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

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.

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