McArthur: Justice system mustn’t fail thousands more women

On the fifth anniversary of the landmark Angiolini Report on female offending, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has said women still aren’t being treated fairly by the justice system and called for short-term sentences to be brought to an end.

New analysis conducted by the Scottish Liberal Democrat has shown:

  • the number of women being given the shortest prison sentences is unchanged since 2012;
  • 4,000 women have been sent to prison on short-term sentences since the Angiolini Report was published, despite the Commission concluding that “short-term prison sentences have little or no impact on reoffending”.

It comes after the independent Scottish Working Group on Women’s Offending last month warned the Justice Secretary about the rate of progress, stating the “obvious concern now is that, despite great commitment, we face a situation whereby as with previous reports, the recommendations made by the Commission on Women Offenders will not be satisfactorily implemented.”

David Strang, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, also recently warned that “much work is required” to reduce the number of women in custody within the planned timescale.

Mr McArthur commented:

“This new analysis shows that the justice system remains fundamentally unfair to women. The use of senseless short-term sentences and remand remains rife. The number of women given the shortest stints hasn’t changed a jot.

“The continued over-reliance on prison belongs in the Victorian era. That is why it is so important that we realise the potential for the Angiolini Report to be a game-changer in the shift towards community justice.

“One of the Justice Secretary’s first acts back in 2015 was rightly to cancel plans for a huge new women’s prison. While there is work in the pipeline to bring our justice system into the 21st century, experts are now warning the Government that there is a real risk this will fall short.

“SNP ministers need to show they mean business. They could start by immediately announcing a new robust presumption against sentences of less than 12 months. Experts told the Justice Secretary this was required during a consultation in 2015. It is now 2017 and we still don’t know whether they will go ahead with it.

“This must be part of a much broader package of reform. That is why ministers should also be clear about what progress is being made against Angiolini’s recommendations and what they expect to achieve. Without this, there is a risk the justice system will fail thousands more women unnecessarily.”

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