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 shall therefore speak more clearly, particularly in the minister's direction.

My question to Bill Aitken is why such community work is not more widely available. If I am getting the minister's message right, in developing 218 and similar projects, one has to demonstrate to those on the bench that there are workable and viable alternatives that will not leave them with egg on their faces. However, I absolutely endorse the remarks made by Labour members behind me about people being seen to be soft on crime. That is not the point—the point is that we do not want such people in prison. It is crazy to put women inside because they cannot pay their TV licences.

A lot of MSPs visit prisons—I suggest that that is part of the job. I was a councillor for long enough in the Highlands and I did not visit Inverness prison. An awful lot of councillors, MSPs and others still do not visit prisons. Therefore, despite the good work that is being done inside prison by social work and prison staff, I still think that society can play a much bigger role, not just through people visiting prisoners but through people bringing literature and art to them. Yes, they are incarcerated and—alas—some will always have to be incarcerated; that is a sad fact. However, I believe that if society stretches out the hand of friendship to them while they are inside, that will better prepare them for when they come out.

I applaud the minister's work. Positive suggestions have been made by members on all sides of the chamber and I assume that the minister will consider them carefully to see what we can get out of working with them. If we can work more closely with local authorities, agencies and charities and encourage them to get into the prisons and among the prisoners, they can do great work, not least by healing the wounds in society and bringing people back as responsible members of society.

The debate has been most interesting and I will follow the subject with great interest. It has been a privilege to join the debate, albeit in a wavering voice and with a collapsed desk.