Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:48 pm on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 2:48 pm, 13th April 2005

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 by ensuring that the system re-lifes offenders, so that victims will not relive their hurt as crimes are repeated. We are happy to support the Executive motion.

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."