We all want to ensure that the conditions that women experience in our prisons are such that the women are not degraded as has been suggested. However, the general message that we want to get across is that we need to ensure the highest possible standards for those who are in prison.
There are alternatives to prison. DTTOs have been used and have been shown to be successful, and we want the number of women who are offered them to be increased. The 218 project, to which my colleague Pauline McNeill referred, is an example of the alternatives that can be offered.
The point that I want to ensure that the Parliament makes today is that alternatives to custody need to be accepted by our communities.
We need people to understand that they are not a soft option and to ensure that those who hand out sentences have the confidence to use alternatives and that those alternatives help in the betterment of the women concerned.
I am pleased that the Executive introduced the debate. Women in prison need to be considered separately from men in prison; they are not just a subset. We must understand the reasons why most women offend, the options that are available to deal with their offending and how to help them through a prison sentence so that they can return to their communities and have a life in which they avoid reoffending.