Scottish ministers accept recommendations on female offenders

News conference
Image caption The Angiolini commission outlined proposals for female offenders

The Scottish government is to shake up the way female offenders are dealt with by the criminal justice system.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has published his response to an expert report on female offenders.

The report, compiled by the former Lord Advocate, Dame Eilish Angiolini, made a series of radical proposals to improve the way women are treated.

They included the replacement of Scotland's only women's prison, Cornton Vale near Stirling.

All but four of its 37 recommendations have been accepted; the other four will be the subject of consultations.

The Angiolini Commission highlighted the fact that the vast majority of female offenders have drug, alcohol or mental health problems - making prison an unsuitable place for them to be sent.

Vicious circle

Its key recommendation was the replacement of the overcrowded Cornton Vale prison.

The Scottish government is to give the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) £20m to help it produce plans to improve facilities for female prisoners.

The SPS said it was already looking at alternatives, including moving prisoners from Cornton Vale while a new, smaller facility is built on the site.

Mr MacAskill said the current system was failing because many women were repeatedly sent to prison, even though they represented little risk to the community.

"It's a vicious circle; it is doing nothing to improve our communities, and we must be smarter and more sophisticated in our approach," he said.

"The Angiolini Commission report sets out an ambitious vision of how to improve the current system and we will now begin work to implement these changes with immediate effect."

Some of the changes recommended by the commission, particularly those involving a restructuring of community justice services to keep female offenders out of prison, will be harder to achieve.

The report said the new service should offer a joined-up approach, involving health and social workers and other agencies to divert women from prosecution and treat the problems which cause them to offend.

But Mev Brown of the think tank Front Line Policy said while the report acknowledged the revolving door of addiction, offending and imprisonment, it overlooked the social context, particularly drug use.

He said: "We must tackle our drugs problem. Policymakers need to face up to and accept the reality and scale of the problem.

"Clearly, we need some radical, new thinking. Not more of the same-old, same-old."

'Early progress'

But the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Brigadier Hugh Monro said: "I welcome the Scottish government's response to the report from the Commission on Women Offenders.

"It's a very positive response in relation to prisons, and very much reflects the points I have been making over several inspections about what is needed to improve conditions for women."

Image caption Scotland's female prisoner population has almost doubled in a decade

Scottish Labour's justice spokesman, Lewis Macdonald MSP, welcomed the government's response but said "actions speak louder than words".

He called on the justice secretary to back up his words with early progress on replacing Cornton Vale.

He added: "Whilst Kenny MacAskill has spent the last year dithering since a damning HM Inspectorate of Prisons report, the women in Corton Vale remain more likely to reoffend.

"We have consistently argued that we need a more joined-up and sophisticated approach to dealing with this issue."

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman, Alison McInnes MSP, said she was pleased Mr MacAskill had accepted most of the Angiolini recommendations.

She added: "Moving forward, we need to see a strong and concerted effort from the Scottish government to implement the necessary changes to the justice system. "

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