Response to Scottish Government announcement on women offenders

Response to Scottish Government announcement on women offenders

Howard League Scotland welcomed the Cabinet Secretary for Justice’s decision not to proceed with plans to build HMP Inverclyde. His decision was another step towards meeting the recommendations in the 2012 report of the Commission on Women Offenders which was clear that most women in prison in Scotland today do not need to be there for reasons of public safety and that their needs would be better met in the community.

Since the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement in January, the Government has recognised that more needs to be done to reduce the size of the female prison population in Scotland and we welcome their efforts.

The emphasis must be on preventing women from becoming caught up in the criminal justice system in the first place, diverting them at the point of arrest and prosecution wherever possible, and reducing the use of remand and short term prison sentences. The time is therefore right to revisit the presumption against sentences of three months and under. There must too be sustainable funding for community-based services.

Decommissioning existing custodial capacity should also be an early aim, with lessons to be learned from the success of work with young offenders and the reduction in numbers at Polmont.

At present it is unclear what the timescale for decommissioning existing capacity will be. We would be very concerned if this did not take place before the creation of the proposed new prison places at a new facility on the site of Cornton Vale and places at five regional custodial units (each with 20 places). The evidence suggests that the creation of new prison capacity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we redouble our efforts and take a ‘whole systems approach’, there is no reason why the success in reducing the number of young people in custody cannot be replicated for women in custody in Scotland.