I say at the outset to the Opposition parties that have lodged amendments that each of the amendments contains something with which we certainly cannot disagree. However, given the current structures, it is difficult to accept—indeed, we cannot accept—all the amendments and so, in the spirit of equality and in an attempt to get consensus, I will not accept any of them. Nonetheless, I will listen with great interest to the debate, because I suspect that, if the speakers reflect the tone of the amendments, there will be more to unite us than to divide us on the issues that we discuss. I hope that the Opposition spokespeople will take that in the spirit in which it is intended.
Last week, there were 312 women in prison in Scotland, very few for serious offences. Sixteen women were serving life sentences. Around one in five, including those on life sentences, were long-term prisoners sentenced to more than four years. Around one in three were either being held on remand or serving sentences of less than 12 months. Most people agree that short-term prison sentences are neither the most appropriate nor the most effective way of challenging women's offending. It surely cannot be beyond us, working together, radically to reform how we manage women offenders in Scotland.
Last December, as members will recall, I published the criminal justice plan, which sets out plans for transforming Scotland's criminal justice system. It also sets out how I want us to move away from services that are too often volume led and demand driven towards services that can deliver speedy and visible criminal justice—services that not only challenge offending behaviour but reduce reoffending.
We are making progress. In the past month, I have published my plans for the reform of
Those are three important strands in what I believe is the most far-reaching reform of criminal justice in a generation. However, the need for further reform is nowhere more evident than in the way in which we deal with women offenders.
Will the minister clarify something that I thought I heard her say in her introductory remarks? She said that one in three of women prisoners are on remand or serving sentences of less than 12 months. How does she reconcile that with the statistical bulletin published just last month, which suggested that 80 per cent of prisoners serve less than 12 months? Are women different in that respect to a marked degree?
The figures that I quoted are a snapshot of the women's prison population in the past week, but Stewart Stevenson makes an interesting point, which relates closely to the work that we are trying to do, particularly in dealing with those short-term sentences. I shall go on to say a bit more about why I believe that such sentences can be particularly difficult and damaging for women offenders and why they are not necessarily effective.
It is important to recognise that we have devoted a lot of time and effort in seeking to understand how best to work with women who offend and in seeking to reduce the likelihood that they will reoffend. Many in the chamber will remember the national debate that ensued as a result of the number of tragic suicides at Cornton Vale in the mid-1990s, the conclusion of which was that we were failing women offenders. That was a crisis point for the system; it was the point at which we knew that things had to improve.
Cornton Vale responded by initiating major reforms to improve conditions and to put in place systems to reduce the risk of harm to women prisoners. When I visited Cornton Vale, I saw the progress that had been made in improving the physical fabric, the regime and the arrangements for throughcare.
We also have a much better understanding of the range of problems that lead women to offend. That said, our goal must be to design a system that is better suited to the specific needs of women and that can deliver better outcomes for offenders, as well as for victims and the wider community.
The ministerial group on women's offending started the process by setting out a blueprint in its report "A Better Way". The group looked forward to a system that would move away from sending more and more women to prison for relatively minor offences. I share that aim, as I believe most members do. It is now time to move things on again, to be more ambitious and to redefine our approach.
It is interesting to note that Scotland is sitting in the middle of the league table of international comparisons—if we want to have league tables, that is—which shows that we imprison six women for every 100,000 people in our population.
I will do so in a moment. It is important that I get the figures on the record.
Our figure is less than those in Portugal, Spain, England and Wales and the Netherlands and it is more static than those of other jurisdictions. I want us to set our sights on doing better than that, however. If we look at the comparisons, we see that Denmark and Finland can keep numbers down at two or three per 100,000. That should be our benchmark.
On the statistics, will the minister comment on the fact that, despite our knowledge that the routes to imprisonment for women are associated with abuse, violence and with just being a woman in our society, Cornton Vale's population increased last year? Women in Scotland are five times more likely to be imprisoned than women in Northern Ireland are. Can the minister explain that anomaly?
I am not going to explain the point; I want to focus on what we need to do at the moment in Scotland. I will say more about some of the ways in which we can prevent women who do not need to be imprisoned from ending up in prison. I hope that the member will recognise that the figures that I have just quoted show that we can do better and that we must do better.
I make it clear that I accept that some women are involved in serious offences. When those serious offences take place, women should face the consequences of their actions, as their male counterparts have to do. As a result of those offences, there will always be circumstances in which women will be imprisoned.
I recognise that the profile of most women's offending is different: it is more about shoplifting and crimes of dishonesty than about crimes of violence. I also recognise that it is more about problems in accessing appropriate services in the community. We need to understand and lessen the damage to families and the lasting impact on children. Those are some of the issues that we need to look at, because communities and families pay a price for the way in which we deal with women offenders. I believe that that price is too high at the moment.
I want to say a few words about community options. As Carolyn Leckie said, we know that many women offenders suffer from serious problems that are caused by addiction, mental illness, the struggle to cope with debt and—too often—a history of physical or sexual abuse. It is therefore right that our starting point must be to deal with those problems before women reach the criminal justice process.
I recognise that the Conservative amendment addresses that point. I am sure that Conservative members will say more on the subject and I look forward to hearing their comments. I believe that every member can sign up to the goal of dealing with the problems that women face before they reach the criminal justice process.
When women come into the criminal justice system, the focus has to be on solving problems and not on creating new ones. It cannot be right that we have to send women to prison in order that they can access services that address society's ills. We want a system where support services are available earlier rather than later and within the local community rather than within a prison setting. Moreover, it cannot be right that we do more damage to families, and to children in particular, by imprisoning so many women, especially when we know how important family support is in tackling reoffending.
I strongly believe that any strategy for the future must acknowledge that many women offenders have a drug problem and that more often than not drug problems are linked to their offending behaviour. It is estimated that, on average, 90 per cent of women who are admitted to Cornton Vale have addiction problems. That is a serious issue, which is why I want more to be done to get women with drugs problems into treatment services. We need to have arrest referral schemes at the earliest stage in the criminal justice process and we need drug treatment and testing orders for those with long histories of offending linked to addiction.
We are already beginning to see signs of success with DTTOs, which are high-tariff disposals. Of the DTTOs imposed in 2004, 17 per cent were for women. The principle is to use
We also know that drug dependency is not just a problem for the criminal justice system. It also affects our communities and is a public health issue. That is why I am determined that our drug action teams, criminal justice services, courts and enforcement agencies should work more closely together, because one service's repeat offender is another's repeat patient and the community's repeat problem. We have to do something about that. We need better arrangements for joint working so that services better meet the needs of people and communities. Within those better arrangements, I expect services to address the specific needs of women offenders by intervening early, consistently and appropriately to help them to challenge their addiction and to reduce their offending behaviour.
We know that Scotland has a particular problem with persistent minor offending. We see women appearing time and again within the criminal justice system as petty persistent offenders—I see Bill Aitken nodding his head in agreement. I am sure that, in some instances, those who sit on the bench are hard pressed to know how to respond in a way that not only does justice to victims but ensures that rehabilitation is undertaken appropriately.
I want to ensure that we provide more effective options for our courts at the lower end of the offending scale. If we can divert people from the process altogether, so much the better. As for the needs of victims and the efficiency of the process, we must get better at resolving problems at an earlier stage. We also need to look at bail information and supervision schemes. Electronic monitoring as a condition of bail could help to reduce the large number of women who are currently held on remand and who are not a danger to the public. There has been a consensus over the years that too many women end up in prison for fine defaulting. Supervised attendance orders are being put in place as an alternative to prison for that group and are beginning to prove effective, according to our monitoring of the pilot schemes.
I will say a few words about the 218 time-out centre. We need to be more imaginative and to look for new solutions to old problems, which is why I am pleased that Scotland is pioneering a very different approach to women offenders. The project arose directly from the report of the ministerial group on women's offending, which
The centre is an innovative project and its effectiveness in reducing reoffending is being examined. It has a year's experience behind it now and we already know that it is increasing its profile in the courts, from which it is beginning to get more direct referrals. In addition, its reputation is spreading further. Last month, the Home Office cited the 218 time-out centre as a groundbreaking initiative and an example of excellence. United Kingdom ministers will be looking northwards to learn lessons from it.
That is all very positive, but, unfortunately, not everything has been positive. I am particularly disappointed that Scotland's female prison population continues to rise year on year. Of course it is true that it will take time for some reforms that we have set in place to yield results, but we must do more and push forward with further reforms. Simply increasing the range of community disposals will not in itself reduce the number of women in prison. We must also ensure that community sentences can deliver results, are credible and can secure the confidence of sentencers. Later this year, an online version of our information pack will be available to every sheriff in the country to keep them up to date on the availability of community sentences.
On the quality of the programmes that follow sentences, we have set up the community justice accreditation panel, which is important for driving up standards and promoting excellence in community programmes. The panel will soon combine with the Scottish Prison Service panel to give a unified approach in order to try to manage programmes and to ensure that offenders are less likely to reoffend.
I am delighted that an information pack on alternatives to custody will be sent to sheriffs—we pursued that aim when I was on the Justice 1 Committee. Will the information be available in an electronic format that can be rapidly updated, so that programmes that fall off the agenda are not included and sheriffs can rely on the information?
It is important that the information will be in that format so that people can easily access it.
I am aware that I do not have enough time to develop in detail other points that I wanted to raise, so I will conclude. The pressure for change is acute. Cornton Vale aims to become a centre of excellence for custodial practice for female offenders and it is making progress. That progress has been made possible by the significant efforts of staff and the investment in the estate. The fact that Cornton Vale has been able to create a safe physical and emotional environment for women offenders is important. Cornton Vale has risen to challenges in the past, but it must continue to move forward. It must ensure a safe environment, but it must also create the impetus for a more fundamental change that will further reduce the likelihood of women reoffending, that will prepare women offenders for a return to a law-abiding lifestyle and that will end the revolving door that still catches too many women.
Again, we can see that happening. We know that female offenders work better in small groups, so Cornton Vale has set up smaller classes to encourage women into education. Moreover, smaller units have been set up for living accommodation. Cornton Vale is moving towards a community-based model.
We know that we must work with women offenders to address their offending behaviour, so the change programme focuses on practical areas. During the debate, I hope that we will hear more about the work that has been done to deal with debt management, housing and family issues. I could have dealt with a range of other matters, but I hope that the issues that I wanted to cover will be raised later in the debate.
