women's penal policy

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.

Howard League Scotland welcomes bold decision on Inverclyde

Responding to the news that the Scottish Government has decided not to proceed with the proposal to build a 350-bed women’s prison at Inverclyde, John Scott QC, Convenor, Howard League Scotland, said:

“Howard League Scotland strongly welcomes this decision by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. Mr Matheson has done exactly as he promised – despite the short time since he took office and the urgency of the situation, he has reviewed all the evidence and submissions, and ensured that the final decision was the right one. It is a bold decision and will be recognised as such by all those who have voiced their concerns about HMP Inverclyde. In deciding not to proceed with the proposal to build a new women’s prison at Inverclyde, the Cabinet Secretary is opening up the potential for greater use of community-based solutions for women who offend and women who are at risk of offending. This will benefit all of us. By dealing appropriately and effectively with this vulnerable group of women, Scotland will be a safer place.

“The 2012 report of the Commission on Women Offenders was clear that most women in prison in Scotland today have “complex needs that relate to their social circumstances, previous histories of abuse and mental health and addiction problems”. The report stated unequivocally that most women who have offended do not need to be in prison and that the impact of imprisonment on women and their families is often catastrophic. It was for this reason that the report recommended that Cornton Vale was closed and replaced with a “smaller specialist prison for those women offenders serving a statutory defined long-term sentence and those who present a significant risk to the public”.

“We commend the hard work carried out by those in the Scottish Prison Service who have been working on the design of the new prison. We hope that the learning derived from this process can be put to good use in a smaller custodial unit which will house the small number of women in Scotland serving long-term sentences and who need to be in prison for reasons of public protection.

“Fully implementing the well researched recommendations of the Commission on Women Offenders will mark Scotland out as a progressive country which determines its penal policy according to the best evidence. We hope that this bold move represents a first step on the road to reducing the size of the female prison population in Scotland. We wholeheartedly support the Scottish Government in this endeavour.

“We express the hope that all of those who have taken part in the debate in this matter will continue to take part in the challenges before us. Today’s decision was a necessary first step but much work remains to be done. Given the interest in the matter across political parties, the Scottish Parliament, and civic Scotland, we hope also that further constructive engagement will be possible. The scale of imprisonment of women in Scotland has been a scandal since before the Scottish Parliament was created. Many strong words have been spoken in condemnation over many years but, until today, the strength of criticism and the best of intentions have proved inadequate. This decision takes us on considerably from good intentions. ”

26 January 2015

Women in Prison in Scotland, SCCCJ Report

A briefing paper from the SCCCJ, Women in Prison in Scotland: An Unmet Commitment, opens with a challenging comparison between the aspirational and reformative political rhetoric on women in prison on one hand, and on the other, the steady annual increase of women incarcerated in Scotland. The increased use of custodial sentences for women in Scotland is perplexing because it does not reflect increases in serious levels of criminality. Instead, women tend to be cycled through prison on short sentences. Short sentences offer little time to engage in rehabilitative programmes. Instead, short sentences serve to sever important personal bonds links with communities and families as well as economic responsibilities to work, meaning that many women lose their homes while in prison. 

The report provides a useful overview of the characteristics of women in prison, statistically illustrating their destructive mental health and addiction problems and their lack of social capital in general.

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