What's right for women offenders?

This time two years ago there was great optimism upon the publication of The Commission on Women's Offending. The Report highlighted that those women who end up in prison are amongst the most vulnerable members of our society. Their pasts are often marred with abuse and trauma, their presents are characterised by addiction, poverty and isolation. Further, patterns of female criminality are generally defined by low level offences and by in large they present little risk to the public. The demanding task faced by Government in wake of the report was how to transform women's penal policy to reflect these issues, how to make it effective and fair.

Two years on from the publication of the Report it is clear that some progress has been made in improving the lot of women offenders. However, there is widespread concern about the numbers of women still passing through our criminal justice system. Whilst there has been a drop in numbers, the number of women in prison continues to hover around the 400 mark. And again, whilst the proposed closure of Cornton Vale was universally welcomed, there is dismay at the plans to build a 350-bed prison in Inverclyde. It is clear that this is far from being the “smaller, specialist prison” recommended by the report.

This week, to mark this anniversary, Howard League Scotland have invited those who work with female offenders and their families to reflect on the current state of affairs. In addition to those practitioners, three women whom are resident in the 218 Project kindly gave us their time, sharing with us their stories and their positive experiences while in the 218, displaying that change can be possible when it operates on the principles of welfare and treatment, rather than incarceration. While we welcome progress, we must remain vigilant in highlighting the on-going difficulties experienced by those women in the Scottish criminal justice system.

Read coverage of these issues in today's Sunday Herald:
Women's prison population rises by 120%:
Locking up women not the answer:

CPT Recommendations Scotland - March 2014

Progress must be made if Scottish prisons are to satisfy the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and the European Convention on Human Rights. While progress has been made in the smooth transfer of prison health services to the NHS, the CPT have been critical of prison safety and expressed concerned over lack of meaningful and rehabilitative activity in a number of Scottish prisons. The most significant problems they highlighted were:

  • There were a number of allegations of excessive force by prison officers in Barlinnie and verbal abuse in Cornton Vale;
  • A number of prisoners in Kilmarnock felt unsafe and then prison was generally tense;
  • Upon admission to Barlinnie people were held in cupboard-like cublicles (1m squared, coloquially known as 'dog boxes');
  • Barlinnie prison is operating at 120% capacity;
  • Prisoners in Barlinnie are spending up to 22 hours a day in their cells;
  • Women held in HMP Edinburgh were also spending a similarly considerable percentage of their day confined to their cells. 

Their specific recommendations to the SPS were:

  • CPT advocates greater employment of alternatives to custody as the key means to reduce prison overcrowding; 
  • Recommends that serious mental health prisoners not be held in segregation units and be transferred more rapidly to appropriate in-patient facilities;
  • Clinical psychologists be employed to deal specifically with women prisoners who exhibit severe disorders;
  • Increased safeguards around discipline and segregation are necessary;
  • There must be increased support for foreign national prisoners.

Read the CPT Report here 

Read a summary of their report here: CPT report on the United Kingdom

Read a straightforward summary of Article 3 on the Prevention of Torture

Scotland's Prison Population 1998-2013

It is hard to recall a time when Scotland's prison population wasn't rising, and since 1998 the population has increased by 33%. Our per capita imprisonment rates far outstrips other small countries with similar populations in Europe. These figures highlight the inescapable reality that is Scottish prison excess and prison expansion.

Follow the link to check-out our prison population inforgraphic:

Scottish Sentences

Some interesting top line stats in most recent Safer Communities and Justice Brief: Avg sentence in 2012/13 was just over 9mnths, which is almost 2mnths longer than in 2006/07. Use of social work orders has increased slightly, but that is following 2 years of decreased use

See more here:

HLS Event in the News

Lorna Holmes of Includem delivered a thoughtful and detailed presentation on Inclusion Plus for HLS recently. This potentially life changing initiative in Dundee involves specialist services which are working alongside schools to help disadvantaged and disaffected young people reduce exclusion, raise aspirations, improve family relationships and ultimately improve life chances by working towards a better future. The talk was covered in The Herald the following day and has also received further press coverage in Hollyrood magazine.

Read more here:
Inclusion scheme aiming to keep youngsters in school:
Going Back to School: