Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:16 pm on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 3:16 pm, 13th April 2005

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 shaped to be more appropriate in Cornton Vale. Within such a process, the needs of the prisoner with regard to health and addiction, employment and employability, housing, education, family and offending behaviour are determined, as are throughcare needs.

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.