3.Purpose and Scope
This report summarises some of the international evidence on different approaches to managing women in custody. This report was prepared to inform the consultation undertaken by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service in relation to the redesign of the female custodial estate in Scotland.
Due to time constraints it was not possible to undertake a systematic review of all models of custody. Indeed, there already exists a number of relatively recent international reviews of women's prisons which cover topics such as prison design and architecture, security, parental responsibilities, prison management, prison programmes and health. It is not within the scope of this review to replicate these extensive pieces of work, or to review best practice in specific prison programmes.
Rather, the aim is to extract from these key reports a description of the range of models for women in custody adopted in different countries, with a particular emphasis on Scandinavian countries (which have low female prison populations) and Canada (which transitioned from a national to regional estate), and to consider the relevance of these approaches for Scotland. This paper therefore relies heavily on the following reports:
- International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) (2008) International Profile of Women's Prisons
- Bartels, L. & Gaffney, A. (2011) Good practice in women's prisons: A literature review
- Prison Reform Trust (PRT) (2013) International Good Practice: alternatives to imprisonment for women offenders
- Prison Reform Trust (2014) Transforming Lives: reducing women's imprisonment
- Convery, U. (2009) Addressing Offending by Women: A Literature Review. Northern Ireland Office
Existing literature reviews emphasise the difficulties in assessing good practice in women's prisons and comparing international evidence. This is due to problems with outcome measures (in particular reconviction rates) and a general lack of robust evaluations of prison services and programmes for women. More generally speaking, differences in crime rates, imprisonment rates, recidivism rates and sentencing practices make it very difficult to make intelligent international comparisons. Any such exercise is outwith the scope of this review. The literature on best practice is therefore somewhat limited in terms of its rigour. Notwithstanding these limitations, however, this report provides an overview of what appear to be the most effective women-specific models.
The report begins with an overview of the female prison population and custodial estate in Scotland, followed by a short introduction to some best practice principles of managing women in custody. The next section describes different models of custody internationally with an emphasis on small, open and/or local prisons (rather than large, national prison models which increasingly are deemed to be undesirable facilities for incarcerated women). There then follows a short discussion on the Scandinavian and Canadian models, and the lessons that can be learned for Scotland. Following this, the report discusses a number of policy considerations for women in custody such as healthcare and parental responsibilities. The latter sections of the report cover a short consideration of some of the risks of smaller de-centralised prisons, a discussion around the definition of custody and finally, the conclusions that can be drawn from this evidence review.
Email: Tamsyn Wilson
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