That the Parliament notes the continued increase in the female prison population; recognises that, to reduce this, greater emphasis on rehabilitation within prisons and in community sentences is required to ensure that problems, including drug misuse, are addressed; believes that community sentences can play a significant role for those women who pose little risk to the public or communities in which they live; acknowledges that family and community support is vital in ensuring that women offenders are able to successfully reintegrate into the community, and recognises that a more integrated system of community and prison-based support services to improve the management of women offenders is required in order to reduce reoffending.
It is right that the debate should be relatively consensual, as none of us wants to lock up people unnecessarily. I will make an unlikely start to my speech. My equality credentials exceed those of the minister, as Scottish National Party members find it possible to support the motion and all the amendments and I expect my colleagues to
That said, the motion and amendments in the Business Bulletin are simply words—they might enable us to agree on the broad policy direction, but that is probably all that they do. Let us start by agreeing a statement that was made previously in the Parliament:
"I suggest that the only relatively sure method of dealing with the problems associated with women in prisons is to make a significant reduction in the number of women going to prison or undergoing any kind of prison service. That should be the core policy objective."—[Official Report, 16 December 1999; Vol 3, c 1774.]
The difficulty is that that was said by the Deputy Minister for Justice, Angus MacKay, on 16 December 1999. It was not said yesterday. In fact, there will be members present who have no idea whom I am speaking about, as he left the Parliament before they were elected.
How have we done? The conviction rate for females has risen a little in the most recent statistics, from nine to 10 per 100,000. That is just about the figure that it has been for 10 years. We males should not in any sense be complacent, as the conviction rate for males is 53 per 100,000. Yes, that figure is declining, but it is more than five times greater than the figure for female convictions. Crucially, however, the number of women in prisons has risen by some 50 per cent. Let us therefore not confine our assessment of the Government to its words and its motion today. We should never judge any Government simply on its words; we must judge it on its achievement and we must track that achievement.
The most recent statistical bulletin on criminal justice was published in March. It shows that, for example, 58 per cent of the crimes of indecency are committed by females—crimes related to prostitution. Interestingly, the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill, which is about to be considered at stage 2 by the Justice 1 Committee, will, for the first time, create a criminal offence for the person who makes use of prostitution, although only in the limited circumstances of the prostitute being aged between 16 and 18. We should look again at prostitution and consider moving the criminal burden from the prostitute to the user of prostitutes.
An astonishing 69 per cent of offences under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 are committed by women. That simply means that they are convicted because they have no television licence. The situation is interesting, as the statistics also tell us that more than half of all custodial
"The degree of recidivism—repeated minor offences—among that population" of women prisoners
"is very substantial. Prisoners are admitted for very short sentences, often for failing to pay fines, which may have remained unpaid for a long time."—[Official Report, 16 December 1999; Vol 3, c 1765.]
By 2001, fine defaulters represented more than 40 per cent of prisoner receptions in Scotland. For women, the figure is probably much higher, although, mysteriously, speaking as a minister in 2001, Richard Simpson said that only two prisoners in Cornton Vale prison were there for fine default. He may well have been right at the time, but that seems at odds with other figures.
I do not dispute the figures—certainly not with Mr Stevenson, who tends to be good at quoting such things. Nevertheless, does he accept that some women have got into a cycle and prefer, for their own reasons, to do the time and that, therefore, the figures include women who just refuse to pay their fines?
The convener of the Justice 1 Committee is entirely correct on that matter. On the other hand, we have a criminal justice system that criminalises someone for not paying for a TV licence, although that is only like not paying council tax, the bill for having papers delivered to their home or a phone bill. The licence fee is a fee for the provision of a service, yet, uniquely, it is a criminal offence not to have a television licence, whereas non-payment for other services is a civil offence with civil remedies for the recovery of money. I make the constructive suggestion that the Executive might talk to colleagues at Westminster about whether, in the modern world, it is appropriate that non-payment of that specific fee, for which payment has to come out of the household budget, should, uniquely, remain a criminal offence.
I wonder whether the member would be interested to know that the overall figure for fine receptions in Cornton Vale in March was 26. I am led to believe that two women are in Cornton Vale today for fine default. We have had discussions in the chamber about the point that he raises. It is important to acknowledge that people in the circumstances that he describes could end up being imprisoned if they fail to pay their fines. We believe that other measures can be taken and
I thank the minister for the update on the figures. The fact that there were 26 fine receptions in March illustrates the problem. I am delighted to hear that there are only two women in prison for fine default. However, that suggests that those who are imprisoned for not paying their fines are in for a few days. I am not quite sure what the benefit to the prisoner or wider society is of putting people in prison for a week or a fortnight, because the Scottish Prison Service cannot offer them anything in that time. If the Executive takes action on that, it will have our support.
Some of our women prisoners are in the wrong place. The issue is not just about Cornton Vale. Craiginches prison has a small female wing; it is doing its best and is improving on its previously dismal record. Given that it is a local jail, the inmates have the advantage of being closer to their families, so the disconnection is less than it would be otherwise. However, by being in a small unit in a general jail, of which Craiginches is one example, inmates are denied the specialist support that might be provided by a specialist jail—the minister will know that I am a great fan of specialisation.
I acknowledge that Cornton Vale has made progress. In 1998, Andrew McLellan's predecessor, Mr Fairweather, described it as a casualty clearing station, a psychiatric ward and an addictions clinic. Yes, we are making progress, but it is clear that there is much more to do. In 2001, in a debate that my colleague Roseanna Cunningham initiated, the Executive said clearly and unambiguously that we were giving paramouncy to what prisons do over what prisons cost. I hope that that remains the case.
I visited the 218 centre in Glasgow and was impressed by what it was doing; we certainly need more centres. I know that its work has been praised beyond Scotland. We also need to do more to ensure that sheriffs make greater use of non-custodial sentences. There is an upfront cost in moving from prison to community disposals, but the long-term benefits are both financial and societal.
For those whom we lock up, we have to ensure that we do better things while they are in prison. I visited the women's wing of Bapaume prison near Paris about three years ago and found that the industrial activity there was relevant and interesting; the women were making baby-changing mats and could imagine other mothers using their work and they had a real-life office in which they were acquiring skills. That was all terrific. We must focus on equipping people who get into the criminal justice system with new skills
I move amendment S2M-2689.1, to insert at end:
", coupled with the necessary resources for the Scottish Prison Service, local authorities and voluntary organisations to enable them to make their contribution to achieving this goal."
I, too, welcome the debate, which provides a helpful opportunity to consider the specific position of female offenders in prison. Perhaps unusually, much of what I say will echo many of the observations and points that the minister made.
Before I proceed to the specific topic of women in prison, it is important to clarify two general points. First, if the safety of society demands it, prison will always be the only option for a particular category of offender, male or female, and I was comforted by the minister's comments in that regard. Secondly, if it is the view of a presiding judge that, given all the circumstances of a case, prison is the appropriate disposal, that judicial discretion must be respected. It is the obligation of Government to ensure that the necessary capacity exists to meet that requirement.
It goes without saying that if the public is to have confidence in the criminal justice system, the public must be reassured that the interests of society as a whole and the integrity of judicial disposals are respected by the political process. It would be quite wrong if Governments sought to undermine the interests of society and the proper discharge of judicial responsibility by circumventing the imposition of a prison sentence simply to save money or to reduce prison capacity.
On the issue of public confidence, the Executive is already aware of public concern, which is shared by my party, about automatic early release and about measures that appear to be more concerned with keeping certain categories of criminal out of jail than with ensuring that regard is had to the role of the courts and to the rights of victims.
Having pointed out those general premises, I will consider specific aspects of women in prison. As the minister said, it is a matter of profound concern that many women prisoners suffer from mental health problems, addiction problems and/or a history of being abused. That is deeply troubling. The motion rightly acknowledges the need to address that distressing general background.
Although the number of female receptions to prison due to fine default decreased by 1 per cent in 2003, the total still stood at 570. It seems to me unacceptable that prison needs to be an option for fine defaulters. Many other routes can be followed before that unhappy destination is reached. As on previous occasions, I urge the minister to consider a more rigorous collection system for outstanding fines. The ratio for successful recovery of fines in the world of commercial debt recovery would make an interesting comparison. It could provide lessons to be learned.
Forgive me, Mr Purvis, but I must make progress.
Given that the largest group of female prisoners in 2003 comprised those who were detained for drugs offences, with the next largest group being those who had been convicted specifically of other theft, the figures surely begin to provide signposts towards what lies at the heart of that offending and reoffending. In February last year, the inspector of prisons identified that, of women who were admitted to Cornton Vale, 90 per cent had addiction problems, 80 per cent had a history of mental illness and more than 60 per cent had a history of being abused. Those statistics build a helpful, albeit depressing, picture of why certain women are drawn into a pattern of petty crime followed by more serious crime that results in a prison sentence.
As the Executive can see, my party is not at variance with the terms of the motion, which identify existing deficiencies in the handling of women offenders, in the facilities that are currently available to such offenders and in the sensitive balance that is involved in preparing women offenders for re-entry into the community. Just as it would be wrong not to recognise the praiseworthy dedication of prison governors and officers in dealing with the female prison population, it would be wrong not to comment on the positive improvements and innovations that have taken place in the way in which Cornton Vale deals with women in prison.
However, there is no doubt that there still exist barriers and challenges to women when they
I want to pay tribute to, and promote the cause of, prison chaplains. They do a tremendous and largely unsung job that brings a unique dimension to the prison environment. By offering a point of contact to prisoners and prison staff that is not compromised with the taint of authority, regime or institution, prison chaplains can give comfort and support in situations in which anyone else would be intrusive.
I turn to the amendment in my name. Although the motion is principally concerned with the position of women in prison, many important additional elements must be considered in relation to female offending. There will be situations in which a judge seeks to find an alternative disposal to prison that will offer a woman a real chance to address the issues that are contributing to her criminality. The minister referred to the 218 time-out centre, which operates in Glasgow. It is an interesting innovation that is already benefiting many women. However, it will be important to track the progress of women going through the centre. In particular, we must determine whether the support and help that they receive at the centre has a long-term benefit once it has concluded.
Clearly, however, that facility can deal with only a small proportion of women offenders suffering from drug, alcohol or drug and alcohol problems. That is why my amendment attempts to expand the worthy intentions of the Executive motion with a view to recognising that, with early intervention, support and advice, there is a great deal that can be done to steer women away from a path of criminality.
Anyone who has appeared in Glasgow district court on a Monday morning—and seen me in my role as a solicitor, or my colleague Bill Aitken sitting on the bench—cannot help but be distressed by the spectacle of women who have found themselves in an extremely distressing situation. It is a dreary and deeply upsetting prospect. Better by far that young women who are developing chaotic lifestyles are identified and supported rather than left to exist in chaos until the necessary and inevitable intervention of the criminal justice system. I urge the Executive to consider again how we approach the issue of drug and alcohol abuse in Scotland.
