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.

CJA Chief Officers - 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. Justina Murray, Chief Officer of South West Community Justice Authority, and Tom Jackson, Chief Officer of Glasgow Community Justice Authority, offer their perspective:

Can it be two years since we all crowded into the Collins Suite at the University of Strathclyde to hear Dame Elish Angiolini and colleagues launch their report into women offenders?

As Community Justice Authorities (CJAs) we played an active role, through formal submissions and involvement in focus groups to ‘sense check’ proposals. Of the 37 recommendations, most reflected our own views (community justice re-design aside – that’s for another day) – we believe that women in the justice system have complex needs and are often also victims of crime and coercion; that more holistic and consistent support is needed; and that a Whole Systems Approach is required.

There is scope for cautious optimism when we reflect on the past two years. The prison population has fallen for men and women in Scotland, with the number of women in custody falling at a far faster rate (comparing 28 March 2012 and 5 March 2014, the female prison population fell by 14.1% compared to a reduction for males of 6.4%). We now have the Shine women’s mentoring service running across Scotland, delivering high quality, person-centred support, ending the postcode lottery of through care for women leaving prison or at risk of reoffending ( We have Women’s Justice Centres opening or expanding, alongside other new preventative approaches supported through initial Scottish Government investment. HMPYOI Cornton Vale has been refurbished and plans are underway for a ground-breaking new women’s prison, HMP Inverclyde.

CJAs have been actively involved in supporting (sometimes living and breathing) all of these developments, and we warmly welcome new investment and opportunities for joint working, and the political priority now attached to women in the justice system.

But... over 400 women remained in custody on any day in March this year. Very few of them would need to be in prison for public protection. Women continue to spiral through the justice system too fast, too often, and in too big a number. We worry about the short-term nature of funding for some new initiatives and the fact that planning for women within the prison estate is designed for growth, not a fall in numbers.

We need to ask, was the Commission ambitious enough? Have recommendations been watered down when faced with the tricky business of implementation?

Two years on, does the justice system feel any different for women still trapped within? Are we any better at getting women out and keeping them out of the system? Are we seeing Christie’s ‘decisive shift to prevention’ or is too much money still tangled in ‘failure demand’? Are we now seeing ‘the woman’ not ‘the offender’? Two years on, we are heading in the right direction, but that step-change we need still feels just beyond our reach. and

Thinking about women's penal policy

Thinking about women's penal policy

Thinking about women's penal policy