women imprisonment

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.

http://www.scccj.org.uk/index.php/scottish-crime-and-justice-faqs/womens-offending-in-scotland/scottish-working-group-on-womens-offending/

Tam Bailie, Commissioner for Children and Young People

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. Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, offers his perspective:

I am always amazed when we have a body of opinion and knowledge about an aspect of policy that just isn’t borne out in the practice. Take young offenders. There is widespread agreement that to lock up increasing numbers of young offenders is counterproductive, as it costs our society more in the long run – yet, for years we continued to do it. When these young offenders who are locked up are 16 and 17 years old, it breaches our international obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

So, when you realise that currently, we have reducing numbers of 16/17 year olds in custody, we should be inspired that maybe something of note is happening. This is just where we are at in Scotland with regard to our treatment of young offenders – and it feels like something special is happening with regard to young female offenders aged 16/17 years. In recent years there has been a diminishing handful of 16/17 year old females in prison in Scotland. At the end of 2013, it was down to one. Of course, this is one too many and in my view we should have the ambition to make it zero - and I would encourage the architects of our prison re-provisioning to incorporate this ambition in the specification for the new prisons.

Much of this is a result of the adoption of the ‘whole systems approach’ which has focused attention on systems management as much as offender management. I am greatly encouraged by the drop in custody for young women and I think we have a platform for ensuring that we do not use custody for any 16/17 year old females. This is easily within our capability and it could provide the inspiration for a similar ambition for males aged 16/17 years, for whom we have the same obligations under the UNCRC.

There are other policy drivers which can make this a reality. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill will extend the right to remain in care up to the age of 21. Given the high proportion of care leavers in custody, and the traumatised profile of many of our young women offenders, we should be able to harmonise polices to make further improvements in reducing our custody figures for young female offenders.

We have a big prize to play for and it is within our grasp to make it happen – let’s go for it.

http://www.sccyp.org.uk/

Dr Margaret Malloch - 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. Dr Margaret Malloch, Senior Research Fellow, Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Stirling, offers her perspective:

I am very appreciative of the effort that has gone into the Commission on Women Offenders, the resulting report and subsequent developments. When the Commission was set up, I have to say that I was somewhat sceptical, given the well informed and thorough enquiries that had already been carried out to examine the circumstances of women in the criminal justice system in Scotland. The evidence was already in place to inform us all about the distressing circumstances of the majority of women who come into contact with the criminal justice system. However, when I heard the Commission had called for the closure of HMP and YOI Cornton Vale, I confess that I was delighted. Perhaps this marked the way forward to a real reduction in the number of women in prison in Scotland, a re-routing down an abolitionist path. However, with plans for the new prison at Inverclyde well underway, I’m no longer convinced that this is the case.

The Commission’s remit was to consider how to reduce the female prison population largely through the reduction of reoffending by women; but unless poverty and social deprivation are addressed and the concomitant criminalisation of the poor and socially vulnerable, we continue to punish those who are often already marginalised and excluded from wider society. Sentencing practice remains unchanged, despite the fact that the increasing number of women in prison in Scotland appears to be attributable to harsher sentencing practices rather than the result of more frequent or more serious offending by women. We have some excellent community provisions in place in Scotland, but interventions continue to be short-term funded leaving limited opportunities to identify longer-term impact/outcomes and importantly, to develop consistent and supportive interventions.

The Commission courageously called for the closure of Cornton Vale and its replacement with a smaller institution more suited to the needs of women. However without a ‘twin-track’ approach that consists of the development and enhancement of community disposals alongside a reduction in the number of available prison places, prison numbers are unlikely to reduce significantly. New prison places aimed at replacing the current estate may actually expand it; something that we know works against the use of alternative disposals and actually increases the cycle of imprisonment. From where I stand, there is much that still needs to be done and in my view, it involves action that goes well beyond the criminal justice system.

http://www.sccjr.ac.uk/people/dr-margaret-malloch/

Scottish Prisons in the News

64% of women in Cornton Vale are currently on suicide watch, according to The Herald today. Prison continues to an unsuitable setting for the vast majority of women offenders, whose crimes tend to be petty in nature, rather than violent. Further, we know that women experience prison differently to men, many women prisoners have themselves been victims of repeated forms of sexual and physical violence and suffer from high rates of mental illness. Prison regimes, however, are designed based around the needs and patterns of behaviour shown by male prisoners. The Howard League Scotland continues to call for change to how we treat convicted women, we need to move from a punishment model to a restorative one, which can tackle the complex needs exhibit by women prisoners and, crucially, reduce re-offending.

Read more here:
'Two in three women in Scots prison are on suicide watch': http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/two-in-three-women-in-scots...
The Angiolini Commission: http://www.howardleague.scot/news/2014/february/angiolini-commission-wom...

Scottish Survey - Female Offenders (2011)

The Scottish Prison Survey, published every two years, is essentially a census that provides an outline of the characteristics of people who are incarcerated in this country. The survey asks questions about basic standards of living: Cleanliness, hygiene and fitness, food, healthcare, smoking, bullying and general atmosphere. It also quantifies the drug use, addictive behaviour and mental well-being of women prisoners in Scotland.

13th Prisoner Survey (2011) Female Offenders

 

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