Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:07 pm on 13th April 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Colin Fox Colin Fox SSP 3:07 pm, 13th April 2005

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.