women penal policy

Female Imprisonment in Scotland - Survey 2013

The prisoner survey gives us insight  into the lives of various prisoner groups based on data gathered through a prison census.

Some key findings in relation to females in Scottish prisons include:

The average age of a female in prison in Scotland is 33 years.
15% were on remand and 85% were convicted.
30% of women were in care as a child
High numbers of people in prison made access to medical services and jobs in prison more difficult.
50% of women reported being drunk at the time of their offence
28% of women reported that drinking had affected their ability to maintain a job 

Read more here: Prisoner Survey 2013 - Female Offenders

Justice Budget 2014/15

Howard League for Penal Reform Scotland took this opportunity to highlight the financial benefits of a more community orientated justice system.

Howard League Scotland response to Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2014/15

The aim of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland is to promote just responses to the causes and consequences of crime. Scotland’s imprisonment rate is one of the highest in western Europe and far too many people reoffend after release from prison, particularly those who have served short term sentences.

We wish to make two points about the Draft Budget 2014/15.

  • Balance of resources for custodial and community-based disposals

As we understand it, the Scottish Government remains committed to the findings and recommendations of the report of the Scottish Prisons Commission (2008). Speaking September 2007, the Justice Secretary said: “I refuse to believe that Scottish people are inherently bad, so why are we locking up twice as many offenders as Ireland or Norway?” The report recommended reducing Scotland’s prison population by “focusing the use of imprisonment on those who have committed serious crimes and constitute a danger to the public”. And yet, since the report was published in 2008, the prison population has risen further.

We are therefore concerned to note that the budget for the Scottish Prison Service will rise in real terms from £364.5m in 2013/14 to £375.2m in 2014/15, including capital expenditure. Excluding capital expenditure, we note that the budget rises in cash terms from £342.0m in 2013/14 to £368.9 m in 2014/15, and is held at £368.2m in 2015/16, which will still represent a real terms increase over the period. Conversely the budget for community justice will experience a small real terms decrease from £31.9m in 2013/14 to £31.7m in 2014/15 and a further decrease to £31.1m in 2015/16.

If the Scottish Government is serious about reserving prison for the most serious and dangerous offenders and making greater use of community-based disposals, it is hard to see how this will happen without a greater shift in resources from custody to community justice. The budget for community justice is less than 10% of the budget for the Scottish Prison Service.

  • Capital expenditure on the female prison estate

As you will know, Scotland’s female prison population has doubled over the past decade and we were pleased that the Scottish Government accepted most of the recommendations of the report of the Commission on Women Offenders (2012). The report recommended the closure of HMP Cornton Vale and the establishment of a “smaller, specialist prison”. It also recommended “the establishment of a powerful community justice service with strong and robust alternatives to custody”.

With the proposed new facility at HMP Inverclyde, as well as the plans to create a regional facility for women at HMP Edinburgh, we remain concerned that there is to be no reduction in capacity for female offenders within the prison estate. We are concerned that this will militate against greater use of community disposals for female offenders. Given the damaging effects of prison on women and their families, it is vital that resources are directed towards community-based solutions to women’s offending behaviour.

11 October 2013

Howard League Scotland

Scottish Survey - Female Offenders (2011)

The Scottish Prison Survey, published every two years, is essentially a census that provides an outline of the characteristics of people who are incarcerated in this country. The survey asks questions about basic standards of living: Cleanliness, hygiene and fitness, food, healthcare, smoking, bullying and general atmosphere. It also quantifies the drug use, addictive behaviour and mental well-being of women prisoners in Scotland.

13th Prisoner Survey (2011) Female Offenders


SCCJR: Female Imprisonment in Scotland

This latest report from the SCCJR outlines the key issues regarding women’s penal policy in Scotland. In particular, the report highlights why the characteristics of women’s offending differs so considerably from men’s. Women, they write ‘are typically convicted of relatively minor crimes that pose little public risk and, because they are usually convicted of offences that are less serious than those committed by men’. The report also addresses a troubling rise in the number of women sent to prison in Scotland in the last 15 years which has not been mirrored by a corresponding increase in women’s offending. The report’s main aim then is to explore the main causal factors driving the increased number of women incarcerated in Scotland.

Read the report here: Understanding the Drivers of Female Imprisonment in Scotland 


Cornton Vale Inspector of Prisons Report 2011

This report highlights the critical condition of Cornton Vale prison. A summary of some main issues includes:

  • At a strategic level there is little demonstrable evidence of clear priority action for Cornton Vale
  • Ross House (Often used for vulnerable prisoners)N is suffering from a  lack of financial resources
  • The treatment of female prisoners at Cornton Vale fell well short of the standards on a number of counts, particularly for those most vulnerable prisoners in the ‘Management Suites’ in Ross House
  • Staff remain inadequately trained to deal with such vulnerable and disturbed women
  • In 2009 it was found that women who have to make a one day return trip to far away courts often had did so without receiving a hot meal during the day, without a shower prior to travel, without receiving their methadone (if prescribed) prior to travel and without reading material on the journey. This 2011 report finds that the situation has not improved.
  • Four major developments urged in 2009 have not yet been taken forward. These are:  i) proper ‘Care and Separation’ Unit to manage and provide for women exhibiting extreme behaviours which represent a threat to themselves and to others, as well as for those presenting mental ill health; ii) a new health centre; iii) a purpose built visits facility was urgently needed, and; iv) a purpose built Mother and Baby Unit.











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