28 January 2015

S4M-12160 Women Offenders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12160, in the name of Kezia Dugdale, on women offenders.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I congratulate Kezia Dugdale on what was basically a broadly drawn and generally well-argued case. I agree on the broad thrust and disagree on the detail—that is the nature of debate. I was slightly disappointed that the issue of remand did not come until 12 minutes into her 14-minute speech, but Elaine Murray dealt with the matter; I very much welcome that.

Like others, I have visited the 218 centre. It was probably more than 10 years ago when I went there with Pauline McNeill, who was a Labour MSP at the time, thus indicating a willingness and an ability to work together. At the risk of damaging Richard Simpson’s political career forever, I add that we worked together very effectively when we were dealing with the issue of Peterhead prison. I used to take him away from his officials for secret coffee rendezvous. He is covering his face—but not in shame, because he did well on the subject. We can work together on the issue of women offenders and I very much welcome the tone of the debate so far.

An issue that has not come up might usefully be added for consideration afterwards. It is very clear that there are huge literacy and numeracy issues in prison. I genuinely do not know whether that is a gender issue. However, in smaller units, which is where we would expect to see women, there ought to be greater opportunity for dealing with that issue.

Dr Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): I have a couple of facts to share. The previous numeracy survey, which was carried out in 2013, says that 22 per cent of women had numeracy problems, 11 per cent had reading problems and 13 per cent had writing problems. The position is not that dissimilar for men.

Stewart Stevenson: I am grateful to the member for that. I am more familiar with the circumstances of male prisoners, because the sex offenders unit used to be in my constituency and I regularly visited constituents in there. We need to add numeracy and literacy to the mix of things that we look at.

It is interesting to visit different prisons. I visited quite a lot during the second session of the Parliament, when I was shadow deputy justice minister, with responsibility for prisons and drug policy. I went to the State hospital at Carstairs—we touched on mental health during the debate, which fortunately seems not to be quite so much of an issue for women—and my wife and I went to the women’s unit at Porterfield prison, in Inverness. My wife, who was coming to the issue absolutely fresh, was extremely impressed by the care and attention that staff gave to prisoners, in physical conditions that were far from ideal. The unit is small—I think that there were six women there when we visited.

I also visited Bapaume prison, north-east of Paris, to get comparative information for the Peterhead campaign, and was very impressed by what was being done for women there. The prison had a call centre, where women were being trained to work, and a manufacturing unit, where people were making changing mats for babies. There was a mother and baby unit, too, and the presence of children under two seemed to have a significant moderating effect on prisoners’ behaviour. Such an approach must be considered carefully, because children need to be protected from the effects of imprisonment, but it seemed to work at Bapaume.

I visited HMP Grampian shortly after the first women prisoners arrived there. The women were enthusiastic about the physical environment, although at that stage they were not particularly engaged in rehabilitation, so I cannot speak to that. They even told me that the food was good and invited me to join them for lunch—alas, another appointment took me away.

We have talked about the numbers. It happens that, as part of a private project, I have looked at convictions in St Andrews court between 1889 and 1899—my interest in genealogy took me there. Just as is the case today, 5 per cent of the convictions were of women. Nothing has changed in 125 years. I thought that that was interesting. The Ministry of Justice figures for England show broadly the same proportion of women prisoners, even though English policy is rather different in certain regards.

When Jim Wallace made a statement to the Parliament in September 2002 he was questioned about the failure to reduce the number of women prisoners. Jim Wallace was also criticised for a 28 per cent increase in remand prisoners, which was not well understood, and Cathy Peattie talked about overcrowding at Cornton Vale prison. This is a long-running issue. I hope that the minister will be unique in managing to make a difference. He has made a step change in policy.

We have made a good start. By resetting policy on women offenders, we do a good thing not just for offenders but for Scotland as a whole, because if we reset policy and focus on piloting new ways of rehabilitating people and addressing mental health issues, through dialogue with all parties, as the Government’s amendment says, we will be in a good place. I congratulate Labour on bringing the motion to the Parliament.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP