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 bow to Rosemary Byrne's knowledge of dual diagnosis, which I do not know much about. However, I will talk about the member's essential point, which concerns the underlying reasons why women find themselves in prison. I am sure that we will agree on that.

I declare that I am a member of the Routes Out board. I know that 90 per cent or more of the women in Glasgow who are involved in prostitution are drug addicts. Street prostitution is brutal and women who end up being exploited on the streets are not there through choice. Tolerance of prostitution is not an option for those women, so the Routes Out project is important, because we need to get them off the streets and out of prostitution when possible.

In answer to a written question, Cathy Jamieson advised me on 9 March that the number of women involved in prostitution and charged with soliciting whose cases have gone to the drugs courts is none. I want to explore that issue for a minute. We know that 90 per cent of women who have been charged with soliciting have a drug problem, but none of them is getting access to drug treatment and testing orders. We need to understand the underlying reasons for that. The cases of women who are charged with soliciting tend to go to the district courts, where DTTOs are not available at the moment. I find it difficult to get my head round that. Men may be serial shoplifters or housebreakers, or may be involved in assaults, but because their underlying problem is addiction they are referred to the drugs courts, so that intensive therapy can take them out of offending. Why can the same not be done for women who are exploited by prostitution? I fail to see the difference. The option of DTTOs should be available to such women. Prostitution is not an informed choice and we must get women out of the danger that they are in.

I have visited both Cornton Vale and Greenock, where I spoke to many women prisoners who are not in prison for the first time and who are already involved in a cycle of offending. Colin Fox referred to the shortage of community service orders. The number of community schemes that are available is not the same for women as it is for men, so the trends for men and women are different. That goes back to the issue that I highlighted earlier. For some reason, women with badly damaged physical and mental health on community service orders do not get access to the same services that would be available to them at Cornton Vale. As other members have said, the issue of child care has also never been addressed properly.

I want to spend the last minute or so of my speech talking about the innovation of the 218 time-out centre, which is in my constituency. It was not an easy venture. The Scottish Executive, in association with Glasgow City Council, took some time to procure the building and to get things up and running. Like other members, I have been to see the centre a few times. I know that there is to be a review and that the University of Stirling's report on the centre will appear in October. However, at this stage I must express some doubts about whether the time-out centre is the best facility for taking women out of custody.

I do not demean in any way the excellent work that is being done at the centre, which is very impressive. However, I have the impression that it tends to deal with rehabilitation, rather than offending. If that is the case, I implore ministers to think seriously about the concept of a halfway house, which Sylvia Jackson has suggested many times in debate. That means tackling the problem from the other direction—taking women from prison to a facility where they can deal with their chaotic lifestyles. I remain open-minded about the issue, but we must seriously consider setting up a halfway house. The resources that we are investing are colossal, but we must be open to the possibility that the time-out centre may not be the best way of directly reducing the prison population, which is what we all want to achieve. That is why I voice doubts at this stage.