Tam Bailie, Commissioner for Children and Young People

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.


Category Women