We have to be able to provide, on a universal basis, swifter referral from social workers, general practitioners or the police to advice, counselling and supportive rehabilitation. Further, we must respect the wishes of people with addictions who do not want to be put on methadone or, if they are on methadone, want to be taken off it. We would all agree that Professor McKeganey's research, which was published last October, disclosed a situation that, at best, commands further discussion and debate and, at worst, is deeply troubling. I urge the Executive to consider a sensible response to that research and also to consider ensuring that there is a far greater involvement of the voluntary and charitable sector in trying to frame that response.
I said at the start that I welcome this debate. I hope that all parties will feel able to support my amendment. I noted what the minister said in her speech and I wonder whether Stewart Stevenson, with the gallantry with which he is associated, might feel minded to withdraw his amendment.
I move amendment S2M-2689.2, to insert at end:
"and acknowledges that the best outcome of all is to advance and promote measures which provide early intervention thereby ensuring that significantly fewer women enter the criminal justice system."
In preparation for this debate, I was struck by a quote that appears in the Scottish Office's 1998 paper "Women Offenders—A Safer Way". The quote dates from 1970, when the Government felt confident enough to suggest that
"'It may well be that as the end of the century draws nearer, penological progress will result in even fewer or no women at all being given prison sentences'" and that
"'...other forms of penalty will be devised which will reduce the numbers of women necessarily taken from their homes'".
Given the subsequent explosion in the number of women we are jailing—the number has reached record levels—and given that alternative penalties were devised, we are surely entitled to ask what went wrong.
Will the member clarify his intention? Was he suggesting that the 16 lifers should be let out of prison immediately, as well as those women about whom the consensus is that they should not be in prison?
That was a quote from the Government rather than a quote of my own. I will come later to the point that Stewart Stevenson raises; I have only just started my speech.
Clearly, the arrival in the 1980s of hard drugs and a noticeable and dramatic change in sentencing policy changed all those 1970s predictions.
My colleague Carolyn Leckie and I went to Cornton Vale prison on Monday to meet Governor Sue Brooks, her staff and the prisoners to enable us to put this debate in context and allow us to consider the Executive's aims, which are set out in today's motion, alongside the realities for the record number of women in prison in Scotland. The first question that would come to anyone's mind is why those women have to be in jail. Of course, society is entitled to protection and people are entitled to see justice being done and offenders paying the penalty, but it is clear that the present situation serves no one's best interests, least of all the 300 women who are held daily in our prisons.
When we consider those women whom we imprison, a clear and depressing picture emerges: 80 per cent of them have mental health problems; 80 per cent are unemployed when they are imprisoned; 90 per cent have drugs problems; more than 60 per cent have a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse; 95 per cent left school at the age of 16 or earlier; and 38 per cent have tried to take their own lives outside prison. We cannot help but see that prison is a thoroughly inappropriate disposal for the majority of women who are incarcerated. For people with severe drug, mental health and alcohol addiction problems, prison is a highly unsatisfactory disposal for our society and for the courts.
It is ironic that because prisons have been dumped with the problem over the years, we often find that the facilities to treat people for many of those addictions are only available in prison. It is clear that the majority of offenders in those categories would be best rehabilitated elsewhere. I cannot help but feel that those problems should be treated as health problems rather than criminal justice issues.
I will develop my point for a second.
How are we to reverse the trend and get back the optimism of the 1970s? I am heartened that the starting point for the discussion on criminal justice acknowledges that any strategy will be doomed if it does not address the root causes. What leads women to offend in the first place? Poverty, unemployment, abuse and homelessness are all factors and they have all increased in recent times. We must increase access to education, training and employment and we have to understand that drug misuse is often a way of dealing with physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
I also have a point about the nature of women's offending. Women are in jail for theft, benefit fraud, shoplifting, minor drugs offences, low-level prostitution, and television licence defaulting. As a society, we must examine those issues and consider decriminalising certain offences to avoid giving out custodial sentences for them in the first place. I agree with the remarks of Annabel Goldie and the minister; when 52 per cent of women who are in jail are there because of fine defaults, I hope that we all feel that there should be a way around that problem and that we should encourage an alternative proposal to putting people in jail. After all, society pays £30,000 to keep someone in jail for a year.
Give me a second.
This is my answer to Stewart Stevenson's earlier question; the overwhelming majority of the 300 women who are incarcerated in Cornton Vale, Greenock and elsewhere do not pose any threat to the public. We reiterate our desire that the majority of those women should serve their sentences in the community, and use drug treatment and rehabilitation centres such as 218. I hope that when the report about the examination of 218 is put in front of us, the minister will announce that more day and residential services will be available to the courts as an alternative disposal to prisons. Greater support for community based disposals and encouragement for the courts to use them surely depends upon the courts seeing that those resources are properly provided, resourced and backed up by criminal justice social work, and health, housing and other departments.
The alternative penalties such as warnings, diversions from prosecution in the first place, and addressing the roots of offending behaviour—such as poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse and alcohol misuse—and deferred sentences are all steps in the right direction. I support the idea of recovering fines without the remedy of sending women to prison. We have to acknowledge the fact that, when only 2 per cent of women offenders are sentenced to community service orders, and the remaining 98 per cent are not, there is an
I welcome the minister's plan for us to consider more ambitious disposals. There is a political desire to reduce significantly the number of people jailed. However, I would like the Executive to go further. It should consider the British crime survey's recommendations on the need to reduce public expectation of what custody can achieve; on the need to reduce prison numbers; on the need, perhaps, to cash limit sentencing budgets; and on the need to consider the issue of the vast numbers of women that we remand in custody—some 40 per cent of the total—while they await trial.
The Justice 1 Committee's comparative report on the situation in Finland, western Australia and Sweden was highly instructive. In Sweden, the use of intensive supervision—backed up by electronic monitoring—has resulted in substantial reductions in prison numbers.
We should aim for the 1970s goal of having no women in jail; we should increase the facilities to allow people to be treated in communities; we should treat people with mental health problems and people who have survived abuse in the appropriate location—which is not prison; we should consider decriminalising certain offences; and we should support more alternatives to imprisonment.
I move amendment S2M-2689.3, to leave out from "rehabilitation" to end and insert:
"alternatives to custody for women and greater access to drugs rehabilitation resources are vital; believes that prison is no place to treat women with severe mental health, drugs or alcohol problems; believes that the vast majority of women prisoners pose no threat to the community and should best serve their sentences in the community; believes that only by tackling the root causes of their offending: poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, history of abuse and health problems, will the current trends of increased incarceration be reversed; further believes that it is unacceptable that women end up in jail for trivial offences like fine defaulting, shoplifting and TV licence evasion, and believes that it is time to end custody as a penalty for these and other such offences."
I begin by endorsing Colin Fox's comments on the Justice 1 Committee's interesting comparative study. I hope that it will be the source of further debate in the chamber.
This debate is important and I am glad to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. The average daily prison population in Scotland in 2003 was 6,524. Of that total, 297 were female—that is 5 per cent—and 577 were young offenders. In 1990, there were 137 women prisoners in Scotland. The
Women make up a small percentage of the prison population, and the proportion becomes even more stark when we consider the gender balance of the population as a whole. This afternoon, it is right that we have heard about Cornton Vale. However, the Executive's motion rightly considers that institution in the wider context.
It is worth quoting in full two paragraphs of Her Majesty's prisons inspectorate for Scotland's report of February 2004. Paragraph 2.1 begins by quoting Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales:
"'It is quite clear that there are people in prison who don't need to be there and who are being made worse by being in prison and who could benefit from other provisions outside prison.'"
The paragraph continues:
"Issues of mental health are important in every prison in Scotland: but they are particularly noticeable at Cornton Vale. Eighty per cent of prisoners in Cornton Vale have a history of mental illness. Medical records confirm the impressions formed during even a short inspection, that some of these women are very disturbed indeed."
Paragraph 2.2 says:
"The statistics make grim reading. Over 90% of admissions have addiction problems: in one period of assessment the figure was 100%. Over 60% have a history of being abused. This is not a cross-section of society: these are very damaged women. What will prison do for them? It would be impossible to visit Cornton Vale and not to agree with Anne Owers."
Those paragraphs raise the two principal issues that I want to address. The first concerns the institutions and structures in Scotland to accommodate women offenders; the second is the need for a different approach.
It is worth remembering the conclusions of the 1996 inspectorate report—and it was Mr Stevenson who highlighted some past issues from Cornton Vale. The 2001 report recalled the situation in 1996 when it said, in paragraph 1.2, that in 1996
"the prison was found to have been seriously affected by the growing number of drug damaged and drug abusing women. This was especially the case in the Health Centre and remand hall, where there had been a spate of tragic suicides. Some basic conditions and opportunities were lacking and in addition there were some concerns about security."
The paragraph continues:
"Education facilities were poor and there were no structured offending behaviour programmes or pre-release arrangements. The combination of a range of difficulties had become overwhelming, to the extent that management
The population in Cornton Vale has, thankfully, benefited from improvements that the inspectorate's 2004 report indicates are "impressive".
It is worth recognising that there have been improvements in the estate within Scotland and also that the approach has become more responsive to the needs of the prison population. I visited another prison this week—Saughton. I was impressed by the staff and saw the new building, which will allow prisoners to transfer from a 1919 Benthamite block to one fit for today's purpose. Investment in Cornton Vale has also been effective. However, even with the improvement in facilities, what has not changed in recent years has been the condition of the women who arrive at the prison gates. The population of Cornton Vale, and women prisoners throughout Scotland, do not suffer only from substance abuse: they are characterised by social exclusion, poverty and lack of opportunity.
Jeremy Purvis seems to acknowledge that things have improved in Cornton Vale, but we should put that in context. Unfortunately, it is still the case that during the night women often have to urinate in the sink. Will he comment on that? Will he also address the fact that women in Cornton Vale are twice as likely to be disciplined as men in male prisons?
I am happy to recognise that, although there have been improvements, the inspectorate's report indicated that in some areas some of the targets post-1996 have not been achieved. Nevertheless, the population of women who go to Cornton Vale, and other women offenders, are characterised by social exclusion, chaotic and undisciplined lifestyles, single parenthood, low self-esteem, a dysfunctional family background, poor physical health, mental health problems, insecure tenancies and homelessness, and poor social and coping skills. In addition, the population also has high levels of anxiety and depression—not to be underestimated—and 88 per cent of all admissions score at least two out of the five predictive factors for potential self harm. In addition to the fact that 90 per cent of the prisoners have drug addiction problems and that, for 66 per cent, the sole means of income was income support, 40 per cent of women have self harmed before entering prison.
