THE Commission on Women Offenders, established to examine how female offenders are dealt with in the criminal justice system, has produced its final report.
In June last year, the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill asked former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini to chair the Commission to find a more effective way of dealing with women offenders with a view to reducing reoffending. Sheriff Danny Scullion and Dr Linda de Caestecker were also appointed to the Commission.
The Commission’s remit was to set out a series of measures to help reverse the continued rise in the female prison population, which has doubled in the last decade.
Commenting on the report, Mr MacAskill said: “I welcome this report, and would like to thank Dame Elish along with Sheriff Scullion and Dr de Caestecker for the significant effort and time they have invested in producing it.
“It is vital that we find a more effective way of dealing with women offenders in 21st century Scotland, and I will now consider this report in detail before making my formal response in the summer.
“The independent Commission has made recommendations which, taken together, set out a vision for how we can work effectively with women to reduce their offending and ultimately reverse the ten year upward trend in female imprisonment rates.
“This will take real commitment and determination from all of us: from the criminal justice system to reorganise itself to get the best possible outcomes, from the women who offend to honestly address their underlying issues, and from politicians to respond responsibly on what is such an important justice issue.
“Protecting the public will always be my top priority, and prison remains the only option for the most serious criminals, men and women. However, only 2 Per Cent of female prisoners were involved in serious violence last year, with the majority of the population not posing a serious risk of harm to the public. So, instead of spending taxpayers money to keep offenders who do not pose a serious risk of harm to the public locked up, we must find better and more cost-effective ways of addressing their behaviour by offering real and meaningful ways for them to rehabilitate themselves in the communities that they are part of.
“The Commission has reported on the continuous pattern of offending of many of the women held in prison, and the damaging cycle that they are so often unable to break. It is clear that there are better solutions to stopping female reoffending than simply locking them up. Many female offenders are deeply vulnerable people for whom offending is a result of chaotic lifestyles, mental health difficulties, and severe addiction problems. Many will have been the victims of abuse in their lifetime.
“It is in society’s interest to reduce the number of female offenders and consequently reduce the family break ups that often result, and the detrimental impact that can have on the life chances of their children who are ultimately our citizens of the future.”