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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/

CJA Chief Officers - 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. Justina Murray, Chief Officer of South West Community Justice Authority, and Tom Jackson, Chief Officer of Glasgow Community Justice Authority, offer their perspective:

Can it be two years since we all crowded into the Collins Suite at the University of Strathclyde to hear Dame Elish Angiolini and colleagues launch their report into women offenders?

As Community Justice Authorities (CJAs) we played an active role, through formal submissions and involvement in focus groups to ‘sense check’ proposals. Of the 37 recommendations, most reflected our own views (community justice re-design aside – that’s for another day) – we believe that women in the justice system have complex needs and are often also victims of crime and coercion; that more holistic and consistent support is needed; and that a Whole Systems Approach is required.

There is scope for cautious optimism when we reflect on the past two years. The prison population has fallen for men and women in Scotland, with the number of women in custody falling at a far faster rate (comparing 28 March 2012 and 5 March 2014, the female prison population fell by 14.1% compared to a reduction for males of 6.4%). We now have the Shine women’s mentoring service running across Scotland, delivering high quality, person-centred support, ending the postcode lottery of through care for women leaving prison or at risk of reoffending (www.shinementoring.org). We have Women’s Justice Centres opening or expanding, alongside other new preventative approaches supported through initial Scottish Government investment. HMPYOI Cornton Vale has been refurbished and plans are underway for a ground-breaking new women’s prison, HMP Inverclyde.

CJAs have been actively involved in supporting (sometimes living and breathing) all of these developments, and we warmly welcome new investment and opportunities for joint working, and the political priority now attached to women in the justice system.

But... over 400 women remained in custody on any day in March this year. Very few of them would need to be in prison for public protection. Women continue to spiral through the justice system too fast, too often, and in too big a number. We worry about the short-term nature of funding for some new initiatives and the fact that planning for women within the prison estate is designed for growth, not a fall in numbers.

We need to ask, was the Commission ambitious enough? Have recommendations been watered down when faced with the tricky business of implementation?

Two years on, does the justice system feel any different for women still trapped within? Are we any better at getting women out and keeping them out of the system? Are we seeing Christie’s ‘decisive shift to prevention’ or is too much money still tangled in ‘failure demand’? Are we now seeing ‘the woman’ not ‘the offender’? Two years on, we are heading in the right direction, but that step-change we need still feels just beyond our reach.

http://www.swscja.org.uk/ and http://www.glasgowcja.org.uk/

Cornton Vale Inspector of Prisons Report 2011

This report highlights the critical condition of Cornton Vale prison. A summary of some main issues includes:

  • At a strategic level there is little demonstrable evidence of clear priority action for Cornton Vale
  • Ross House (Often used for vulnerable prisoners)N is suffering from a  lack of financial resources
  • The treatment of female prisoners at Cornton Vale fell well short of the standards on a number of counts, particularly for those most vulnerable prisoners in the ‘Management Suites’ in Ross House
  • Staff remain inadequately trained to deal with such vulnerable and disturbed women
  • In 2009 it was found that women who have to make a one day return trip to far away courts often had did so without receiving a hot meal during the day, without a shower prior to travel, without receiving their methadone (if prescribed) prior to travel and without reading material on the journey. This 2011 report finds that the situation has not improved.
  • Four major developments urged in 2009 have not yet been taken forward. These are:  i) proper ‘Care and Separation’ Unit to manage and provide for women exhibiting extreme behaviours which represent a threat to themselves and to others, as well as for those presenting mental ill health; ii) a new health centre; iii) a purpose built visits facility was urgently needed, and; iv) a purpose built Mother and Baby Unit.

Read the full report here: HM INSPECTORATE OF PRISONS FOLLOW UP INSPECTION: 1-4 FEBRUARY 2011

 

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