are amongst some of the most pressing social issues of recent times.

In the two years that have followed the publication of the Commission’s report, we have worked in partnership with a wide range of partners and stakeholders to make substantial progress on implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. This work is beginning to yield results and we are already seeing significant changes to the landscape of services for women offenders across Scotland.

The Commission recognised that prison was a necessary part of the criminal justice system’s response to serious and prolific female offenders – but it placed a strong emphasis on the importance of prison providing a range of gender-sensitive offending behaviour programmes and interventions aimed at addressing the particular needs of women. The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has met the Commission’s challenge head on and a new national prison for women, with local provision for women offenders from the west of Scotland, will open in Inverclyde in 2017. The design layout and culture within the new Establishment reflects a fresh approach to rehabilitation and wellbeing, and it will mirror all of the Commission’s aspirations for what a prison for women should be.

In the meantime, and until these new facilities are ready, significant investment by the SPS in HMP and YOI Cornton Vale, has radically improved the environment and conditions there. Staff working with women continue to receive specific training in supporting women with mental ill health and more generally in how to meet the particular needs of women in custody.

Additionally, a new regional unit for women within HMP and YOI Grampian has already opened and now women from the north and north east of Scotland who are remanded or serving a sentence, can be held closer to their families and communities.

The Scottish Government has also been working with the 8 Community Justice Authorities across Scotland to develop support for women offenders in line with the Commission’s aspirations. We have provided £3m in 2014 and 2015 to deliver community justice centres and services. These new services will support women to reduce their reoffending, by helping them to make the changes they need to make in their lives to move away from crime and become active and participating citizens.

We have also invested a further £10m through the Reducing Reoffending Change Fund to establish a number of national and local mentoring services for women and young male prolific offenders. Mentoring is a common-sense measure to provide practical support, where and when it is needed by an offender. The “Shine” mentoring service for women, which is delivered by a partnership of Third and public sector partners, will provide help to women offenders across Scotland.

In response to the report of the Commission on Women Offenders, we agreed to trialling a problem solving summary criminal court in Scotland. This trial will provide an opportunity to establish the proactive role of the judiciary, join up services and demonstrate to communities that community justice options can be responsive to local communities whilst also being effective in reducing reoffending. We are working with local partners to develop at least one problem solving court in Scotland.

Problem solving courts harness the authority of the judge both to join up the services that are required to address someone’s offending behaviour, and to engage directly in a relationship with an offender in a way that motivates and encourages them to stop offending. Problem solving courts also tend to engage more energetically and directly with their communities, so that public opinion is both reflected in, and led by, the process of developing the court. These types of courts now have an established track record internationally. Having originated in the US in the 1990s, there are now thousands of problem solving courts across the world, and their numbers continue to grow. There is now a substantial evidence base supporting this approach.

The Commission had strong views about the need for strategic leadership and co-ordination for community justice services across Scotland, and we have included their views in ongoing consultation on the future of justice in Scotland. Last week the Scottish Government launched its consultation “Future Model for Community Justice in Scotland”. The new model will see strategic planning and delivery of community justice services passing to Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs), complemented by the creation of a national body called Community Justice Improvement Scotland (CJIS).

This model delivers a community solution to the reoffending problem, with CPPs becoming the vehicle for much needed partnership and collaboration. CJIS will drive the performance culture which will define the new arrangements, providing new opportunities for strategic commissioning of services based on an analysis of needs.

Since the Commission published its report, I have delivered two very positive progress reports to the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament and the Committee has been encouraged by the progress so far.

I am encouraged to see the substantial progress that has been made over the past two years. It is clear however, that there is much still to be done. The Scottish Government will continue to work hard, and with others across the whole of the public sector, so that together, we can meet the shared challenge the Commission for Women Offenders has set us all.

218 Service - Case Studies

  • Case Study 1

The 218 is a safe and caring environment and focused on recovery:

Anna* has a long history of alcohol misuse and offending. Now at 36 she has been given a residential place in the 218 Centre. Here she has engaged with the group therapy which focuses on offending behaviour, addiction and emotions. She has also been able to work with a mental health nurse and has her own assigned key worker for more individual support.

At the beginning this was difficult as it was painful to really take a look at her problems, speaking about any past traumas and exploring why she kept reoffending. However, Anna has found the 218 a safe environment and her relationship with the staff has been fundamental in her transformation, saying that ‘It’s a safe environment because you’ve got caring staff here. You’ve got people who support you here and that makes you open up to them because you know they care’.

The 218 organised for Anna to attend a five day Venture Trust activity break where she was involved in an array of outdoor activities. Anna had never done anything like this before and found it to be one of the best experiences she ever had. Even though she was afraid of heights she even went abseiling.

