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International summit on female offending

Experts in Edinburgh to assist work on new approach for Scotland.

The time has come for a radical shake up of the way in which Scotland deals with women in prison, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said yesterday.

The comments come as leading experts from as far afield as Canada, Denmark, Holland and Sweden arrived in Edinburgh to help advise on ambitious new approaches Scotland can take as part of a three day summit.

Earlier this year, the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson announced that he wants to take a bold, progressive and more ambitious approach to women with convictions in Scotland.

Mr Matheson asked the Scottish Prison Service to undertake an extensive period of engagement with key stakeholders in Scotland to develop options to consider. He also said he wanted to look at what works best internationally and learn from what other countries are doing. 

Experts from countries praised for their approaches have agreed to help shape a new strategy for Scotland and will be working with Scotland’s own experts this week to make recommendations for Ministers to consider. An announcement is expected later this year.

Speaking after formally opening the conference, Mr Matheson said: “The time has come for a radical shake up of the way in which Scotland deals with women in prison.

“Behind England and Wales, Scotland has the second highest female prison population in Northern Europe and our female prison population doubled between 2002 and 2012. That is unacceptable, it is wrong and it doesn’t fit with my vision of how a modern and progressive country should be addressing this issue. 

“I want us to be bolder and take a more ambitious approach in Scotland.

“We know that women in prison have very different needs to their male counterparts and require very specific support. We also know that women offenders are far less likely to be a danger to the public compared with men. 

“We need to act on the evidence.

“Over the last couple of months, we have been undertaking a period of extensive engagement with key partners with a view to developing a more radical set of options for Scotland to implement. The response we’ve had so far from people and organisations across the country to the consultation has been extremely positive and there’s been a real enthusiasm to get involved to ensure Scotland gets its new approach right. “We’ve already got some fantastic and very successful initiatives in place in Scotland which serve as a solid base to build on. 

“We can also learn lessons from our strategy for young people in custody which appears to be working well, with the number of young people in custody falling by 70% over the last 7 years and frequently no young women aged 16 and 17 in custody in Scotland. 

“But if we are to be as ambitious as we want to be, it is clear we also need to look beyond our own shores and set our sights on gathering the best possible international evidence available and learn from the successful approaches that other progressive countries in the world are taking. 

“It is great that we’ve managed to encourage such leading experts from across the world to come to Scotland to share their experiences and make recommendations on the type of approaches we can take. We’ve got representatives from as far afield as Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Holland - all countries who have won praise for adopting bold and progressive ways of dealing with women in prison. 

“Their views and experiences will be invaluable to us as we consider the right approach for Scotland. We will learn at first-hand about the best international approaches which work – and also to learn from them about what doesn’t work. But this international summit is about more than that. It gives Scotland the chance to be a leader of change.

“The active involvement of such a high calibre of international experts represents a unique opportunity to set Scotland on the path to building the most progressive justice system in Europe. I am keen to grasp that opportunity and learn as much as I can from them in the days ahead.”


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