Following conviction, all prisoners who are sentenced to 60 days or more undergo a locally developed and structured induction and assessment process, similar in each prison but
The SSP amendment, as Colin Fox stated, says that prison is no place to treat women, although he recognised the fact that in some places prison is perhaps the only location where such provision can be made. However, what is the point of an intensive programme to identify need when there is limited provision to supply a service to meet that need in the community? Long-term support is required even when sentences have been short-term—in most cases, especially when sentences been short-term—to address the many factors of disruption in the women's lives. The SPS rightly has a wide range of programmes, but those are ineffective and can be counter-productive in respect of very short sentences.
Serious consideration must be given to ending all short sentences, not only for women but for everybody. We need more community disposals that include compulsion for assessment and we need proper throughcare along with the development of skills and education in prison. We must move away from pointless manufacturing in prison and enable people to develop transferable skills and obtain qualifications, including vocational qualifications in catering, health and so on. Very short sentences, from seven days up to 60 days, are not effective.
We also need education, not only for sheriff courts but district courts. I support the publication online of alternatives to custody for sheriffs, but it is vital that that is also developed within district courts.
Finally, the Parliament is considering the community justice authorities. Community justice authorities will be effective in pulling all the agencies together. We need to continue to improve our prisons. We need more supervised attendance orders in the community and we need to take a radical look at ending all short sentences. In my view, that should be the first task of the CJAs.
I agreed with most if not all of the opening speeches and I welcome the opportunity to contribute and listen to the debate. The issue is important and complex and generates a wide range of opinions whenever it is discussed among the general public, although it does not appear to be doing so in the debate.
Like the minister, I could agree with all the amendments to the motion, although it is not technically possible for me to do so. Perhaps it would be a good idea if we had the facility to have composite meetings before our meetings in the chamber—that used to happen at Labour Party conferences, but it no longer does—so that we could put together a motion with which all members could agree. When we vote against other parties' motions and amendments later, I think that we will do so for technical reasons rather than because we have found much with which we disagree.
I welcome the initiatives that the minister outlined and that Jeremy Purvis mentioned, which are being implemented or proposed to make conditions for the women who have to be in prison—I will return to that aspect—more appropriate and responsive to their needs. Prison should not just punish women; it should prepare them for the future and address the problems that led to their ending up in prison. It is not only women who do time when they end up in prison; the women's children often do very hard time, too. I would welcome any initiative that ensured that the children of women who are sent to prison are affected as little as possible—obviously they will be affected—because such children are not criminals and should not be punished in the way that currently happens.
Although I welcome all the initiatives that were mentioned and would welcome more such initiatives for women who have to be in prison, I am appalled that women who have committed very minor offences are increasingly being sent to prison, despite the measures that have been put in place to address the issue. I welcome the Scottish Executive's commitment in making available alternatives to custody for everyone, and especially for women. The challenge for the minister and the Parliament is to ensure that the courts use such alternatives and I ask the minister in his summing up to indicate why the various community sentences that are already available to courts are not used more often for women. The number of women in prison has steadily increased during the past several years and last year alone there was a 7 per cent increase. We know the effects of imprisonment on a woman prisoner's children and we know that the criminal profiles and needs of women prisoners are different from those of men, but six or seven years after the Scottish Office report, "Women Offenders—A Safer Way" reached the conclusions that underpin much of our thinking on how women should be treated in the criminal justice system, we are still locking up women for relatively petty crimes such as fine default and shoplifting. I do not suggest for a minute that people should not pay their fines; I agree with Colin Fox that people who are able to
It is ridiculous for the member to suggest that there is a difference between her non-payment of a fine and anyone else's non-payment of a fine. Someone who is able to pay a fine should do so. The only difference between Carolyn Leckie and other women is that she came out of prison to a comfortable life, whereas the women who are currently sent to prison for not paying their fines come out to the same dire circumstances that sent them to prison in the first place. That is a huge difference.
I think it has already been said that women who are in prison are often victims of crime and that they often have drug and alcohol abuse problems, the experience of poverty and a history of mental health problems. Seventy per cent of women who are in prison have revealed that they are victims of abuse. Obviously, the true figure could be much higher because some people will not have disclosed that they are victims of abuse. Just when things cannot get any worse for these women, society comes along and makes it a lot worse. For them, crime is to a certain extent ancillary to any or all of the above.
That should not distract us from the distress of the victims of their crimes—obviously, people should be punished, rehabilitated and stopped from committing crimes—but because courts are not using the range of disposals that are available to them, women and children are suffering unnecessarily. Prison should be used to house serious and dangerous offenders, not further to abuse vulnerable women and children. I feel strongly about the matter and I hope that the minister, in summing up, will go some way towards addressing those concerns.
Stewart Stevenson took us back to 1999, when the Parliament discussed women in prison, but before any of us was elected to the Scottish Parliament the Scottish Office carried out a review on the matter. In 1998, it echoed the Prison Reform Trust in saying:
"The number of women prisoners who actually pose a grave danger to the general public can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand."
In its conclusions, it noted:
"less than 1% of female convictions are for violent offences."
The report also noted:
"Women's offending frequently relates to drug abuse and is often rooted in poverty", as the Minister for Justice has confirmed seven years on. The life history of many women offenders has been detailed by previous speakers.
At this point, I would like to say that I am not denying that at times there are women who require custodial sentences. Today, we have heard a lot about shoplifting as an example. Occasionally there are shoplifters who deserve to be put in prison because their behaviour is not caused by poverty, and they can be women as well as men. We should not get too sentimental about the subject. However, the evidence suggests that too often women who are perceived as offenders are in fact victims.
Stewart Stevenson mentioned fine defaulting in relation to prostitution. I have had chats with women who work as prostitutes and they spoke about the vicious circle that they are in. They are fined for being on the street, but they have to go back on the street to be able to pay the fine. That is another debate, but there is a relevant point in it for today's debate.
The ministerial group on women offenders, which reported in 2002, was set up in response to the Scottish Office review that I mentioned. In reading the group's report, I noted that although there is an upward trend in prisoner numbers, the number of convictions has decreased. Are sentences becoming harsher? If so, why is that happening despite the recognition of the issues that surround the incarceration of women offenders? I am pleased that alternatives to custody are now on the agenda. The 218 time-out centre initiative in Glasgow seems to be one part of the answer and I look forward to the analysis of its work when it has operated for an appropriate period of time.
As has been noted, a further part of the answer is prevention, but realistically there will always be a need for reactive measures as well, to discourage repeat offending. That is to the benefit of the whole of society because, after all, more women offenders than male offenders have dependent children living with them and studies have shown that such women are likely to be lone parents. That is where the SNP amendment comes in. We agree with the motion, but we also seek
"the necessary resources for the Scottish Prison Service, local authorities and voluntary organisations to enable them to make their contribution to achieving" the goal to which we all aspire.
Notwithstanding the fact that there may, at times, be a need for more resources, one of the things that I have taken from the debate—for example, from some of the concerns that were expressed by Kate Maclean—is that the resources and options that are available are not being used to their full effect. Although it is right to consider that we may need more resources, is it not right also to consider how effectively we are using what is currently available to us?
Absolutely. That is one of the issues that I was talking about. We have recognised the problem for a long time but we are still not seeing tangible results. Perhaps we need to front load resource to encourage and enable the recognition of the services that can properly be used. We should consider core funding of voluntary organisations that can help. All sorts of issues are involved. Not just voluntary organisations that deal with drug abuse need to be used. We also have organisations to support families. Some women suffer from terrible stress, so perhaps we should fund groups such as Stresswatch Scotland. Perhaps we should look for organisations that are staffed by ex-offenders, who can consider what can be done to encourage people to leave the terrible mire that they are in, which causes repeat offending.
I will give way in a moment.
The report by HM prisons inspectorate of the inspection of Cornton Vale in 2004 shows that 80 per cent of prisoners have a history of mental illness and 90 per cent have addiction problems. Whatever we have been doing is not working, so we must start to take an innovative approach. If we can provide pump-priming funding and examine ways to make a difference, we will have long-term benefit, as will the women and their families and, ergo, the whole society will benefit.
It is too easy to keep looking at statistics and saying that we must do this or that. We should turn the situation on its head and view it from other directions so that instead of having another debate in the next parliamentary session and, despite all the good intentions, talking about the issue in the same way, we will be able to return to report that there has been true progress and genuine improvement.
I am terribly sorry, but I cannot give way to Jeremy Purvis now.
I welcome the Executive's choice of debate, which was not an easy one. The subject is difficult. As others have said, the prison population of women
The debate is complex. It is important to understand the reasons for the trends before we decide what action to take. Andrew McLellan's inspection report repeats what other inspectors have said. We know that 90 per cent of women in Cornton Vale have or had a drug addiction problem and that 60 per cent of the women have a history of abuse. They are damaged women. Cornton Vale and Greenock prison, where women are contained, are now large health centres rather than prisons.
Carolyn Leckie asked why many women in Scotland go to prison. We are not the only country to send women to prison and the league table does not show that our position is very bad. However, we must ask why the situation exists. One theory that results from what we know about the health of the women whom we send to prison is that sheriffs are so concerned about the physical and mental health of the women whom they see that they believe that Cornton Vale may be the best option for those women. That is a sad reflection on the available options.
I bow to Rosemary Byrne's knowledge of dual diagnosis, which I do not know much about. However, I will talk about the member's essential point, which concerns the underlying reasons why women find themselves in prison. I am sure that we will agree on that.
I declare that I am a member of the Routes Out board. I know that 90 per cent or more of the women in Glasgow who are involved in prostitution are drug addicts. Street prostitution is brutal and women who end up being exploited on the streets are not there through choice. Tolerance of prostitution is not an option for those women, so the Routes Out project is important, because we need to get them off the streets and out of prostitution when possible.
In answer to a written question, Cathy Jamieson advised me on 9 March that the number of women involved in prostitution and charged with soliciting whose cases have gone to the drugs courts is none. I want to explore that issue for a minute. We know that 90 per cent of women who have been
I have visited both Cornton Vale and Greenock, where I spoke to many women prisoners who are not in prison for the first time and who are already involved in a cycle of offending. Colin Fox referred to the shortage of community service orders. The number of community schemes that are available is not the same for women as it is for men, so the trends for men and women are different. That goes back to the issue that I highlighted earlier. For some reason, women with badly damaged physical and mental health on community service orders do not get access to the same services that would be available to them at Cornton Vale. As other members have said, the issue of child care has also never been addressed properly.
