Justice Secretary confirms shake-up of criminal justice


Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill today confirmed a major shake-up of the way in which Scotland’s criminal justice system deals with women offenders is to begin with immediate effect following the findings of an expert report into female offending in Scotland.

Mr MacAskill has also tasked the Scottish Prisons Service with identifying alternatives to replace Scotland’s only female prison, Cornton Vale.

An expert report into female offending by Dame Elish Angiolini was published in April and made 37 ambitious recommendations to the criminal justice sector for improving the management of female offenders in Scotland, including recommending the closure of Cornton Vale prison.

Responding today, Mr MacAskill said that although some of the Commission’s most far-reaching proposals, such as an alternative to Cornton Vale Prison, couldn’t happen overnight, the system for dealing with female offenders in Scotland wasn’t working as it should and will now be overhauled, backed by significant funding. 

In summary:

  • The Scottish Government agrees with the aims of the Commission’ report, has accepted 33 of the 37 recommendations and work will begin on delivering them with immediate effect.  The remaining four recommendations will be examined in more detail, in consultation with the sector. 
  • Ministers have asked the Scottish Prison Service to produce plans for improving the female prison estate, including finding a suitable alternative to Cornton Vale Prison, and the Scottish Government has provided an additional £20m capital funding for 2014-15 to aid this purpose.
  • This financial year, the Scottish Government is providing £1 million funding to support projects which will put the Commission’s plans for local delivery of community sentences and support for women offenders into practice. 
  • In line with the Scottish Government’s shift towards preventative spending, £7.5m will be allocated over three years to provide one-to-one services to support offenders to complete their sentences and address the underlying problems which so often fuel their crimes.  These workers will engage intensively and persistently with offenders to ensure they comply with the programmes and appointments relating to their sentence, and also to give them practical help to get their lives back on track.
  • The Scottish Government will consult later in the year on the options for restructuring community justice to agree the most effective and efficient ways of using the £100m it allocates annually to deliver community sentences, support to help offenders rehabilitate and to reduce reoffending in the future.
  • The Justice Secretary will report to Parliament on progress against the report’s recommendations in October 2012, and annually thereafter.

Mr MacAskill said:

“I’d like to thank Dame Elish along with Sheriff Scullion and Dr de Caestecker for the significant effort and time they have invested in producing their report.

“The Commission’s recommendations are ambitious and provide a challenge, not just to the Scottish Government and to our public services more widely, but to Scottish society as a whole.

“But we will rise to that challenge because the current system is failing Scotland and the status quo cannot continue.

“The stark reality is highly concerning.  Only 2 per cent of women offenders were involved in serious violence last year, with the vast majority of them not posing a serious risk of harm to the public. Yet, the number of women offenders in prison has doubled in the last decade, despite crime falling.

“Many of these women are in and out of prison time and time again, often on short sentences for minor offences, and the negative effects can be seen in communities up and down the country. Many are being kept on remand when the courts do not see the need to give them a custodial sentence in the end.  Reoffending rates upon release are unacceptably high, and the effects on family members can be devastating.  The evidence shows that this can be a catalyst for their sons or daughters to turn to a life of crime themselves.

“It’s a vicious circle, it is doing nothing to improve our communities, and we must be smarter and more sophisticated in our approach.

“Of course far-reaching and radical changes cannot be delivered overnight, nor can they be made by Government alone.  Changes to our prison estate cannot be delivered quickly or cheaply.  All of those involved in the criminal justice sector across Scotland have a substantial role to play if these ambitions are to be realised.

“A series of actions will now be taken over the short, medium and longer term to implement the Angiolini recommendations and I have asked the Scottish Prison Service to begin identifying suitable alternatives to Cornton Vale leading to its replacement.

“The Angiolini Commission report sets out an ambitious vision of how to improve the current system and we will now begin work to implement these changes with immediate effect.

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