Mr Murphy said too many women were being jailed, leading to disruption of family life and the creation of a new generation of criminals.
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His pledge to keep women out of jail was accompanied by a vow for more “honesty” in sentencing as he announced a Labour review on early release to ensure that “time means time”.
Mr Murphy said criminals should serve the sentences given.
Speaking at a Scottish Parliament Journalists’ Association lunch, he said the government should abandon plans to replace Cornton Vale with a new “super-prison” in Inverclyde.
He said smaller community facilities that would give female offenders better access to their families should be built instead.
Mr Murphy claimed the number of female prisoners stood at 430, twice the number before devolution. He said: “Cornton Vale is the most violent prison in Scotland and to simply plan to build a modern version of Cornton Vale is planning for failure. Instead, I would like us to have smaller prisons.”
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