Anna described herself as broken and suicidal when she first arrived at the 218, but she the last the 3 months in the 218 have been restorative and Anna feels that it has given her back her life. As a result of her transformation she has also begun to rebuild relationships with her family, with whom she had lost contact. Her family have been able to see the positive changes while in the 218 Centre.

  • Case Study 2

The 218 tackles the complex needs exhibited by women offenders:

Beth first came into contact with the criminal justice system at 14. She has been in and out of prison and has also been homeless. At 36, Beth has been a resident in the 218 Project now for over four months.

She has found the 218 to be different from prison because in the 218 the focus has been on the recovery - recovery from addiction, from childhood trauma and overcoming depression. These, as is the case for so many women in the criminal justice system, are some of the underlying causes of her offending behaviour. In focusing on these the 218 aims to help Beth break her pattern of offending.  In prison she was a number, but in the 218 she feels like she is treated as a person. By the time she had arrived at the 218 Project Beth felt she had lost everything to addiction – she had no home, no contact with her family and no self-confidence.

After she arrived Beth began the group therapies, which evolve and progress over time. The first was Orientation, then Making Changes, Managing Your Offending, Managing Your Emotions and Substance Misuse, each of which can last for several weeks and it is possible to repeat any module if she felt it necessary.  Along with the group work the 218 provided her with long needed medical attention, such as dentist visits. They also helped her with her housing situation so now, when she leaves, she has a place in supported accommodation organised for the following 6 months.

Achieving graded exposure has been Beth’s peak moment in the 218. Graded exposure is when you are allowed go out on your own for the first time, first for a coffee, but the unsupervised time and activities gradually expand each subsequent week. Since then she has been allowed to attend the YWCA as well as meet her care manager alone. The feeling of being trusted by the staff gave her confidence, but she has renewed self-belief and hope through the graded exposure as Beth now knows she can be out and not use substances or offend in anyway.

  • Case Study 3

218 has been a life saver:

Carol was referred to the 218 Project while on remand for a shoplifting charge in Cornton Vale. For Carol, arriving at the 218 was a release as she knew it was ‘an opportunity’ and she was eager to engage in the group work right away. The group work has helped Carol and she finds she has begun to put a lot of things in place, helping her clarify and understand some of the root causes of her offending and substance misuse, what Carol describes as the self-destruction that has been ongoing in her life.

The days at the 218 are busy and structured. There are a number of group therapies that the residents must attend during the day, but there are also a plethora of activities, such as theatre visits, walks, jewellery making, exercise,  go-karting and bingo, to name a few. However, Carol was reluctant to be involved in any of the group activities apart from those therapeutic ones. She was nervous of the larger groups and tended to isolate herself in her room at first. Noticing this, her key worker focused on this issue, addressing Carole’s anxieties and building up her self-esteem. Thanks to this encouragement and support Carol now joins in all of the activities available.

In her time as a resident at the 218 Carol has found the changes remarkable, she has become more confident and positive about her future. Carol described the 218 as a ‘life saver’.

*All names have been changed

Find about more about the 218 Service here

218 Project - Women's Penal Policy

Women offenders: ‘From where I stand…’

This blog is part of a series considering developments two years on from the publication of the report by the Commission on Women Offenders. Kirsten Jones, Service Co-ordinator, 218 Service, offers her perspective:

Over 10 years ago the 218 Service opened its doors with gusto with its mains aims: to reduce women’s offending and address the root causes of their offending.

We were cited as an innovative, “alternative to the mainstream” service with the luxury of having our own integrated health team based within the service, enabling us to meet these aims.

At this point there were few other specialist “women’s” services, let alone ones working with women offenders. Over the years we have continued to carry out our work with the same amount of passion and enthusiasm as we did 10 years ago. As we have continued to do this, the world outwith the 218 Service has started to evolve in relation to addressing the needs and raising the profile of women offenders in Glasgow and Scotland wide.

The Angiolini report was published and this gave credence to what we already knew: that there needed to be focussed time, energy and money put into services for women in the criminal justice system and that these women have complex needs and specialist services need to be designed with this in mind.

As a result of the Commission’s report it is refreshing to see the developments within our immediate city, Glasgow. How the profile of women offenders and specialist services working with them has been raised and it is a great privilege to know that our service has contributed to the best practice “blueprint” for some of the recommendations made in the Angiolini report that are to be rolled out across Scotland.

This is not to say that there is more work to be done. We are still working with the increasing difficulty in securing appropriate, safe accommodation along with the lack of availability of wider specialist services for women with borderline personality and post-traumatic stress disorders.

For the 218 Service, looking to the next 10 years, we hope that there will be continued commitment, investment and co-ordination in both current and new initiatives for women in the criminal justice. And we hope that the profile of women offenders is kept in the spotlight.


