Women Prisoners (Support and Services)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

6. To ask the Scottish Government what steps are being taken to ensure that the most appropriate support and services are in place for women in the prison system. (S5O-03426)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

In 2015, my predecessor announced ambitious new plans for the future of the female custodial estate. The Scottish Prison Service has a dedicated team and programme in place to deliver the Scottish Government’s vision of transforming how Scotland cares for women in custody.

The SPS is working with a range of partners and stakeholders to develop a new model for managing and supporting women in custody, which has included developing new custodial arrangements for women to ensure that both the physical environment and the available services are gender specific and trauma informed. The SPS works with a range of statutory and third sector partners to deliver women’s services that address learning and skills, employability, physical activity and wellbeing, health—including mental health and support for addictions—and support for family engagement. Further needs-based services are available, including behavioural change programmes and bespoke trauma and bereavement services.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for his informative answer. However, at the moment, changes to public policy on gender recognition are taking place without there having been a change in the law. Those changes are unregulated and unscrutinised, and they specifically affect women in prison who are especially vulnerable. Is the cabinet secretary aware that the SPS implemented its policy on gender identity with an equality impact assessment that neither considered the effect on women prisoners nor consulted them? Does he agree that that process was deeply flawed? Will he ensure that the current review, which was referenced in the report by Women and Girls Scotland, will carry out proper equality impact and risk assessments on any new policy proposals and involve a wide-ranging consultation that includes female prisoners?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I will ensure that the concerns that Elaine Smith has reflected are part of that review. She is right to say that a review is going on. It should also be said that the SPS gender identity and gender reassignment policy, which was published in 2014, was developed in partnership with a number of organisations including Stonewall and the Transgender Alliance. Five years on, it is right that it is under review, which is happening. The review will include a consultation that will be open to members from across the chamber to feed into. Notwithstanding that, I will ensure that a transcript of what Elaine Smith has said is passed on to the SPS for its comment.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Given the high incidence of women in prison who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, does the cabinet secretary a gree that cutting the availability of prison-based specialist services such as those provided by Open Secret, which is now Wellbeing Scotland, is a retrograde step that has resulted in such prisoners’ underlying problems, which have often led to their using alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, not being addressed?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Of course, it would be better if the vast majority of such women were not in custody. Some 90 per cent of women who are in custody are there for 12 months or less, so they would be affected disproportionately—in a good way—by the application of the presumption against short custodial sentences, which Margaret Mitchell does not support. It would be better if Ms Mitchell and the Conservatives supported the presumption, which would mean fewer women being in custody and, instead, being treated in the community for their problems with substance abuse and so on.

On the premise of Ms Mitchell’s question, which was about the services that are available, I advise her that we will always continue to fund the SPS for the important services that it provides. However, it would be much better if the Conservatives supported our presumption so that, instead of sending women to prison, we could treat them in the community, addressing the root causes of their offending instead of merely the symptoms.