Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:28 pm on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 4:28 pm, 13th April 2005

I am sorry about the partial collapse of my desk but, as a former member of the Holyrood progress group, members will understand that I take an interest in snagging in the building.

I am not an expert on the subject of this debate, having only fairly recently joined the Justice 1 Committee, but I have listened to the debate with great interest. The speeches from all parts of the chamber have been worth while and I believe that I have learned things this afternoon that I did not know before.

I will make two points that occurred to me as something of a layman in these matters. There are 312 female prisoners. The minister is right to say that that is not as bad as the situation in England or Wales, but it is a lot worse than the situation in Denmark. The minister said that we can do better and talked about community options and the 218 time-out centre, as did Pauline McNeill and other members.

The figure of 312 prisoners sounds like a statistic, and lots of us go through life not quite appreciating what lies behind a statistic until something happens and, in a blinding flash, we realise what the statistic means. In that regard, I will tell members a short tale.

Quite recently, John Farquhar Munro and I visited a prison in Scotland and got talking to two male prisoners in a cell, one in the upper bunk and one in the lower. On the wall opposite the guy in the lower bunk was a picture of a child who had recently graduated. The guy on the upper bunk told us that he was going to get out before Easter and the guy on the lower bunk said he had a bit more time to do. He seemed a nice, decent, sad guy in his early sixties. When we were walking away from the cell, the governor said, "Of course, you'll understand that, because of the nature of their crimes, they cannot mix more freely with the other prisoners." I hope that this does not sound stupid, but I felt an awful chill and suddenly realised the extent of that man's personal tragedy and that of his family. Let us not try to weigh up bad against sad, but that was sad. At last, I came to realise how desperately we do not want to incarcerate people. Everyone is right to try to reduce the number of females who are in prison. That is the understanding that I came to—thank goodness—and I am sure that lots of people have reached that understanding before me.

Annabel Goldie talked about the role of chaplains. Interestingly, when pushed by Jeremy Purvis on the issue of community work, Bill Aitken said that, to be fair to the judges, it was not always available as a disposal; it is available in Glasgow but not in other places. As a layman, one would say—