MSPs have been urged to support the findings of a new report which examines the treatment of female offenders in Scotland ahead of a parliamentary debate today.
The Joint Faiths Advisory Board on Criminal Justice (JFABCJ) has written to MSPs following the recent publication of the Angiolini Commission on Women Offenders.
The commission was established by the Scottish Government to examine ways to reduce the number of female offenders in Scotland’s prisons. It also looks at ways to break the cycle whereby women reoffend on their release from prison only to end up with another short-term custodial sentence, often for a relatively minor offence.
The majority of women who are sent to prison have mental health or addiction problems that the current system fails to address. In addition, the alternatives to custody – such as community service – are often seen as inappropriate for women, leaving prison as the only option in most cases.
The report contains 37 recommendations, including the closure of Cornton Vale Prison in Stirling, and the JFABCJ is asking politicians to do everything in their power to make sure these are implemented.
Other measures suggested in the report include replacing Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only women’s prison which currently houses more than 300 inmates, with a smaller unit for high-risk prisoners and those serving long sentences, according to the report.
Another key recommendation would see police and judges given new powers to deal with female offenders, which would allow police to issue conditional cautions and judges to hand down combined custodial and community sentences.
The Rev Elaine MacRae is a Church of Scotland Minister and Convener of the JFABCJ. She said: “We supported the Scottish Government’s establishment of the Commission on Women Offenders (the Angiolini Commission) and applaud the recommendations published in the final report.
“We now call upon politicians of all parties and none to support its radical recommendations as part of a wider re-consideration of how the Scottish criminal justice system serves our society. This is a moment of opportunity which may not come along again soon.”
She added: “There are so many who live not in the margins of life but in the margins of the margins. This report is a step towards making life better, easier, less chaotic for them and by doing so making a better, safer Scotland for us all.
“It would be all too easy for this report to be yet more words on paper which will gather dust in a cupboard somewhere, and yes, it will be difficult to put it into practice, but what a difference it will make.”