community penalties

Women's Penal Policy Campaign Still Needs Champions

A recent article from Professor Mike Nellis addresses the ongoing struggles to achieve female penal policy reform since plans for HMP Inverclyde prison were halted in January. For HLS, this  announcement came after a long campaign against the prison, however, it does not mark the end of the process but rather signals a new beginning for women’s penal policy in Scotland. However, can anything truly radical be achieved when traditional balances of power remain, namely ‘the continuing Scottish Prison Service (SPS) domination of the debate on the future of women offenders’ as well as ‘the power of the sheriffs/judiciary to exempt themselves from democratic debate on policy as and when they choose’

As Prof Nellis writes, on this issue the government need to hear from outside voices, those same voices that rallied against the prison in the first place. Howard League Scotland continue to be a leading voice in this agenda, and by becoming a  member of HLS that you add your voice and the weight of public support to this cause. If we are to make reform a reality then now, more than ever, we must add our voices to the campaign for Scotland’s community based penal system for women.

Read more:

Mike Nellis, After HMP Inverclyde: where power lies in Scotland’s penal reform debateScottish Justice Matters.

Blueprint for Reform

If we are to reduce the numbers of women being sent to prison in Scotland, there is no better place to start than the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Women Offenders (CWO). In particular, we would like to see immediate action taken in the following areas.

1.A new approach to the imprisonment of women
In line with the CWO report’s recommendation, we must aspire to reserving prison for the small number of women in Scotland who need to be imprisoned for reasons of public protection. As we understand it, approximately 18% of women in prison today are subject to high levels of supervision. Based on a female prison population of 400, this would equate to around 70 women. This figure should be at the forefront of our thinking regarding the development of the female prison estate. The decision to cancel the new prison for women would be entirely negated if the Scottish Government were to make provision for the same number of custodial places for women, albeit in a different configuration. The aspiration must be to divert low-level female offenders away from the criminal justice system wherever possible, and channel those convicted of low-level offences towards non-custodial community-based services.

The size of any future custodial or community-based units for female offenders should not be determined by the number of women required for the operation of a meaningful set of programmes or interventions. The size of units should instead be determined by what is required to meet the needs of those women.

Clearly, there is some way to travel before we arrive at that point, so we must redouble efforts to stem the inflow of women into the criminal justice system and into prison.

2. Reducing the use of remand
Everyday in Scotland there are a quarter of women in prison on remand. We know what a catastrophic impact even a short spell on remand can have on a woman’s life. The economic and social costs of using prison in this way are vast. Even a few weeks on remand can see a woman lose her home, her possessions, her job and even custody of her children. It can sometimes take years for women to regain custody, with the concomitant costs to the public purse that this brings. Critically, however, the majority of women who serve a period on remand are not given a custodial sentence, making the use of remand even more unjust and unjustifiable.

Ensuring that bail supervision schemes are made available consistently across Scotland was a recommendation in the CWO report. We were greatly troubled to learn that only four women (and four men) across the whole of Glasgow were placed on supervised bail in 2014. Previous use of supervised bail suggests that changed judicial behaviour and encouraging results are possible.

Further, recent reforms to the Bail Act in England and Wales have seen to it that accused persons cannot be remanded into custody where there is no real prospect of a prison sentence on conviction. There is already evidence to suggest that this is beginning to have an impact on the numbers of prisoners on remand and this might be an initiative worthy of consideration here in Scotland.

3.Reducing the use of short term sentences
Given that three quarters of women in prison receive custodial sentences of less than six months, there must be a renewed effort to divert these women from prison. We understand that an evaluation of the impact of the presumption against sentences of less than three months is due to be published later this year and HLS hopes this evaluation will inform any future proposals to increase the scope of the presumption.

4. Sustainable resourcing of community-based services
HLS was pleased that Cabinet Secretary Matheson has allocated a further £1.5m to projects tackling female offending, although we understand that this is not continuation funding for existing projects. We are of the view that there must be long term, sustainable funding of community-based services by the Scottish Government. Drip-feeding community-based services for offenders on a one or two-yearly cycle is wholly inadequate if we are to see an increase in the use of these services.

The uncertainty generated by short term funding cycles has many serious consequences. The timescales within which they have to demonstrate positive outcomes are often unrealistic. On the other hand, we know that prison – particularly short-term sentences - does not work to reduce reoffending, yet we continue to fund the prison estate to the detriment of community justice. The uncertainty impacts on staff turnover and morale, which in turn impacts on the service users themselves. Crucially, sentencers too must be able to have confidence in these services and a sense that they have a lifespan of more than a few years.

