Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:37 pm on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 3:37 pm, 13th April 2005

I welcome the Executive's choice of debate, which was not an easy one. The subject is difficult. As others have said, the prison population of women continues to grow. What more needs to be said? Too many women are in prison, which is not the best place for most women. Most of us agree on that. The question is how we will achieve progress.

The debate is complex. It is important to understand the reasons for the trends before we decide what action to take. Andrew McLellan's inspection report repeats what other inspectors have said. We know that 90 per cent of women in Cornton Vale have or had a drug addiction problem and that 60 per cent of the women have a history of abuse. They are damaged women. Cornton Vale and Greenock prison, where women are contained, are now large health centres rather than prisons.

Carolyn Leckie asked why many women in Scotland go to prison. We are not the only country to send women to prison and the league table does not show that our position is very bad. However, we must ask why the situation exists. One theory that results from what we know about the health of the women whom we send to prison is that sheriffs are so concerned about the physical and mental health of the women whom they see that they believe that Cornton Vale may be the best option for those women. That is a sad reflection on the available options.