Dr Margaret Malloch - Women's Penal Policy

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.


Category Women