I want to spend the last minute or so of my speech talking about the innovation of the 218 time-out centre, which is in my constituency. It was not an easy venture. The Scottish Executive, in association with Glasgow City Council, took some time to procure the building and to get things up and running. Like other members, I have been to see the centre a few times. I know that there is to be a review and that the University of Stirling's report on the centre will appear in October. However, at this stage I must express some doubts about whether the time-out centre is the best facility for taking women out of custody.
I do not demean in any way the excellent work that is being done at the centre, which is very impressive. However, I have the impression that it tends to deal with rehabilitation, rather than offending. If that is the case, I implore ministers to think seriously about the concept of a halfway house, which Sylvia Jackson has suggested many times in debate. That means tackling the problem from the other direction—taking women from prison to a facility where they can deal with their chaotic lifestyles. I remain open-minded about the issue, but we must seriously consider setting up a halfway house. The resources that we are investing are colossal, but we must be open to the
The debate has been interesting. The minister will be interested and, possibly, concerned to learn that I agreed with much of what she said. All of us are uncomfortable with the fact that so many women are in prison. However, there are no easy answers. It is incumbent on all of us to examine the matter constructively and to see whether we can find some solutions to this difficult problem.
The problem is difficult because there are issues outside the judicial aspect. One of the things that makes us most uncomfortable is the fact that prison sentences that affect women impinge on their families. The fact that someone is guilty of criminality does not necessarily make them a bad mother and none of us can be happy about children having to be taken into care.
Let us consider what we can do. If we exclude the few women who in the course of a year end up in jail on quasi-civil matters, such as breach of interdict, women in jail can be put into three categories. First, there are those who are serving sentences. Secondly, there are remand prisoners. Thirdly, there are those who find themselves in jail for fine default.
I am pleased that there has been a genuine move away from a position that was apparent the first time that the matter was debated in the Parliament, which was that women were being sent to jail merely on a judicial whim or without a great deal of thought and care being given to whether such a sentence was appropriate. I assure members that that certainly does not happen. For the reasons that I have articulated, judges at whatever level turn somersaults to avoid having to send women to jail. Indeed, perverse as it may seem, there is a degree of sexism in the judicial system in that respect.
Given that the conviction rate per 100,000 females has remained relatively steady for 10 years, why are we ending up with more women in prison if judges are acting in the way in which the member suggests?
As the member has intervened on that issue, I will deal with it now. It is unfortunate that the fact that nowadays women are committing more serious crime cannot be gainsaid. We have 16 female lifers. There are women who are involved in the drug trade. It is no longer the case that only shoplifters and so on are ending up in jail.
Sentencing is carried out on the basis that it should provide deterrence, punishment and protection of the public. There are not too many people who are in jail whose sentence does not fall into one of those categories.
I turn to fine defaulters, about which we can do something. It may be the case that only two women are in jail for fine default today, but tomorrow another two will go to jail and on Monday there will be three more in jail. By any stretch of the imagination, in the course of a year there are probably 400 to 500 admissions for fine default. We must consider how that can be avoided. I forget who made the point, but many of the women who end up in jail because of unpaid fines for prostitution do so on the basis of a roll-up. They have no intention of paying the fines that they receive and serve a one or two-day sentence simply to clear the debt. That is a completely unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter. We must consider the question of prostitution, although that is for another day.
I do not think that women are sent to prison very often for not paying their television licence fee. Stewart Stevenson made the interesting suggestion that that should be regarded as a civil matter. Although it is possible to argue that case, it raises the question where we draw the line. Should motor vehicle excise cases be handled in the same way? I do not know. It is simple to prevent people from going to jail for not paying fines. I am sorry to keep banging on about this, but the most sensible solution is to deduct the fines at source, either from salaries or from benefits. That would avoid having to send people to jail.
The third category of prisoners is remand prisoners. It is clear that to be in prison on remand is an unhappy situation in which to find oneself, but we must put ourselves in judges' position. They have to deal with women who come back time and again for shoplifting while they are on bail. After about the ninth or 10th not guilty plea, they must be remanded in custody. There is no way round that problem.
The member will have heard in my speech that the sole means of income of 66 per cent of women in prison is income support. Is he aware of the potential impact on those women and their families of taking fines from benefits? Bill Aitken has not addressed why the district courts are not using community service disposals at an increased rate when it comes to fine default.
The member should give me time. It is a fact that fines are frequently imposed on people who are unemployed. I am sorry, but even though their benefit may have been fixed at a low level, the money must be paid. The disposal of community service is not always available to district court judges. It is available in the
The 218 time-out centre was an innovative idea, but I am afraid that the jury is out on whether it will be successful. What I hear may be apocryphal, but I think that there have been problems with it.
We must consider all the arguments. Much can be taken out of the debate; it is a pity that it is not longer. There are measures that can be taken to reduce the female population in prison, but they must be applied with a degree of realism, common sense and—dare I say it—innovation.
The problem of women offenders has been known for a long time. Colin Fox told us of the aspirations in the 1970s, and other members have mentioned the many reports that have been produced since then. The one that was published in 1998, just before devolution, "Women Offenders: A Safer Way", sent a clear message to ministers that the number of women offenders could and should be reduced. Community service was being used less frequently for women than for men, although very few female convictions—less than 1 per cent—were for violent offences. The report highlighted the prevalence among women offenders of a history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, suicide attempts, mental health problems and drug problems, and it also highlighted issues to do with dependent children—and yet the problem persists.
In the first five years of devolution, we saw a 40 per cent increase in the average female prison population, and Cathy Jamieson's motion today notes that that increase continues. The Executive is aware that previous attempts to address the problem have not been successful and the motion acknowledges some of what the Executive now believes is necessary to make progress. I support many of those specific commitments, but I believe not only that specific commitments are necessary but that the underlying philosophy has to be right as well. I want to address the general issues relating to the criminal justice system first, before focusing on the specific issues of women prisoners.
Community sentences and alternatives to custody are, of course, the right approach, but the availability of sentences is not enough unless, as Pauline McNeill noted, there is a possibility of those sentences being put into practice. It is not just a question of integrating services inside and outside prison, to which the motion makes a commitment. There must also be much wider availability of services.
The Executive is also still too committed to the concepts underlying punitive justice. People with mental health problems and substance misuse
I do not disagree with some of what Patrick Harvie says, but I struggle to identify in any of Cathy Jamieson's remarks today—or indeed in anything that has been said before—any indication that the Executive believes in punishment for the group of prisoners whom we are discussing today. However, as Bill Aitken has recognised, there is an increasing number of women who are committing violent offences. In those circumstances, it is appropriate to deal with prisoners in a more punitive and severe way. However, in relation to the vast majority of the people whom we are talking about, we share Mr Harvie's aspirations.
I would like to move on.
It is not a matter of being soft on crime—whatever that might mean—or of focusing on the needs of offenders at the expense of the needs of victims, because those needs are the same needs. In introducing the legislative programme for 2004-05, Jack McConnell said:
"too many offenders leave only to reappear in the police cells and courts—and back into the prison ... This cycle is wasteful—of time, of money, of lives. It is especially wasteful of each new victim's life."
The most wasteful way in which we can fail to meet the needs of victims is by failing to meet the needs of offenders, because that will lead to the creation of more victims tomorrow.
In the partnership agreement, the Executive commits itself to expanding the role of restorative justice, but ministers seem to want to hang on at the same time to concepts of punitive justice, saying that we cannot yet be sure of the effectiveness of adult restorative justice. However, we know with certainty that what we are doing at the moment to vulnerable people who commit offences is making matters worse. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should ignore the unacceptability of their offences, but neither should we let ourselves be blind to life circumstances or lose our sense of compassion. It is that compassion, not our baser instincts for retribution, that will create hope that things can change.
Much of what I have said so far—and I have
A far higher proportion of women prisoners than men prisoners have dependent children and that, too, serves to show the distinctive needs of this group of people. It should remind us that in addition to the duty of care to the victims of crime and the duty of care to offenders, to give them the chance of change, we have a duty of care to the next generation, some of whom will be victims and others of whom will be offenders. Shame on us if we allow the sins of the mother to be visited on the sons and the daughters.
My interest in women in the justice system was fostered after reading Helena Kennedy's book "Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice" in the early 1990s. Although by the end of the book, the jury is still out on whether Eve was framed, Helena Kennedy leaves the reader in no doubt that women do not get a fair deal at the hands of the criminal justice system.
I am pleased to speak in support of the Executive motion. The Executive is undoubtedly committed to reforming the criminal justice system and to reducing the number of women in prison. A number of initiatives have already been introduced as alternatives to custody.
We need to be clear that community sentences are not a soft option. They provide an element of punishment and—perhaps more significantly—of rehabilitation. Most important, community sentences keep families together and so are better for the welfare of children. Kate Maclean and Patrick Harvie referred to that fact.
Separating young children from their mother causes trauma that can often lead to mental illness or profound emotional problems. Recent research shows that 30 per cent of prisoners' children suffer significant mental health problems; the comparable figure for the general population is 10 per cent. The Prison Reform Trust estimates
When we note that many of the young women offenders who enter the system come from chaotic family backgrounds and that a high proportion of them were looked after by local authorities, we see that imprisoning mothers can become a self-perpetuating cycle. Society has nothing to gain from enforcing increased instability in society and from perpetuating looked-after situations in the lives of more and more children.
Research has shown that even short stays in prison can make it more difficult for women to settle back into their community. They result in problems with housing, with taking back care of their children and with reconnecting to services outwith prison. We should be concerned about the number of women who are held on remand for short periods of time in Scotland's prisons. Between 1994 and 2003, the number of female receptions on remand almost doubled.
The report "Punishment First—Verdict Later?", which was published by Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons for Scotland in 2000, reminded us that individuals on pre-trial remand are innocent in the eyes of the law and that a large proportion of those in post-trial situations are unlikely to receive a custodial sentence. That begs the question why we feel it is necessary to imprison women when they pose little or no threat to their communities.
Since 2003, the Executive has taken action on the issue and has developed an innovative initiative in the 218 time-out project, which is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. The initiative was mentioned by the minister and also by Pauline McNeill. The 218 project offers programmes of care, support and development to women offenders that are designed to stop their offending by tackling substance misuse and the trauma and poverty that drive that misuse.
