Scotland has the highest proportion of women in its prison population of any part of the UK, according to a international survey.
The study by Birkbeck, University of London found 4.9 per cent of inmates in Scotland are female, compared with 4.6 per cent in England and Wales and 3.6 per cent in Northern Ireland.
Globally, the female prison population has risen by more than 50 per cent since 2000.
The study comes after David Strang, Scotland’s chief inspector of prisons, last week warned there was “much work” to do to reduce the “stubbornly stable” number of women in custody.
According to Birkbeck’s World Female Imprisonment List, there are 360 women in Scotland’s prisons, compared with 3,974 in England and Wales and 51 in Northern Ireland.
These were all up compared with 2000, when they stood at 203, 3,350 and 23 respectively.
The study found women and girls make up 6.9 per cent of the global prison population and 6.1 per cent across Europe.
Roy Walmsley, who led the research, said: “The surprisingly sharp rise over recent years in the number of women and girls in prison; the substantial variations in female imprisonment levels between neighbouring countries, between different regions and between different continents; and the fact that female imprisonment levels have been increasing at a very much faster rate than male imprisonment levels should prompt policy makers in all countries to consider whether it is really necessary to hold so many women and girls.”
The Scottish Government won plaudits in 2015 when it cancelled plans for a new £75 million women’s prison at Greenock, unveiling instead plans for a new facility to house 80 inmates at Cornton Vale in Stirling and a number of smaller regional units.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to reducing the rate of female imprisonment in Scotland. The number of women in custody in Scotland has gone down in recent years and we are working hard to continue that trend with our wide-ranging plans which include a smaller national prison.”