Turning off the tap: policy and practice for women in criminal justice in Scotland

Alec Spencer

PinkmanAlec Spencer is convenor of the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice and Anne Pinkman is convenor of the Scottish Working Group on Women Offenders. This is the text of a joint document submitted to Michael Matheson, Justice Secretary on the 18th June 2015.

Women in the criminal justice system are known to be vulnerable and, most often, have themselves been victimised. Therefore:

  • Women should always be treated with respect and humanity, no matter what circumstances bring them into contact with the criminal justice system
  • The focus should remain upon the individual, and not solely her behaviour or offence

There are three key points at which action can be taken to prevent women from entering prison. The Scottish Government should use its legislative, policy-making and funding powers to ensure action is taken at each point.

  • Prevention
  • Poverty underlies much criminal offending and homelessness often results from imprisonment. The Scottish Government should invest in welfare reform to lift women and children out of poverty. We suggest that the new income tax-raising powers that will take effect on 1 April 2016 could be used to mitigate the impact of welfare reform measures introduced by the UK Government.
  • No woman should ever lose her tenancy due to being remanded into custody, and no woman should ever be released from prison without a secure home to go to.
  • There should be a major investment in training in trauma informed practice. This should be made compulsory for all sectors working with vulnerable women.
  • Women who live chaotic lives often fail to access services because they cannot travel to appointments, or cannot manage strictly timed appointments. Health, social work and voluntary services must become more accessible by offering flexible working practices and outreach. The Scottish Government should provide extra funding to services that adapt in this way.
  • Services for women should be mapped, and funding should be made available to ensure that there are suitable services available throughout the country.
  • Scotland currently has the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe at only eight years of age. https://www.crin.org/en/home/ages/europe. SCCCJ strongly supports this being changed to at least 12, in line with UN recommendations (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), CRC General Comment No. 10 (2007): Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice, 25 April 2007, CRC/C/GC/10 Paragraph 32) and would like the Scottish government to consider raising it to 15 in line with the Nordic countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland.
  • Diversion and alternatives to prosecution
  • Services, such as community justice centres, that support women in need, should be funded to provide a 24 hour on-call service to the police, so that the police are supported to find alternative solutions for women at risk of arrest or detention. Triage diversion should be available in every custody suite.
  • If the police judge that arrest is inevitable, there must be immediate arrangements made for the care of any dependent children, and the woman should be involved in those arrangements, as far as practicable.
  • Police Scotland should highlight in their report to the Procurator Fiscal whether a person is suitable for diversion, taking into consideration the victim and community, thus helping Procurators Fiscal to quickly identify suitable cases for diversion.
  • Prosecutors should always consider diversion from prosecution, and should play a key role in achieving the Scottish Government’s target to reduce the number of women in prison.
  • Prosecutors should always have up to date information on the availability of services for women in their area, to whom they can make referrals as an alternative to prosecution.
  • Prosecutors should be able to access services at any time, and the Scottish Government should provide funding to enable appropriate services to respond to a request from COPFS to provide support to a woman who would otherwise be prosecuted.
  • Sentencing
  • We request that the Scottish Government considers an increase in the presumption against sentence to 6 months or be even bolder and go up to 12 months.
  • Legislation should be enacted to ensure that if there is no likelihood of a custodial sentence being handed down, the court cannot remand the accused to custody.
  • Prosecutors should not object to an application for bail if there are suitable alternatives available such as supervised bail or electronic monitoring.
  • Every court should maintain a current map of local services so that the full range of available sentencing options can be considered in each case.
  • Community Justice Centres, or other appropriate services, should be funded to provide a liaison service to the courts to avoid any situation where a woman is sentenced to custody in the belief that such a sentence would be beneficial, or would secure services not otherwise available.
  • The Scottish Government should support the judiciary and the legal profession to understand the availability of, and make use of, the full range of sentencing options such as supervised bail, suspended sentences, and electronic monitoring (EM).
  • Services should be funded to support women for whom electronic monitoring is deemed appropriate, so that EM is not a stand-alone sentence.

Turn off the tap: Justice reinvestment blueprint

Close HMP & YOI Cornton Vale.

Although we do not currently have the figures for the running costs of HMP & YOI Cornton Vale, the report of the Scottish Prison’s Commission “Scotland’s Choice” made the following statement on cost savings in the Scottish prison system:

We want our prisons to hold dangerous and serious offenders safely and securely, and to support their ability to lead law abiding lives when they are released. Only about one-third of prisoners manage to avoid reconviction for two years after being released. Does this level of success justify the level of investment or are there other options where we would be more wise to invest? If the average number of people held in prison were reduced by even 500, this would represent a notional annual saving to the taxpayer of £15 million to £20 million. Conversely, increasing the prison system by 700 places will cost an additional £21.7 million to £28 million annually to operate. The notional savings resulting from reducing the prison population by 700 would for example, be enough to fund a national roll-out of an internationally recognised initiative to wipe out illiteracy across Scotland.(Source: Alec Spencer (2008),‘The Unnecessary Cost of Imprisonment,’lecture, The Future of Prisons in Scotland Conference)

Reduce homelessness related to remand and unnecessary imprisonment. The cost to national government of each case of homelessness is estimated to be £26,000 per year. For local authorities to evict, rehouse and re-let (excluding legal costs) it is estimated to be £23, 856 per tenancy[1]. If 10 instances of homelessness could be prevented each year, the saving for national government and local authorities would be £260,000 and £238, 560 respectively.

The economic and social cost per drug user in Scotland is estimated to be £50,000 per year.[2] If 10 women can be helped out of drug addiction, the economy would benefit by £607,030 each year. The average cost of one DTTO order (including drug courts) is £9,6053

It costs an average of £5,328 per week, or £277,056 per year, for each place in secure accommodation.[3] Preventing 2 girls going into secure accommodation would save £554,112 per year.

The current unit cost of diversion from prosecution in Scotland is £332 (CJSW costs). The average prosecution costs for summary and justice of the peace courts are £342 with the average court costs of £115 and average legal assistance costs of £315 on top of that making a total unit cost of £772 source: Table 2 estimates of the cost of criminal procedure and Table 3 estimate of the unit costs of community services / disposals in file 00474266_crimjustice costs 2015.xls

Support women to remain in the community and to take up employment. The average wage in Scotland is £27, 045.[4] This salary would attract tax of £3,400, and National Insurance of £2,285.[5] If 10 women at risk of imprisonment can be supported into paid employment instead, they would contribute £34,000 in tax and £22,850 in National Insurance, in addition to their positive contribution to the Scottish economy in general. This positive contribution would be in addition to the cost savings outlined above.


[2] Scottish Devolution and Social Policy: Evidence from the First Decade” (2012), edited by Murray Leith, Tim Laxton, Iain McPhee who cite Casey et al, Scottish Government Social Research (2009) that “…the cost of £60,703 per problematic drug user.http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/224480/0060586.pdf

[3] http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0047/00474429.pdf


[5] http://www.netsalarycalculator.co.uk/27000-after-tax/

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with: