Karyn McCluskey,Violence Reduction - Women's Penal Policy

Karyn McCluskey,Violence Reduction - 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. Karyn McCluskey, Director of the Violence Reduction Unit, offers her perspective:

When Dame Elish Angiolini asked us to give evidence to the Commission, we were keen to do so for a number of reasons.

Firstly, we recognised that whilst violence is, and remains, a predominantly male issue, women were frequently the victims, and the women within Cornton Vale had been often the most victimised of all. Our work on the determinants of violence highlighted the effects of deprivation, domestic violence, sexual and emotional abuse and substance abuse to name but a few, in future offending and indeed victimisation. These determinants are present in huge numbers in the female offending population, and many of the women are serious offenders.

Secondly, I had been a staff nurse in Cornton Vale and my experience had been more akin to working in a psychiatric hospital, such was the level of acute and chronic mental health problems experienced by so many of the women. These were some of the most complex individuals within the criminal justice system such was the level of damage and neglect suffered by them.

Since the Angiolini report was published we have seen some significant change, women are now housed in improved conditions within HMP Edinburgh and Greenock and additional money has been given by the Scottish Government to address female offending. Furthermore, we see real change in the attitudes and desire within the Scottish Prison Service in the ‘Unlocking Potential - Transforming Lives’ strategy. The increase in mentoring for women through wonderful organisations such as Circle and others is laudable.

However, the Commission recommended some wide ranging changes and we know that services around post traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders and supported accommodation are often not available in the numbers required. Many of the strategic changes required in sentencing and the prison estate may not be seen for some time, and therefore we must maintain the vision of the report in the coming years.

Nevertheless, we believe that there are reasons to be optimistic that things are improving. The NHS is now delivering prison healthcare and already the conversation about delivery of service is changing. The Scottish Government has just consulted on widening use of electronic monitoring and indeed alcohol monitoring, which provides greater opportunity to address offending and behaviour change in the community, one of the recommendations of the Commission.

In the longer term, the work being undertaken by the Early Years Collaborative to address the determinants of violence should prevent fewer young women from entering the system. Yet the increases of women coming into the criminal justice system at present suggest that we are still failing many who could have been diverted earlier, who have been in care, who have been victimised and who have been victimised others, who are mothers and whose children are equally and often more impacted by parental imprisonment.

We are frequently struck by how often prison officers will mention that women offenders still run their home from prison, using her phone time to run the house, and organise the children’s school. We must jail those who we are afraid of, and from whom the public must be protected. Yet internationally, and in Scotland, we know of good practice where women are diverted from the prison system and consequently have better outcomes, as do their children. That must be the goal we aspire to.


Category Women
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