Recently, the Scottish Government recognised the need to create more effectual processes and practices to deal with female offending. The Angiolini Commission on Women Offenders was charged with the task of taking stock of the current state of affairs inside the women's prison, Corton Vale. Their aim was to improve the outcomes for women in the criminal justice system. Scotland has seen it's prisoner numbers soar dramatically in the last few years, swelling to over 8000 inmates. However, the imprisonment rates for women have surpassed the overall rate of increase, with the number of female prisoners doubling in the last decade. This level of acute over-crowding undermines rehabilitative efforts, significantly reduced living standards, and increases daily difficulty for prison staff.
The problem of female imprisonment is further complicated by the complex needs displayed by female offenders. Many female inmates have histories of sexual and physical abuse, and suffer from serious mental health and addiction problems. In addition, many of these women are given short sentences in response to low level and petty offences, which are often connected with their addictions. Women also pose lower risk to public safety, so the necessity for locking them up at the current rate was a central question for the commission.
The final report offers a comprehensive account of the experiences of women prisoners, the pathways that lead them to offending, the impact of detention on their families - especially dependents such as children - and the types of services and resources that are required to best reintegrate and rehabilitate women who commit crime. The report provides what has been aptly described as a practical roadmap for radical change. Finding that the building is not fit for purpose, the commission recommends that Corton Vale be replaced with Community Justice Centres, which will be staffed with multi-disciplinary teams as well as providing intensive mentoring. For those women serving longer sentences for serious crimes, the report advocates the development of smaller specialist prisons.
The findings and suggestions in this report are detailed and wide ranging, and should not be seen as exclusive to Scotland. Given the Irish female prison population is also experiencing a steady, albeit less speedy increase, this report has real value and insight to offer the Irish prison system.
- Scotland: Commission on Women Offenders