Justice Secretary calls for radical change in treatment of female criminals

Michael Matheson

The Justice Secretary has called for a radical change in the way women are treated by the penal system in Scotland.

Michael Matheson, who scrapped plans for the proposed women’s prison at Inverclyde in January, said he wants Scotland to lead the world in its approach to female offenders.

At present, there are 450 females in Scottish prisons – with that number doubling in the past ten years.

After the plans for the jail at Invercylde were scrapped the Scottish government and Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said they would undertake a period of engagement with key partners with a view to investing in smaller regional and community-based custodial facilities across the country.

Mr Matheson said at the time that the revised proposals must be more in line with the recommendations of an expert group headed by Elish Angiolini QC.

The proposals will also consider whether there is scope for a smaller facility within the prison estate for the low number of serious female offenders who pose a risk to the community and are given long-term prison sentences.

Mr Matheson said in January: “As part of an expert group tasked with examining Scotland’s approach to addressing this issue, Dame Elish Angiolini QC made a number of important recommendations, recognising that female offenders have very different needs to their male counterparts and require very specific support.

“We know that women offenders are far less likely to be a danger to the public compared with men.

“We also know that the families and children of female offenders are more likely to go off the rails and offend themselves if mothers are jailed miles away from home.

“This turns into a vicious circle, affecting future generations, and is doing nothing to address reoffending.

“I believe we should be investing in smaller regional and community-based custodial facilities across the country, rather than a large new prison for women.

Mr Matheson, who is due to speak at a summit in Edinburgh on the issue, also said that imprisoning women was not part of his vision of a “modern and progressive country”.

While he accepted that serious offenders must be jailed, he said he wants Scotland to take a bolder and more ambitious approach to the management of female criminals.

He will join experts from Canada, Australia, Sweden and Denmark at the summit today.

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