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Scotland’s criminal justice system is failing women

28 January 2010

Offenders’ charity Sacro has criticised the Scottish justice system for failing women badly.

It follows the report into the state of Cornton Vale women’s prison that identified an institution “in crisis”.

Sacro argues: “What constitutes this crisis is not a failing prison regime but a failure of the Scottish justice system to deal appropriately with many of the women who come into contact with it.”

It is widely accepted that the vast majority of Scotland’s female prison population suffer from addiction issues or mental health problems at reception, according to the charity. These women typically arrive in a very vulnerable state and even a short stay in prison is damaging – serving only to dislocate any social supports they have.

The importance of early and appropriate intervention to treat these issues is paramount in stopping the cycle of offending that sees almost two-thirds of prisoners reconvicted within two years, says Sacro.

Detrimental effect

Despite the best efforts of the prison service, the prison governor herself admits that many of her prisoners could be better dealt with in the community and the fact there are so many women on short sentences is having a detrimental effect on prison operations.

Sacro adds: “When this view is shared by the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, surely it is time to start making real use of the viable and effective interventions provided by Scotland’s third sector.”

The charity argues that there are many more appropriate alternatives to locking up these particularly vulnerable members of our society. Supervised bail and supported accommodation services exist to provide a way of addressing these women’s problems in a secure and monitored environment within the community. With almost a third of Cornton Vale’s inmates being held on remand, services such as these would bring very real and positive benefits to both the prison and the women involved.

"It is only by supporting these women in addressing their problems after liberation that they can return to their communities, free of offending", the charity concludes. "In the light of these report findings, it is more important than ever to take a more appropriate approach to these issues."

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