A RADICAL overhaul of the means of tackling female offending is under way after the Scottish Government backed wide-ranging reforms proposed by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.
They include demolishing the controversial Cornton Vale jail, which prisons inspector Brigadier Hugh Monro has repeatedly criticised for keeping women in “disgracefully poor” conditions.
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is now expected to consult in the summer on the size and location of its replacement, and will receive £20 million from the Scottish Government in 2014-15 for the project, although it is likely to be several years before it is up and running.
Dame Elish recommended that Cornton Vale be replaced by a smaller, specialist centre for long-term prisoners, with a medical centre, mother and baby unit and a separate unit for young women. Short-term and remand prisoners should be based regionally, she said.
The Scottish Prison Service is already moving in this direction, with 110 women in Edinburgh, 50 in Greenock, and room for 50 at the planned HMP Grampian.
However, the main aim of the reforms is to keep women out of prison, after the female population more than doubled from 210 in 2000-01, to 430 in 2010-11.
To this end, it plans to create one-stop-shop Community Justice Centres (CJCs), where women will be able to seek advice for problems with addiction, mental health, housing, debt, education and employment.
There will also be more supported accommodation for women who might struggle to complete community sentences and comply with their bail conditions while living at home.
Prosecutors will have new powers to impose unpaid work orders on offenders, while police will be able to divert women to CJCs for help and support.
The Scottish Government has put £1m aside for support projects and the delivery of community sentences and £7.5m to provide one-to-one services.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “Only 2 per cent of women offenders were involved in serious violence last year, with the vast majority of them not posing a serious risk of harm to the public. Yet, the number of women offenders in prison has doubled in the last decade, despite crime falling.”
He added: “Reoffending rates upon release are unacceptably high, and the effects on family members can be devastating.”
The Scottish Government has accepted 33 out of 37 recommendations from Dame Elish, a response welcomed by Brig Monro, HM Chief Inspector for Prisons, and voluntary group Safeguard Communities – Reducing Offending (Sacro).
Tom Halpin, chief executive of Sacro, said: “More widespread use of mentoring will help many women to better engage with support services aimed at reducing reoffending.”
However, Scottish Labour accused the government of dithering. Lewis Macdonald, the party’s justice spokesman, said: “It is regrettable that it has taken this long for Kenny MacAskill to be shaken into action.”
The SPS said it takes five to seven years to build a prison.
To read the full article visit the Scotsman website.