Female Offending Reforms 'Undermined By Short Jail Sentences'

8 March 2017, 06:21

Corton Vale Jail

An over-reliance on short custodial sentences is undermining government reforms for female offenders, a campaign group has said.

Published on International Women's Day, the Prison Reform Trust report said Scotland continues to have one of the highest rates of women's imprisonment in northern Europe, with seven in prison for every 100,000 women.

The trust believes imprisonment can compound problems and the services women need to turn their lives around "often lie outside prison walls''.

Following a 2015 report by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini QC, the Scottish Government plans to reform the system by replacing the country's only all-female prison, Cornton Vale, with a smaller jail for long-term prisoners and five small ''community-based custodial units'' in different parts of Scotland for shorter sentences.

The Prison Reform Trust said there is an over-reliance on remand and short jail sentences, with more than three-quarters (77%) of women sentenced to custody in 2015-16 given six months or less.

Campaigners say such sentences fail to tackle the underlying causes of offending.

Nearly half of women (45%) who serve a custodial sentence are reconvicted within a year of release, the trust said.

A government consultation on extending a presumption against short sentences ended last year and the Reform Trust believes an extension could have a "dramatic effect'' on the number of women being sent to prison.

Yvonne Donald, Scotland and Northern Ireland programme manager for the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Scotland is leading the way in making positive changes for women in the criminal justice system.

"The introduction of women's criminal justice centres and services where women receive support to tackle their offending behaviour, along with the issues that cause it, are an important step in achieving the Scottish Government's goal to reduce the number of women in prison.

"However, as our report shows, Scotland still has a long way to go.

"Whilst reforms to the women's prison estate are welcome, we must not lose sight that the services women need to turn their lives around often lie outside prison walls.''