Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:43 pm on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:43 pm, 13th April 2005

The debate has been interesting. The minister will be interested and, possibly, concerned to learn that I agreed with much of what she said. All of us are uncomfortable with the fact that so many women are in prison. However, there are no easy answers. It is incumbent on all of us to examine the matter constructively and to see whether we can find some solutions to this difficult problem.

The problem is difficult because there are issues outside the judicial aspect. One of the things that makes us most uncomfortable is the fact that prison sentences that affect women impinge on their families. The fact that someone is guilty of criminality does not necessarily make them a bad mother and none of us can be happy about children having to be taken into care.

Let us consider what we can do. If we exclude the few women who in the course of a year end up in jail on quasi-civil matters, such as breach of interdict, women in jail can be put into three categories. First, there are those who are serving sentences. Secondly, there are remand prisoners. Thirdly, there are those who find themselves in jail for fine default.

I am pleased that there has been a genuine move away from a position that was apparent the first time that the matter was debated in the Parliament, which was that women were being sent to jail merely on a judicial whim or without a great deal of thought and care being given to whether such a sentence was appropriate. I assure members that that certainly does not happen. For the reasons that I have articulated, judges at whatever level turn somersaults to avoid having to send women to jail. Indeed, perverse as it may seem, there is a degree of sexism in the judicial system in that respect.