Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:24 pm on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Kate Maclean Kate Maclean Labour 3:24 pm, 13th April 2005

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.