The 218 project combines a detox facility with residential and day programmes and provides support and outreach to heath, social work and housing services. Given that the project is expected to restore and promote greater confidence in community disposals, I was concerned to hear the point that Pauline McNeill raised and would be interested to hear the minister's comments on it. I would also be interested to know from the minister whether the project has been a success so far and, if so, whether it will be rolled out.
In any discussion about female offenders, it is essential to consider the overarching influence of poverty on patterns of female offending—an issue on which we have amendments today. Women are
Dr McLellan of HMIP summed up the situation in his report on Cornton Vale in 2004, when he said:
"Eighty per cent of prisoners ... have a history of mental illness ... 90% of admissions have addiction problems" and
"Over 60% have a history of being abused".
The question must be asked: what will prison do for them? The minister touched upon the fact that we must examine what prison can offer in terms of rehabilitation.
I want to mention briefly the storybook mums initiative, which is due to be introduced in Cornton Vale next week. It is a positive initiative that was outlined in the Sunday Herald a couple of weeks ago. The project will allow mothers to record CDs of stories in their own voices for their children, which is important when we consider that research shows that prisoners are less likely to reoffend if they are able to maintain contact with their families while in custody. It is also important for the children. Another worthwhile project is being developed by Routes Out, which I do not have time to go into, but it involves intervention within prison.
It makes no sense to send women to prison as a punishment, as others have said. I return to Helena Kennedy's book. She proposed in 1992 that real alternatives to prison should be created, such as appropriate community service, hostels and rehabilitation centres. She made the sensible suggestion—which might address the point that Kate Maclean made so passionately—that before any mother is sent to prison, the court should obtain the details of the likely impact on their child, and reasons should be given for not imposing an alternative to incarceration. She stated:
"If the modern spirit of sentencing policy behind the new Criminal Justice Act 1991 is truly that prisons are places for dealing with serious crime, particularly violence, then it should be translated into reality by the judges, and our female prisons particularly could virtually be emptied."
Sadly, more than a decade later, the number of women in prison is actually going up, which is uneconomical, unnecessary and unacceptable.
Over the past six years in this Parliament, there has been a variety of debates on our criminal justice system, a number of which have been about our increasing prison population. In those debates, particular attention has been paid to and concern expressed about the ever-increasing female prison population. However, despite the parliamentary scrutiny of the matter in this chamber and in the justice committees, our general prison population continues to rise, and our female prison population in particular.
I welcome the fact that we are having a specific debate on female offenders and women prisoners. One of the key elements in tackling the matter is ensuring that we acknowledge the specific issues that surround female offending. That is why it is important that we do not lift off the shelf the methods that we have used to tackle male offenders, but instead recognise the specific issues that surround female offending. Members throughout the chamber acknowledge that we are locking up too many women for crimes that they should not be in prison for.
I recall that, when giving evidence to the Justice and Home Affairs Committee in September 1999, the former chief inspector of prisons, Clive Fairweather, said that, in general, those who are in Cornton Vale are sad, not bad. The complexity of the situation, with people being locked up in Cornton Vale who should not be there, was clearly demonstrated in research that Dr Nancy Loucks carried out back in 1998. She demonstrated that, over a period of time, 82 per cent of women who ended up in Cornton Vale had been subject to some form of abuse in their lives. Some 46 per cent had been subject to sexual abuse and 60 per cent had been subject to physical abuse. Those statistics demonstrate that there is a real story of human misery and tragedy behind many individuals who end up in Cornton Vale for the criminal acts that they have committed.
If we are to be committed to tackling the problem, we must be prepared to tackle the causes behind women committing criminal offences in the first place. Sadly, in political debates on the issue in the chamber, when a member recognises a problem in someone's background, they are sometimes accused—by the Conservatives in particular—of being soft on crime and of not recognising the crimes that are committed against victims. However, that is not the issue. The issue is about recognising the complexity of the matter and not about condoning people's criminal behaviour. We should be honest about the need to tackle the complexity that lies behind the matter.
I do not for one minute question the minister's
Does the member's aim of reducing the prison population and the number of women in prison extend to refusing to jail more women if they commit more serious offences and there is an increase in such offences, which we know that there is?
Sadly, that simplistic and naive approach continually undermines the debate. Too often, the Conservatives seek to run with the public trend of condemning people rather than to show political leadership to tackle the problem. The issue is not about letting off people who have committed serious crimes, but about recognising that we are locking up people for committing crimes for which they simply should not be in prison.
On political leadership, does the member accept that, however much commitment they demonstrate, no individual can single-handedly succeed in the matter? Politicians must be involved in the approach to it, but every agency that works with people in the criminal justice system and in our communities has an interest in it. The task is to garner that support in order to move forward.
I recognise that inter-agency and departmental co-operation is needed to ensure that things work properly to tackle the issue, but we also recognise the systemic nature of the problem. Over the 10-year period between 1994 and 2003, the female prison population in Scotland increased by 68 per cent, which is four times the rate of growth of the male prison population. That clearly suggests that there is a systemic problem that must be addressed.
I hope that for the strategy that the minister is pushing forward to address the issue, the Executive is realistic and ensures that resources are available to deliver the services that are necessary, because if the Executive fails to deliver
Listening to members has been interesting. There are similar concerns, and the actions that have been taken so far to allow women to stay out of prison have been supported, which should give us hope that we will not wait another 35 years before we see progress, which Colin Fox suggested that we would have to do.
I acknowledge the genuine puzzlement of many members about why so many women end up in our prisons. As has been said, most women are minor offenders—such offences as theft, fine default and prostitution have been mentioned. Nevertheless, I believe that women can do anything that men can do, which unfortunately means that a woman could be violent or commit murder. For such women, prison is the right place; however, they make up only a small number of women prisoners, not the majority about whom we have been talking today.
The second annual report of the inter-agency forum on women's offending, which was published in January 2001, considered the patterns of women's offending. I will highlight two specific areas that it addressed, the first of which is prostitution. The IAF noted that different police policies could affect whether a woman is arrested for prostitution, and it cited Edinburgh and Glasgow as clear examples of cities with different policies. It was also shown that women are disproportionately penalised for prostitution-related offences and that their criminalisation seems to lead them into a spiral of reoffending and fine default, with prison often being the end result.
The other issue that the IAF highlighted, which I want to note, is fine default. The 2001 report stated that more than half of all females who were sentenced to prison were there for fine default. We have heard that again this afternoon. More recently, the Justice 1 Committee's report on alternatives to custody stated that the committee had heard evidence that
"almost half the women are in custody for fine default with an average sentence of nine days and their average outstanding fine is £214".
No one could say that it is right to have so many women in prison for fine default; however, as we have seen, in the three years since then, little progress has been made. Why is progress so slow?
There are alternatives to custody, to which I will return. Before I do that, I will comment on the women who find themselves in the prison
I have no reason to believe that those figures are unusual. Although I am aware that the Scottish Executive is investing in prison modernisation and in improving conditions in the prisons, I would like to hear from the minister that such work will include improving health care, especially in our women's prisons. That is not meant as a criticism of the health care that I saw at Cornton Vale; if anything, it is to all our shame that the care that women receive at Cornton Vale is often better than the care that they have received in the community. I have even heard it said that custodial sentences are given and might not be unwelcome because prison is a safer environment for some women.
Given the obvious vulnerability of the women, which the member has explained, does she think that it is acceptable that they are strip-searched and have their personal items removed; that restriction of their access to personal clothing is used as a punishment; and that restriction of access to the toilet can be used as a punishment? How does that help to improve the women's self-esteem and address all the problems that they exhibit?
We all want to ensure that the conditions that women experience in our prisons are such that the women are not degraded as has been suggested. However, the general message that we want to get across is that we need to ensure the highest possible standards for those who are in prison.
There are alternatives to prison. DTTOs have been used and have been shown to be successful, and we want the number of women who are offered them to be increased. The 218 project, to which my colleague Pauline McNeill referred, is an example of the alternatives that can be offered.
The point that I want to ensure that the Parliament makes today is that alternatives to custody need to be accepted by our communities.
We need people to understand that they are not a soft option and to ensure that those who hand out sentences have the confidence to use alternatives and that those alternatives help in the betterment of the women concerned.
I am pleased that the Executive introduced the debate. Women in prison need to be considered separately from men in prison; they are not just a subset. We must understand the reasons why most women offend, the options that are available to deal with their offending and how to help them through a prison sentence so that they can return to their communities and have a life in which they avoid reoffending.
I welcome the fact that the Executive motion acknowledges the problem of the continuing growth in the female prison population in Scotland, which, over a number of years, has risen from 137 to 312, which the minister said was the figure last week.
Many female prisoners have serious drug or alcohol problems and we must confront the reality of that fact. As many others have said, 90 per cent of women admitted to Cornton Vale have addiction problems, 80 per cent have a history of mental health problems and more than 60 per cent have a record of being abused.
Half the women in Cornton Vale each year are on remand and yet the majority do not go on to receive a custodial sentence. Elaine Smith made that point earlier, which I thought was valid because the statistic is concerning. We have to ask ourselves why so many women are on remand in prison and yet do not receive custodial sentences. If the offences that they commit are so trivial that they do not merit a custodial sentence, why are they on remand in the first place? We need to get to the crux of that issue. In addition, most women in Cornton Vale are serving very short sentences and about half appear to have been sent there for fine defaulting.
Given that 80 per cent of the women there have a history of mental health problems, we have to ask ourselves why, for example, only 6 per cent completed a course on anxiety problems in 2003-04. There is a large gulf between the number of prisoners with problems and the number of prisoners who attend courses designed to help them overcome those problems.
Figures show that more than 90 per cent of women in Cornton Vale have addiction problems and yet in 2003-04 only 12.5 per cent of them completed a 21-hour drug awareness course and only 9 per cent completed a course entitled, "Guide to Sensible Drinking". Audit Scotland
Women are held not only in Cornton Vale; a number of women prisoners in the west of Scotland are held at the jail in Greenock. Last year, other members of the justice committees and I visited Greenock and spoke to many of the women who were held there at the time. Such women will be leaving Greenock soon. In August, they will be heading back to Cornton Vale, where work has been completed on its extension.
Stewart Stevenson raised the problem of holding women in prisons that are not specialist centres for women prisoners. Given that, one would have thought that women prisoners—whose number has averaged around 70 since the move to Greenock in November 2002—would welcome the move back to Cornton Vale, but it seems that they do not want to go back to Cornton Vale. From my personal experience of that visit, I know that many women prisoners have expressed a preference to stay in Greenock rather than return to Cornton Vale. A recent article in the local newspaper included a quote from a woman prisoner, who said:
"Greenock is much better than Cornton Vale. If you want something here, the staff try to help you."
