Campaigners meet to review progress on female imprisonment in Scotland

Campaigners are holding an event at the Scottish Parliament to review what progress there has been five years on from the publication of the report of the Commission on Women Offenders.

The event, organised by the Scottish Working Group on Women’s Offending (SWGWO), will bring together those who wish to see a reduction in the number of women in prison in Scotland. There will be presentations by Professor Nancy Loucks, Chief Executive of Families Outside, and Dr Margaret Malloch, Reader in Criminology at the University of Stirling. There will also be contributions from women with lived experience of the criminal justice system.

Anne Pinkman, SWGWO Convenor, said:

“There was a great deal of excitement about Dame Elish Angiolini’s report when it was published in April 2012. Five years on, we felt the time was right to take stock and review what progress there has been since then.

“There are fewer women in prison in Scotland today than there were when the report was published. And whilst there have been a number of very welcome developments since the report was published, we are still far from achieving many of the aspirations contained in the report.

“We were disappointed to learn recently that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice will no longer provide an annual update to Parliament on progress in the implementation of the recommendations from the 2012 report. We are concerned that there is a risk that political momentum to drive forward change is slipping away.

“We hope that there will be a lively debate on Thursday evening about how we can all work together to ensure that the ambitions of Dame Elish’s report are achieved in full.”

Lisa Mackenzie, Policy and Public Affairs Adviser to Howard League Scotland, added:

“When the report was published, Dame Elish pointed out that there had been numerous previous reports on the subject of female offending and imprisonment across the UK. Next year sees the twentieth anniversary of the publication of ‘A Safer Way’, a report on female imprisonment in Scotland by the Social Work Services and Prisons Inspectorates for Scotland. That report advocated limiting the female prison population at Cornton Vale to 100 or less by the end of the year 2000.

“We are still a long way from that goal. For example, there are still too many women in prison on remand. Most women who are sent to prison on remand do not go on to receive a custodial sentence and yet even a short spell of period on remand can have catastrophic consequences: the loss of a tenancy, employment and custody of their children.

“Funding for community-based services for women is still often precarious, with providers enjoying little certainty about their resourcing from year to year. Cuts to mainstream services after nine years of the council tax freeze are also likely to have had an impact on the ability of women with complex needs to access the help and support they need.

“The challenge to us all is to find ways of ensuring that what progress there has been to reduce female imprisonment in Scotland does not grind to a halt. There is much more to do.”