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

As the member has intervened on that issue, I will deal with it now. It is unfortunate that the fact that nowadays women are committing more serious crime cannot be gainsaid. We have 16 female lifers. There are women who are involved in the drug trade. It is no longer the case that only shoplifters and so on are ending up in jail.

Sentencing is carried out on the basis that it should provide deterrence, punishment and protection of the public. There are not too many people who are in jail whose sentence does not fall into one of those categories.

I turn to fine defaulters, about which we can do something. It may be the case that only two women are in jail for fine default today, but tomorrow another two will go to jail and on Monday there will be three more in jail. By any stretch of the imagination, in the course of a year there are probably 400 to 500 admissions for fine default. We must consider how that can be avoided. I forget who made the point, but many of the women who end up in jail because of unpaid fines for prostitution do so on the basis of a roll-up. They have no intention of paying the fines that they receive and serve a one or two-day sentence simply to clear the debt. That is a completely unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter. We must consider the question of prostitution, although that is for another day.

I do not think that women are sent to prison very often for not paying their television licence fee. Stewart Stevenson made the interesting suggestion that that should be regarded as a civil matter. Although it is possible to argue that case, it raises the question where we draw the line. Should motor vehicle excise cases be handled in the same way? I do not know. It is simple to prevent people from going to jail for not paying fines. I am sorry to keep banging on about this, but the most sensible solution is to deduct the fines at source, either from salaries or from benefits. That would avoid having to send people to jail.

The third category of prisoners is remand prisoners. It is clear that to be in prison on remand is an unhappy situation in which to find oneself, but we must put ourselves in judges' position. They have to deal with women who come back time and again for shoplifting while they are on bail. After about the ninth or 10th not guilty plea, they must be remanded in custody. There is no way round that problem.