Another woman prisoner said:
"I find here very good because staff will hear you out, even if nothing comes of it. Cornton Vale hands you a form for a complaint."
Those comments suggest that, although there can be no argument about whether Cornton Vale jail has improved, it still has problems.
Like the women in Cornton Vale, most of the women in Greenock prison are in custody for a variety of mostly low-level offences. They are much more likely than men to have been
"Female prisoners are different because they come into prison but still have to be the parent and family provider. When you come into prison as a single parent, your children go into care and you have to maintain a relationship with social workers and schools through the prison walls. ...When the women meet their kids and partners, it's very tearful and difficult. Kids are often reluctant to leave the room. Cornton Vale works on a different agenda. It would seem the staff relationship is better here."
In that interview, Governor McGill also said:
"There's 66 females in right now and none of them poses a threat to the community; none that you could not put a tag on and let them out tomorrow."
If the women prisoners pose no threat to society, why are they in prison in the first place? The Executive has a responsibility to ensure that we imprison only those women who pose a threat to society, especially when imprisonment might involve taking away the only parent that a child has. Where women are imprisoned, the Executive must make available the necessary resources to ensure that proper treatment is available to enable them to avoid re-entering the prison system. That means that we must ensure that the courses that are listed are available to all prisoners, including female prisoners.
I urge the Executive to give serious consideration to alternatives to custody for many women offenders and to make available the necessary funding to ensure that those are put in place.
I welcome today's debate and the consensus that has emerged that we lock up too many women. It is good that we have all come to that realisation, which I hope the minister will take on board. There is no doubt in my mind that many women prisoners simply would not need to be in prison if we had proper drug treatment and rehab in the community. After all, some 90 per cent of women prisoners in Cornton Vale have a drug misuse problem. For every pound spent on rehab, at least £9.50 is saved on criminal justice services, according to the latest figures from the Scottish Drugs Forum.
Postcode treatment is also an issue in prisons. Many areas of Scotland have no prescribing doctor who is willing to prescribe methadone or put prisoners on to maintenance programmes. That is an increasing problem for the young women who go through the revolving door, whereby they enter prison and, on leaving, return
From recent conversations with the agencies in North Ayrshire, I know that the social services and drugs rehabilitation agencies there have a problem with practitioners who are reluctant to act as prescribing doctors to people in prison. I ask the minister to look into the matter to find out what the situation is across Scotland. As long as treatment and support are patchy, we will not be able to cure the problem.
The treatment of women in the system has been appalling. Given the element, to which some members have alluded, of women being treated differently from men, it seems to me that civil rights issues are also involved. It is quite clear that, in Bowhouse prison, because of the high degree of misuse of drugs in the prison, male prisoners were given easier access to a maintenance programme. I think that women are being very much discriminated against and that questions of human rights are raised.
The largest group of women—90 per cent—who are detained for drug-related offences are those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. Some 80 per cent of those women have mental health problems, as has been said already. I want to emphasise the point that I made when I intervened earlier to ask a question about the dual-diagnosis teams. Again, I ask the minister to ensure that that is looked into and that we have effective dual diagnosis in all our health boards. There is no doubt that the issue of drug and alcohol misuse is related to the issue of mental health. We should be treating both those problems in the same way.
Many of the women who are imprisoned are mothers. Most of them have a background of social deprivation and the implications for the children can be stark. Having a mother in prison has a greater effect on a family than having a father in prison because, in many cases, the mother who is imprisoned is a single parent—the only parent in the household. In such situations, arrangements have to be made for the care of any children. The separation of young children from their mothers can have long-term effects, as Elaine Smith outlined. They can have social, emotional and behavioural problems in later life and there is an increased risk that those children will become offenders. More than a quarter of women prisoners have been in care. That is a stark figure. We require a range of alternatives to
We do not want the revolving-door syndrome to continue. I visited Greenock prison recently and spoke to a group of young women from Ayrshire. The story that I got from all of them was that, when they left prison, they came back again within two, four or six weeks as a result of committing the same minor offences related to their drug misuse. They told me that if they had got on to a methadone maintenance programme, they could have stayed in the community. However, they need the correct support, which is why we need community-based rehabilitation facilities, which I have proposed in my member's bill. We need those facilities because people who have been stabilised or who are going through detoxification need support in the community to keep them level. That is crucial and I hope that work will be done on that issue.
I welcome today's announcement of the tower project that will be piloted in Motherwell. I hope that the proposal goes ahead.
I am sorry about the partial collapse of my desk but, as a former member of the Holyrood progress group, members will understand that I take an interest in snagging in the building.
I am not an expert on the subject of this debate, having only fairly recently joined the Justice 1 Committee, but I have listened to the debate with great interest. The speeches from all parts of the chamber have been worth while and I believe that I have learned things this afternoon that I did not know before.
I will make two points that occurred to me as something of a layman in these matters. There are 312 female prisoners. The minister is right to say that that is not as bad as the situation in England or Wales, but it is a lot worse than the situation in Denmark. The minister said that we can do better and talked about community options and the 218 time-out centre, as did Pauline McNeill and other members.
The figure of 312 prisoners sounds like a statistic, and lots of us go through life not quite appreciating what lies behind a statistic until something happens and, in a blinding flash, we realise what the statistic means. In that regard, I will tell members a short tale.
Quite recently, John Farquhar Munro and I visited a prison in Scotland and got talking to two
Annabel Goldie talked about the role of chaplains. Interestingly, when pushed by Jeremy Purvis on the issue of community work, Bill Aitken said that, to be fair to the judges, it was not always available as a disposal; it is available in Glasgow but not in other places. As a layman, one would say—
I shall therefore speak more clearly, particularly in the minister's direction.
My question to Bill Aitken is why such community work is not more widely available. If I am getting the minister's message right, in developing 218 and similar projects, one has to demonstrate to those on the bench that there are workable and viable alternatives that will not leave them with egg on their faces. However, I absolutely endorse the remarks made by Labour members behind me about people being seen to be soft on crime. That is not the point—the point is that we do not want such people in prison. It is crazy to put women inside because they cannot pay their TV licences.
A lot of MSPs visit prisons—I suggest that that is part of the job. I was a councillor for long enough in the Highlands and I did not visit Inverness prison. An awful lot of councillors, MSPs and others still do not visit prisons. Therefore, despite the good work that is being done inside prison by social work and prison staff, I still think that society can play a much bigger role, not just through people visiting prisoners but through people
I applaud the minister's work. Positive suggestions have been made by members on all sides of the chamber and I assume that the minister will consider them carefully to see what we can get out of working with them. If we can work more closely with local authorities, agencies and charities and encourage them to get into the prisons and among the prisoners, they can do great work, not least by healing the wounds in society and bringing people back as responsible members of society.
The debate has been most interesting and I will follow the subject with great interest. It has been a privilege to join the debate, albeit in a wavering voice and with a collapsed desk.
There are too many women in prison who should not be there. That is the loud and clear message from the chamber today. It has come from the minister, Stewart Stevenson, Colin Fox, Patrick Harvie and others. It is also an observation with which I agree. However, that most certainly does not mean advocating different or special treatment or a soft-option approach for women who commit crimes.
Prison and custodial sentences are intended to serve four main purposes: rehabilitation, public protection, punishment and deterrence. If the offence committed merits a custodial sentence—and such crime is on the increase—we should quite simply jail more people, men and women alike. Instead—and I genuinely regret this—the Executive is sending out entirely the wrong message by its refusal to end automatic early release. That stance is merely increasing the revolving-door, reoffending syndrome in Scottish prisons.
Bill Aitken and the deputy minister have both confirmed that more women are committing serious crimes. Ending automatic early release would send a clear message that those crimes will not be tolerated. Ten years should mean 10 years.
If Jamie Stone will possess his soul in patience—I know that that is difficult for him—we will get to that point.
If we have to build more prisons to cope with an increasing prison population—to ensure that the prison experience deters and that it aids the rehabilitation process in order to stop reoffending—so be it.
The acknowledgement that too many women are in prison is not about prison numbers, as Michael Matheson seemed to suggest. Rather, we have to focus on the fact that a large proportion of the female prison population should not be there. More worrying still, a Scottish Executive report of last year in which bail and custody trends were analysed suggested that male offenders were more likely to be jailed for crimes of violence and dishonesty, whereas female offenders were more often remanded on lesser charges such as shoplifting and other thefts. If this debate does nothing else but highlight and redress that injustice, it will have achieved some positive effect.
I hope that we can also put the spotlight on the number of women who are sentenced for defaulting on fines. We should encourage the use of civil diligence to recover those fines directly from the salaries and benefits of wilful fine defaulters—such as Carolyn Leckie—who can pay but won't pay and who abuse the criminal justice system at taxpayers' expense merely to grandstand and attract publicity.
For the other categories of fine defaulters who have financial difficulties, resources must be put in place to help them with money management. I would advocate more use of supervised attendance orders.
We know that 90 per cent of the women in Cornton Vale are there for drug-related or other addiction-related offences. The minister must therefore provide sufficient drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, coupled with community-based services. I very much welcome her announcement about the tower project in Motherwell. However, we need more such projects.
We also need an extension of the availability of drug testing and treatment orders, which, as Pauline McNeill rightly pointed out, should be available to all Scottish courts. They should also be available to children's panels.
If this debate is to be worth while and not merely a discussion of a relatively uncontentious subject
My challenge to the minister is to ensure that this debate is not just about warm words and good intentions. She must make it count by announcing today that she will commission such a directory for Scotland.
I ask members to forgive me, but I have found the debate rather depressing because I know from my previous life in the Parliament on the Justice 1 Committee—I am a former convener of that committee—that all the things that are being said have been said for the past six years. We know that too many women are imprisoned and that many of them are imprisoned for completely the wrong reasons and to ill, rather than to good, effect. I remember a procurator fiscal saying that prisoners in the main were bad, mad or sad. It has already been said that many of the prisoners in Cornton Vale are very sad, damaged people.
We know that government moves slowly, but I must go back to a comment that was made in 1999 by the then Deputy Minister for Justice. He stated that
"the only relatively sure method of dealing with the problems associated with women in prisons is to make a significant reduction in the number ... going to prison".—[Official Report, 16 December 1999; Vol 3, c 1774.]
That has not happened and, in my book, taking six years is too slow.
