Women Offenders

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

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

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.