Women Offenders

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:39 pm on 13th April 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:39 pm, 13th April 2005

It is arguable; I give Bill Aitken that.

Colin Fox was right to say that there are wider social issues. Poverty drives many people into criminal activity, which is often low-level activity in which people are themselves victims. That point was also made over and over again. However, I cannot agree with him that no women should be in jail—I think he said that, although I do not know whether he meant it—because obviously a woman who commits a serious criminal offence such as murder or assault should be treated no differently from a man who commits the same offence. Society must be protected and there must be an element of punishment, which might include the removal of someone's liberty, for certain offences.

Pauline McNeill referred to very damaged women. We all agree that that is a problem, particularly in Glasgow, where 90 per cent of prostitutes are on drugs—a horrific figure. Pauline McNeill used an expression that I will remember; she said that street prostitutes lead a "brutal" existence. A system that allows such people to end up in prison is not compassionate.

Elaine Smith referred to community sentences. I agree with her that such sentences are not a soft option, but she will have to take the public with her, because when the public read that someone has been put in jail they think that the problem has been dealt with and has gone away—that is not the case, of course.

Patrick Harvie questioned the philosophy that underpins punitive justice. As I said, there is a role for punishment in some circumstances, but in others there must be compassion and rehabilitation. The approach will depend on the nature of the offence and the individual.

I will quickly pose a few questions for the minister. Did she have discussions with the Sheriffs Association on the difficulties of implementing alternatives to custody? What input and return will there be on the information pack for sheriffs? Is the minister concerned about bullying in Cornton Vale prison, which was mentioned in the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons? It is not all roses in Cornton Vale. Finally—this is a hard nut to crack—when will there be a return even to the 1999 numbers of women in prison in Scotland, when there were slightly more than 200 women in Cornton Vale prison?