Good and worthy comments have been made by many members throughout the chamber. I will touch on as many of those comments as possible. The points are consensual, which is why I feel that progress must be accelerated. We must not stand in the chamber in a year's time debating the same issues with the same worthy comments being made.
The 218 time-out centre is to be welcomed, but I understand that it has a small capacity of approximately 20. That hardly touches the
On the info packs for sheriffs, I remember that when I was convener of the Justice 1 Committee, we went to great lengths to examine alternatives to custody and to look for a way whereby sheriffs could access information about such alternatives. I can only be glad that that work is moving forward, hence my question about information being put on an electronic database. Sheriffs are modern people: they could press a button and find out what places are available on the day, if the information existed. Sheriffs will not use alternatives to custody if they do not know what is available; they would have no option but to send women to prison. As Pauline McNeill said, sometimes they do so for reasons related to the health of the woman. Sheriffs sometimes look at a woman and say that the only way in which she can be helped and given a structured programme is by being put into Cornton Vale. That is the wrong reason for imprisoning someone.
Stewart Stevenson raised important issues about short sentences. We all know that they are not meaningful and that there is a revolving-door syndrome—prison becomes a habit. The process is costly to the individual and to the public purse, but it achieves nothing. He also raised the issue of decriminalising some offences, such as non-payment of the TV licence. I know that that matter is reserved, but it is an important issue. It is a farce that people are imprisoned for non-payment of their TV licence.
Linda Fabiani touched on the important issue of voluntary organisations. During the Justice 1 Committee's inquiry into alternatives to custody, we kept coming across the issue of funding for worthy organisations that were providing alternatives to custody. They sometimes had three or four funding sources and used acres of paper and a lot of their time trying to access funding, and all their grants lasted for different periods of time. That must be addressed. When a project is successful it should be given core funding to keep it going.
Michael Matheson raised the important issue of the systemic nature of the reasons why women offend. That issue was also raised by other members.
Stewart Maxwell pointed out that half the women in Cornton Vale each year are on remand and that many do not go on to a custodial sentence. That is another curable nonsense.
Short sentences and low-level offences have been mentioned. People should not be imprisoned for low-level offences. Members have also raised the huge social and human impact that a person's imprisonment has on their family.
Mary Mulligan raised the issue of how wrong it is to put fine defaulters into prison. She also referred to the Justice 1 Committee's alternatives to custody report and raised the health issues that face many of the women. She asked why progress has been so slow, but I do not think that she gave us an answer—I hope that the minister will do so.
Annabel Goldie rightly addressed the issue of maintaining the confidence of the public in our sentencing policy. She also agreed that prison is not relevant for many women prisoners. I agree with her comment that there must be effective collection of fines when they are properly imposed: again, we must ensure that we take the public with us. I was glad to hear her mention the issue of alcohol abuse, because it often gets missed in the mixture of problems that many of the women have.
I say to Annabel Goldie that both the Conservative and the SNP amendments could be agreed to—the Conservative amendment could follow the SNP amendment, if SSP members were good enough not to pursue their amendment.
Bill Aitken talked about how prison sentences impinge on families. He was quite right, and the matter was raised over and over again during the debate. I think that Bill Aitken is not unsympathetic to the idea that the failure to pay one's TV licence should not lead to imprisonment—
It is arguable; I give Bill Aitken that.
Colin Fox was right to say that there are wider social issues. Poverty drives many people into criminal activity, which is often low-level activity in which people are themselves victims. That point was also made over and over again. However, I cannot agree with him that no women should be in jail—I think he said that, although I do not know whether he meant it—because obviously a woman who commits a serious criminal offence such as murder or assault should be treated no differently from a man who commits the same offence. Society must be protected and there must be an element of punishment, which might include the removal of someone's liberty, for certain offences.
Pauline McNeill referred to very damaged women. We all agree that that is a problem, particularly in Glasgow, where 90 per cent of prostitutes are on drugs—a horrific figure. Pauline McNeill used an expression that I will remember; she said that street prostitutes lead a "brutal" existence. A system that allows such people to end up in prison is not compassionate.
Elaine Smith referred to community sentences. I agree with her that such sentences are not a soft option, but she will have to take the public with her, because when the public read that someone
Patrick Harvie questioned the philosophy that underpins punitive justice. As I said, there is a role for punishment in some circumstances, but in others there must be compassion and rehabilitation. The approach will depend on the nature of the offence and the individual.
I will quickly pose a few questions for the minister. Did she have discussions with the Sheriffs Association on the difficulties of implementing alternatives to custody? What input and return will there be on the information pack for sheriffs? Is the minister concerned about bullying in Cornton Vale prison, which was mentioned in the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons? It is not all roses in Cornton Vale. Finally—this is a hard nut to crack—when will there be a return even to the 1999 numbers of women in prison in Scotland, when there were slightly more than 200 women in Cornton Vale prison?
I understand that Christine Grahame is disappointed and, to some extent, frustrated by the fact that we have gone over ground that has been covered previously. However, on the whole, the debate has been good, measured and constructive. Members acknowledged generally that there is some consensus, not only about the nature of the problem but about how we address it. Although members raised issues to do with investment, which I will talk about, I did not hear them say that they would do things very differently. However, there is much on which we can improve and indeed need to improve.
The only dispiriting aspect of the debate was Margaret Mitchell's ill-judged speech, which was out of kilter not only with the speeches of members of other parties, but with those of her colleagues on the Conservative benches. It takes some going to make Bill Aitken look like a conciliatory moderate. If anyone was guilty of politicking in the debate, it was Margaret Mitchell. Some of her comments about ending automatic early release were completely misplaced and I would be interested to see the statistics that she has in relation to women offenders, which would be affected by her allegations about ending automatic early release. I suspect that her remarks were intended for somewhere else rather than for this debate.
However, on the whole we have had a good debate, with some telling speeches. We all acknowledge that there are far too many women in
Secondly, we must ensure that those female offenders for whom prison is the most appropriate disposal receive the services and support that they need. As Christine Grahame, Bill Aitken and others said, there are, regrettably, some people who need to go to prison. Patrick Harvie mentioned that he thought that only a tiny minority of women in prison are there for violent offences, but a snapshot that we took last year showed that 37 per cent of the women who were in Cornton Vale at that time were there for violent offences. That is a minority, but it is not a tiny minority, as Patrick Harvie suggested. Just as significantly, we need to ensure that female offenders receive the services and support that they need on their release. The minister touched on the work of the proposed criminal justice authorities, and the work that we are doing to try to reduce reoffending is pertinent to that.
Thirdly, we need to look at the wider social problems of poverty, social exclusion, drugs, sexual abuse and prostitution, because all those factors can and do lead to offending. Colin Fox and a number of other members touched on that, and we are doing some work on all those issues.
Stewart Stevenson and others mentioned that short-term sentences, often for failure to pay fines, seem to be more prevalent for women. Other members dealt succinctly with that issue and I do not need to repeat what they said. The fact is that prison is not necessarily the best place for such women and there should be alternatives for them. Pauline McNeill mentioned the 218 time-out centre, and she was echoed by Stewart Stevenson and Bill Aitken. It is interesting that the speeches of Pauline McNeill and Bill Aitken, who are fairly close to the issue, were slightly different from those of a number of other members. Those who mentioned the positive aspects of the centre were right to recognise the good work that is being done, but it is incumbent on us to listen to some of the other comments that were made by Bill Aitken and Pauline McNeill, because they are absolutely right. We have invested a lot of money in that pilot project and we want to see what it delivers.
Pauline McNeill's point is the fundamental one: the 218 time-out centre project must be seen as an alternative to custody. It cannot be seen as a soft option for people to get rehabilitation should they need it. Although the project may well help people with rehabilitation needs, if that is all that it
Annabel Goldie was right to say, as a number of us have said, that if the safety of society requires imprisonment, that may be the correct option, but we need to put the matter in perspective. We are talking about a minority of women offenders. She was right to say that judicial judgment should be respected, but Kate Maclean and others mentioned their concerns about the judicial system not using alternatives sufficiently. We need to respect judicial judgment, but equally there is a responsibility on us as ministers to ensure that those who are responsible for sentencing are not only properly informed of sentences, but have confidence in the credibility of sentences.
Christine Grahame asked whether the Minister for Justice has had discussions with the Sheriffs Association. The minister has had discussions and our officials are working with the Sheriffs Association to ensure that the relevant information is provided. It is interesting that the association has responded positively to the minister about the success of drug treatment and testing orders. We must ensure that the interventions that we offer are valid, credible and properly accredited. The work of the community justice accreditation panel should help to provide more confidence.
Annabel Goldie talked about respecting addicted people's wish not to take methadone and about helping people to stop taking methadone. She is right. The Executive has said more times than I care to remember that those who are on methadone should be offered help to stop taking it and that people who want to pursue abstinence should be helped to do so.
In her excellent speech, Rosemary Byrne described another alternative. Some women see a sustainable course of methadone as a way of overcoming cyclical entry into prison. The analysis that all that is involved is not going on to and coming off methadone is fairly simplistic and crude. Methadone has a role to play, but equally, so does abstinence. Rosemary Byrne put the situation in perspective.
Colin Fox echoed what several members said about having options outside prison, and I have spoken about issues such as poverty, sexual abuse and physical abuse. Colin Fox said that more day residential services are needed and that the courts need more encouragement to consider such services. Several members, including Linda
No, thank you.
If a gap exists, we will seek to plug it. It would be a travesty to fail to recognise what has been done. That is not complacency. We have put money into arrest referral schemes, supervised attendance orders, structured deferred sentences and DTTOs. As for the criticisms of Cornton Vale, £3.7 million has been invested in new facilities there, where independent living units have been created and a family centre has been opened. In the community, we have initiatives such as the time-out centre, electronic monitoring and other measures that I have mentioned. We have spent much money on creating alternatives to imprisonment, but that is not the whole answer—to take that view would be crude.
The debate was good and well informed. I take comfort from the fact that people are willing to work together. Elaine Smith mentioned excellent initiatives, such as the storybook mums scheme at Cornton Vale. I am also enormously encouraged that the willingness to work together is felt not just among members, but among a range of voluntary organisations throughout the country that want to contribute. The Minister for Justice is keen to hear from them. Our faith communities have also made a significant contribution. The report "Women in the Criminal Justice System" by the joint faiths advisory board on criminal justice examined the subject in detail. All that is encouraging.
We need humility and humanity. We need the humility to recognise that we are not getting everything right and to be willing to move forward to operate in a better way. We also need the humanity to recognise that the human tragedies that have been described in the debate demand our attention and something better.