SCOTLAND’S jails are failing to implement reforms for female prisoners recommended by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, a leading academic has warned.
Professor Andrew Coyle, the new president of penal reform group Howard League Scotland, criticised what he sees as the current trend towards large high-security jails, which he believes is particularly damaging to women.
Angiolini recommended that Cornton Vale women’s prison near Stirling be demolished and replaced by a smaller specialist centre for long-term prisoners, with short-term and remand prisoners based regionally.
Coyle, who spent decades working in the prison system and was governor of several Scottish jails, says that should have meant smaller institutions than currently planned.
“The government seems to have accepted the recommendations of the Elish Angiolini report,” he said. “Nevertheless, you’ve got a unit for 100 women in Edinburgh, 75 in Grampian and 300 in Inverclyde.
“The capital spend on this is money that could have been much better spent.”
He added: “What Angiolini recommended was to look at much more community provision. Examples that seem to work are smaller initiatives like the 218 service in Glasgow.
“Units for ten or 20 people, in the short term, are quite expensive. But if the consequence is that they help these women out of the criminal justice system you are going to save the taxpayer a lot of money.
“Building bigger and long-distance units is not going to solve the problem.”
The 218 Centre is run by Turning Point Scotland and Glasgow Addiction Service
initiative and is designed to address issues that women have with substance use, physical and mental health and other social needs, including housing and childcare.
There are almost 8,000 people in Scottish prisons and that figure is expected to rise in the coming years. That is despite crime falling to a 39-year low.
A number of experts, including current and former prisons inspectors, David Strang and Brigadier Hugh Monro, and the Scottish Prisons Commission, led by Henry McLeish, have said a 5,000 population should be the target.
However, Coyle, who will be giving the Howard League Scotland Drummond Hunter Lecture 2013 in Edinburgh
tomorrow, believes the prisons being built are more suited to a high-crime society and are not focused enough on rehabilitation.
He said: “There’s a presumption now in the UK in general, and in Scotland in particular, that when you build new
prisons you build big, high-
“If you look at the prisons that have been built recently – Addiewell [a private prison], Low Moss and Grampian –they are all high-security prisons.”
Asked what types of prisons he would support, he said: “Prisons with 100 places that meet the needs of the local community, where people can serve their sentences and local arrangements for re-inclusion can be done far better than if you take them out of their communities.
“We don’t have them any more. We build high-security prisons like HMP Grampian, far from the main centres of population.
“The level of security for
75 women is going to be something in the same region. If you have more young offenders, they need access to community resources and don’t need very expensive high-security hardware and software – walls, electronics like CCTV, and close supervision.”
He added: “Take the amount of money being spent [on security] at Peterhead. This is a prison for women and young offenders, who don’t need that closed environment. It works against re-integration.
“This is not the view of a weak liberal. The position I hold is from 40 years working in the system, and international experience seeing what works and does not work elsewhere.”
Backing Coyle, the Scottish Liberal Democrats justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: “I support Andrew Coyle’s call for the Scottish Government to deliver Elish Angiolini’s recommendations for smaller units for female prisoners. We know that this move helps with rehabilitation.
“Questions remain over the Scottish Government’s focus on rehabilitation, which must be reprioritised if we are to truly address the shocking findings of the Angiolini Commission.”
Despite these concerns, the Scottish Prison Service says it has made great progress in the treatment of female prisoners since the Angiolini report was published last year.
A spokesman said: “There are arguments to support that [Coyle’s views]. What we’re trying to do is take a pragmatic approach to address what was considered to be a particular problem and do that as quickly as possible.
“What we’ve tried to do is produce a better regime and set of facilities for women in prison.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said:
“Undoubtedly there’s a debate to be had about female prisoners. But the fact remains there are female criminals who have been perfectly happy to wreak misery on other people in Scotland.
“They are no less deserving of punishment and facing up to the justice system as anyone else.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This is a matter for the Scottish Prison Service. However, we are satisfied that the Scottish Prison Service, working with the Scottish Government and other justice partners, is making significant progress to meet the recommendations of the Commission on Women Offenders.”