International Review of Custodial Models for Women: Key Messages for Scotland

This report summarises some of the international evidence on different approaches to managing women in custody. It was prepared to inform the consultation undertaken by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service earlier this year in relation to the redesign of the female custodial estate in Scotland.

10.Redefining Custody?

Despite some concerns about the use of community sanctions as an alternative to prison (see previous section), there is increasingly more evidence that women are less likely to reoffend following a community sentence than a custodial one, and that these differences are not a result of differences in the women serving them[233]. It is likely that family and community connections, continuity of local service delivery and normal daily life play a key role. Similarly, the detrimental effects of prison on women is well-evidenced (including loss of accommodation, relationship breakdown, separation from children, worsening debts and social marginalisation).[234],[235]

This short review has made reference to some of the benefits as well as the limitations of small, local and/or regional prisons, and highlighted the importance of the views and practice of sentencers and the wider penal (and societal) culture. Indeed, countries with lower rates of female prison populations tend to have different sentencing practices, as well as a far greater use of open prisons and halfway houses than is currently available in Scotland.

These issues raise questions about the function of custody and for whom it is most appropriate (i.e. the custody threshold). The appropriateness of remand and short sentences, in particular, have been questioned by a number of experts, with some arguing against the 'over-use of remand for women'[236] - particularly as approximately two thirds of women on remand do not receive a custodial sentence[237]. Similarly, a number of organisations have voiced concerns about the use of custody for low-level, non-violent offences committed by women (e.g. the Prison Reform Trust, Scottish Consortium for Crime and Criminal Justice)[238].

Reimagining what custody might look is outwith the remit of this report. However, it is relevant to any discussion about prison redesign. A woman might be considered to be 'in custody' whilst serving her sentence at home (under curfew), or at work whilst being held at an open prison. It is in this sense that a redefinition of custody could be an important aspect of regime change. In these circumstances, careful consideration would need to be given on how to manage non-compliance, as well as to the public perception of seemingly less punitive measures (see Security and Public acceptability sections in Chapter 8).


Email: Tamsyn Wilson

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