Anne Pinkman, SWGWO - Women's Penal Policy

Women offenders: ‘From where I stand…’

This blog is part of a series considering developments two years on from the publication of the report by the Commission on Women Offenders. Anne Pinkman, Convener of the Scottish Working Group on Women’s Offending, offers her perspective:

The Scottish Working Group on Women Offenders (SWGWO) was established in 2010 to raise awareness of the needs of women offenders. We very much welcomed the establishment of the Commission on Women Offenders (CWO) and were pleased to involve all three Members of the Commission in a round table event on women’s offending in Scotland, that we co-hosted with SCCCJ (Scottish Centre for Crime and Criminal Justice) in October 2011 when the Commission was first established.

SWGWO also welcomed the Scottish Government’s response to the recommendations of the Commission, in particular, the commitment of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to provide an annual report on progress to the Scottish Parliament. The two reports submitted to date provide details on the developments of services for women offenders. This includes the investment in a national mentoring service for women offenders alongside an investment over £3m to establish Women’s Centres, One-Stop-Shops and other initiatives to meet the needs of women offenders. The challenge, of course, will be to secure funds to sustain these initiatives should they prove to be effective.

To date, prison numbers for women remain high. On 28 March 2014, there were 395 women and young females in prison, 90 of them on remand. The investments, to date, have yet to impact significantly on these prison numbers. Still 70% of women remanded into custody do not go on to receive a custodial sentence.

SWGWO have mixed feelings about the investment by Scottish Prison Service in providing new prison facilities for women offenders. There is no doubt that the existing prison facilities do require to be improved but we are concerned new facilities may inadvertently bring about an increase in the numbers of women sent to prison.

On a final, and personal note, I have the privilege of visiting HMP and YOI Cornton Vale on a regular basis. At each visit, I always meet a prisoner who saddens me greatly. On my most recent visit, last week, I met a young woman with learning difficulties looking forward to celebrating her 30th birthday in prison. It was obvious prison was not the correct environment for this woman. Has the Commission made an impact? I think so but, looking at the population in HMP and YOI Cornton Vale, there is still a long way to go.


Karyn McCluskey,Violence Reduction - Women's Penal Policy

Women offenders: ‘From where I stand…’

This blog is part of a series considering developments two years on from the publication of the report by the Commission on Women Offenders. Karyn McCluskey, Director of the Violence Reduction Unit, offers her perspective:

When Dame Elish Angiolini asked us to give evidence to the Commission, we were keen to do so for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we recognised that whilst violence is, and remains, a predominantly male issue, women were frequently the victims, and the women within Cornton Vale had been often the most victimised of all. Our work on the determinants of violence highlighted the effects of deprivation, domestic violence, sexual and emotional abuse and substance abuse to name but a few, in future offending and indeed victimisation. These determinants are present in huge numbers in the female offending population, and many of the women are serious offenders.

Secondly, I had been a staff nurse in Cornton Vale and my experience had been more akin to working in a psychiatric hospital, such was the level of acute and chronic mental health problems experienced by so many of the women. These were some of the most complex individuals within the criminal justice system such was the level of damage and neglect suffered by them.

Since the Angiolini report was published we have seen some significant change, women are now housed in improved conditions within HMP Edinburgh and Greenock and additional money has been given by the Scottish Government to address female offending. Furthermore, we see real change in the attitudes and desire within the Scottish Prison Service in the ‘Unlocking Potential - Transforming Lives’ strategy. The increase in mentoring for women through wonderful organisations such as Circle and others is laudable.

However, the Commission recommended some wide ranging changes and we know that services around post traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders and supported accommodation are often not available in the numbers required. Many of the strategic changes required in sentencing and the prison estate may not be seen for some time, and therefore we must maintain the vision of the report in the coming years.

Nevertheless, we believe that there are reasons to be optimistic that things are improving. The NHS is now delivering prison healthcare and already the conversation about delivery of service is changing. The Scottish Government has just consulted on widening use of electronic monitoring and indeed alcohol monitoring, which provides greater opportunity to address offending and behaviour change in the community, one of the recommendations of the Commission.

In the longer term, the work being undertaken by the Early Years Collaborative to address the determinants of violence should prevent fewer young women from entering the system. Yet the increases of women coming into the criminal justice system at present suggest that we are still failing many who could have been diverted earlier, who have been in care, who have been victimised and who have been victimised others, who are mothers and whose children are equally and often more impacted by parental imprisonment.

We are frequently struck by how often prison officers will mention that women offenders still run their home from prison, using her phone time to run the house, and organise the children’s school. We must jail those who we are afraid of, and from whom the public must be protected. Yet internationally, and in Scotland, we know of good practice where women are diverted from the prison system and consequently have better outcomes, as do their children. That must be the goal we aspire to.








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