Pubdate: Thu, 14 May 1998
Source: Scotsman (UK) 


The seven recommendations for the Scottish Office on women offenders

1. Enable more women to be released on bail to await trial, rather than
remanded in custody at Cornton Vale

THE PROBLEM: On any given day, a quarter of the population of Cornton Vale -
about 55 prisoners - is on remand. Such prisoners are a very vulnerable
group, and five of the seven deaths have been among them. They are often far
from home, withdrawing from drugs and anxious about their children and
future. Courts tend to choose remand instead of bail when women are drug
abusers with chaotic lifestyles and no stable home address.

THE SOLUTION: The report suggests the Scottish Office provides more bail
accommodation and considers using electronic tags to enforce use of bail
hostels. More background reports, support, advice, accommodation and
supervision is needed by social workers to enable women to be released on bail.

2. To reduce the number of women jailed for fine defaults, particularly for
prostitution and failure to buy a TV licence

THE PROBLEM: More than 55 per cent of the women sentenced to prison have
defaulted on a fine or breached a community punishment imposed for a
relatively minor offence, such as not owning a TV licence. Prostitutes who
are fined for soliciting usually have no way to pay their fine except by
going back on the streets.

THE SOLUTION: Consider reforming the fines system and introducing unitary
fines tailored to income; enable courts to impose supervised attendance
orders instead of prison more often in such circumstances.

3. Set up a steering group to consider the special problems of Glasgow and
the west of Scotland

THE PROBLEM: 80 per cent of women in Cornton Vale are from the west of
Scotland. Heroin injecting is a particular problem which affects every part
of female addicts' lives.

THE SOLUTION: Set up a task-force including everyone who deals with women
offenders in Glasgow, from procurators-fiscal to housing providers; from
police to health workers, to see if the system can be improved to keep them
out of jail.

4. All social work departments to draw up a policy on women offenders by the
end of November

THE PROBLEM: The number of female offenders is so small that few criminal
justice social work departments have a separate policy for women - they
simply include them in their plans for male offenders. Many fail to offer
community disposals appropriate for women, leaving them more likely to
breach their sentences and leaving courts with no alternative but fines or

THE SOLUTION: Decide what women's needs and problems are and devise
community disposals which women will be less likely to breach.

5. Collect information on female offending

THE PROBLEM: Few separate statistics are available about women's offending,
and those there are are too scant - for example, failure to buy a TV licence
is listed under "miscellaneous offences", when it accounts for 20 per cent
of female convictions. The pattern of women's offending is very different
from men's - for example, less than 1 per cent of convictions are for
violent crimes. Lack of information makes it difficult to analyse the
problems women pose, or to measure whether sentences passed on women are
cutting reoffending.

THE SOLUTION: More detailed data-gathering about women.

6. Aim to stop the use of prison as a punishment for woman under the age of
18 by 2000. Consider doing the same thing for men

THE PROBLEM: Kelly Holland and Arlene Elliott were both 17 when they
committed suicide at Cornton Vale. Young women are a particularly disturbed
and vulnerable group, prone to bullying and easily influenced by older

THE SOLUTION: Sentence women under 18 to secure accommodation, where they
can be educated in a more caring and therapeutic environment.

7. Cornton Vale to be overhauled

THE PROBLEM: The prison remains a stark place for depressed and vulnerable
women , with its single-cell accommodation, high proportion of male officers
and scant provision for children to visit.

THE SOLUTION: Knock groups of three cells into double bed-sits, so two women
can provide mutual support and company; consider in-cell television for
remand prisoners at evenings and weekends; enable more women to serve their
sentences at local prisons in Dumfries and Inverness; include a women's wing
at the new private prison being built at Kilmarnock.

The Kilmarnock recommendation is the only idea the Scottish Office minister
Henry McLeish rejected, on the grounds that the contract had already been
signed and it would delay the scheme to change it.

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Checked-by: Melodi Cornett