A wide range of prison models exist internationally from community residential units and open prisons to small, local and/or regional institutions. This report describes examples of these models, with a particular emphasis on countries with low female prison populations (typically Scandinavian countries) and those with women-only small, local prisons (as recommended in the Commission on Women Offenders 2012 report).
Overall, the evidence suggests that whilst there are sound reasons for considering small, local prisons which bring women in custody closer to their families, social networks and community services, the evidence on the impact (e.g. on reoffending) of specific prison models is fairly limited. Whilst prison size, design and location are important factors they are not in themselves guarantors of success. Best practice appears to be underpinned by the Scandinavian principle of ‘normalisation’ and a gender-specific approach.
Much can be learned from other countries and the steps that some have taken to improve the experiences and outcomes of women who offend. With the current drive for penal reform, Scotland is well-placed to learn from these experiences and develop an evidence-based and gender-responsive approach to working with women - at risk of custody, in custody and beyond custody - to improve their lives and those of their families and communities.