Scotland and Reducing Women’s Imprisonment

Following the two year study carried out by Soroptimists and the Prison Reform Trust into female offending across the UK, Margaret Mowat (Scotland South Regional PAC) presented our findings and recommendations at “The Second Annual Female Offenders Conference: Intervention & Support’ in Scotland. She gave an account of what we did across the UK & highlighted the recommendations, particularly those for Scotland. It was welcomed warmly by the delegates with a wide ranging debate on the wisdom of building a new women’s prison which exposed the arguments for & against & suggested ways forward.
Proposed Inverclyde PrisonThe Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, has since announced that they will not be building the prison at Inverclyde.


The report highlighted the high number of women with mental health problems in prison and echoed some of the findings of the 2012 commission on Women offenders headed by the former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.

The Scotland section of the report concluded:

“The Scottish government should scale back its proposal to build a new national women’s prison at HMP Inverclyde. Much of the cost of building a new prison would be better spent on embedding and expanding community alternatives to custody, and ensuring imprisonment is used as a last resort. If sufficient focus was given to community alternatives a smaller facility at HMP Inverclyde would be all that is required.”

One of the report’s 10 further recommendations was that sheriffs and judges should have a presumption against custody for women with dependent children.

It also recommended the greater use of community disposals instead of short sentences, that local authorities ensure their criminal justice social work service provide women specific services and that mobile outreach services should be developed in rural communities.

“The National” paper in Scotland ran a 2 page article on these issues. The latest press releases suggest that Michael Matheson MSP is accepting the ideas put forward in the UKPAC/PRT and other reports.

Mr Matheson said he had been studying the current plans and listening to views expressed by a number of key interest groups.

He said: “It does not fit with my vision of how a modern and progressive country should be addressing female offending. We need to be bolder and take a more radical and ambitious approach in Scotland. When it comes to the justice system, we must be smarter with the choices we make and be more sophisticated in the way in which we deal with female offenders.”

The government said it would now undertake a period of “extensive engagement with key partners” including the Scottish Prison Service with a view to investing in smaller regional and community-based custodial facilities across the country.

Billie Wealleans, Soroptimist International Programme Action Chairman (Scotland North), said she was pleased that the prison at Inverclyde would not be going ahead. She believes that using the UKPAC/PRT report and implementing the recommendations included in the Angiolini report should be the way ahead through embedding and expanding community alternatives to custody, and ensuring imprisonment is used as a last resort.

The newsletter from Prison reform trust has a section dealing with the conference which Margaret spoke at and the subsequent information about the scrapping of plans to build the prison.

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