We are aware that a number of projects focused on tackling the needs of female offenders funded by the Scottish Government were asked to demonstrate that they could sustain themselves after that funding had come to an end. However, local authority finances are also under immense pressure, so it is increasingly challenging for these services to find alternate means of sustaining themselves.

Conversely, the Scottish Prison Service can rely on the knowledge that it will be funded year-on-year with all the benefits that that certainty brings in terms of being able to plan ahead, invest in and develop staff, offer services etc. No such luxury exists for most of those offering services for female offenders in the community.

Of course, it is not just funding for community justice centres that matters, but also projects that seek to divert women away from the criminal justice system and other pots of money that fall outwith the justice portfolio, e.g. housing, health, education. Tackling the problem of homelessness amongst this vulnerable group of women is vital. For instance, only 18 of the 153 women who have used the services offered by Tomorrow’s Women have their own tenancies.

5. Tackling breach of orders
We know from the Scottish Government’s own analysis that female offenders are more likely than their male counterparts to breach orders due to their more chaotic lifestyles, and that this often results in a custodial sentence. We must not set these women up to fail, particularly when the ultimate, and frequent, sanction for a breach is imprisonment. At a round table discussion in 2012 between SWGWO and the SCCCJ, it was noted that

“…if judges built relapse strategies into CPOs, this would help avoid the simple progression of relapse from a CPO straight into a custodial sentence. A threshold of gravity in relation to the offence should be made known to the sentencer to assist with decisions – statistics broken down by summary/solemn offences leading to custodial sentences, for example. Thus, if a woman was known to be well above the threshold of gravity it would be easier to avoid a custodial sentence at the lower threshold. If more information about alternatives to custody is made known, then there may be other non-custodial sentences which could be used. The more that this type of information is made available to judges, the better the opportunity will be to impact on the numbers of women prisoners without compromising judicial independence. This should be a judicial training issue.”

Experience of DTTOs is helpful in demonstrating the sort of judicial approach which would be more effective. Sentencers did not expect miracles, rather they recognised effort and progress. It marked a new way of working for most of them but it allowed such sentences to succeed in the longer-term, despite short-term offending, relapses and setbacks.

6. Electronic monitoring (EM)
In Denmark, 60% of all custodial sentences of under six months are converted into sentences of EM and intensive supervision. Denmark is a country with a similar sized population to Scotland but its prison population is only 4,000. In Belgium, any prison sentence imposed of less than three years is automatically commuted to electronic tagging. Perhaps there is scope to consider greater use of EM in Scotland, albeit with proper community-based support.

7. Appointment of an Independent Monitor
The CWO report noted the lack of strategic leadership on this issue and suggested that an independent non-executive member of the SPS Board be given a specific remit for women offenders “championing and driving through change”. With the benefit of hindsight, and given the way in which this agenda has developed since the publication of the report, we believe that it would be better for the Scottish Government to appoint an individual to oversee the implementation of all the report’s recommendations, not only those that relate to the prison estate. Such an individual should be truly independent, without any ‘baggage’ or affiliations.

8. Shifting the balance from custody to community
Much of the activity outlined above will require significant investment. We know that when there is a high quality, viable community-based service for women (and men), sentencers will use it. We cannot simply blame sentencers for falling back on imprisonment when the alternatives are more precariously funded and they cannot be certain of the service’s longevity.

The CWO did indeed talk about a change in the use of existing resources – a point made by Cabinet Secretary Matheson in response to a question in Parliament from Alison McInnes MSP the day after the announcement regarding HMP Inverclyde. The question therefore is what we regard as ‘existing resources’. This leads us back to the central argument we continually make not only about the response to female offending, but to offending behaviour in general. Until there is a substantial rebalancing of resources away from custody to community-based responses to offenders and those at risk of becoming caught up in the criminal justice system, it is hard to see how we will make significant inroads into the size of the prison population.

Lord Carloway Drummond Hunter Lecture - full paper

The annual Drummond Hunter Lecture was a great success this year, with over 200 people in attendance to hear Lord Carloway discuss The Purpose of Sentencing – From Beccaria to the OLR and Beyond’.

You can find a full copy of his talk here: Howard League Scotland Drummond Hunter Lecture 2014

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.

http://www.turningpointscotland.com/what-we-do/criminal-justice/218-service/

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