Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:33 pm on 13th April 2005.

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Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative 4:33 pm, 13th April 2005

If Jamie Stone will possess his soul in patience—I know that that is difficult for him—we will get to that point.

If we have to build more prisons to cope with an increasing prison population—to ensure that the prison experience deters and that it aids the rehabilitation process in order to stop reoffending—so be it.

The acknowledgement that too many women are in prison is not about prison numbers, as Michael Matheson seemed to suggest. Rather, we have to focus on the fact that a large proportion of the female prison population should not be there. More worrying still, a Scottish Executive report of last year in which bail and custody trends were analysed suggested that male offenders were more likely to be jailed for crimes of violence and dishonesty, whereas female offenders were more often remanded on lesser charges such as shoplifting and other thefts. If this debate does nothing else but highlight and redress that injustice, it will have achieved some positive effect.

I hope that we can also put the spotlight on the number of women who are sentenced for defaulting on fines. We should encourage the use of civil diligence to recover those fines directly from the salaries and benefits of wilful fine defaulters—such as Carolyn Leckie—who can pay but won't pay and who abuse the criminal justice system at taxpayers' expense merely to grandstand and attract publicity.

For the other categories of fine defaulters who have financial difficulties, resources must be put in place to help them with money management. I would advocate more use of supervised attendance orders.

We know that 90 per cent of the women in Cornton Vale are there for drug-related or other addiction-related offences. The minister must therefore provide sufficient drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, coupled with community-based services. I very much welcome her announcement about the tower project in Motherwell. However, we need more such projects.

We also need an extension of the availability of drug testing and treatment orders, which, as Pauline McNeill rightly pointed out, should be available to all Scottish courts. They should also be available to children's panels.

If this debate is to be worth while and not merely a discussion of a relatively uncontentious subject to fill debating space during an election campaign, I issue the minister the following challenge. In February, during justice questions, I asked her whether she would commission an accessible directory of drug and alcohol treatment places and programmes, with up-to-date information so that adults and their families could access the programmes. Her response was that the information was available and that she declined to act. She missed the point. Our amendment is intended to highlight the fact that early intervention is crucial. In the same way, it is absolutely essential that adults and their families know how and where to access such information quickly and at short notice, so that they can seize the moment.

My challenge to the minister is to ensure that this debate is not just about warm words and good intentions. She must make it count by announcing today that she will commission such a directory for Scotland.