Media Release: Women’s group calls for Government to review Criminal Justice System

THE  Scottish Women’s Convention (SWC) was set up with funding from the
Scottish Executive to provide opportunities for women to engage in focused
debate about specific issues of concern and to influence policy decisions in

A policy group of high profile women, including representatives
from the Federation of Women graduates and addiction counselling services,
are requesting a review which will build on the work of the Fawcett
Society’s Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, published in
2004, which highlighted issues faced by women in the criminal justice
system, including practitioners, offenders and victims.

Several MSPs, a senior police officer and representatives from the criminal
justice system are expected to attend an event on 1st March organised by the
SWC at Edinburgh City Chambers when the policy group will introduce their
case for a two-to-three-year review of the entire criminal justice system in
its treatment of women.

The SWC claim that such a commission is required as
it is currently male-dominated and with more women than ever facing charges
of petty crime, proportionately few women facing criminal charges and few
women working at a senior level within the criminal justice system. They
claim that policy considerations, sentencing provision and even defences
tend to work on a male model.

The SWC state that treatment of offenders is based around men’s needs and
behaviour patterns with little consideration given to women’s needs and
personal circumstances, such as caring responsibilities.

The call for a commission comes against a backdrop of increased pressure on
prison services with female prisoners at their highest ever level.

Says a spokesperson: “A recent study showed that 90 per cent of admissions to Cornton Vale have addiction problems and, in one period of assessment, the figure was 100 per cent. The link between drug misuse and crime is well documented and research shows that female prisoners
are far more likely to have committed a crime whilst suffering from an
addiction than men.”

The SWC claim that women are rarely a danger to society
and their crimes are generally drug related or poverty driven. Over 60 per cent of
admissions at Cornton Vale have a history of being abused.

The SWC would therefore like a commission to examine issues such as:

* the links between being the victim of crime and offending
* appropriate alternatives to custody for women offenders;
* the effect of current sentencing proposals on female offenders;
* the effectiveness of drug, alcohol and other therapeutic
programmes on users;
* how well prisons meet the needs of women who have mental health
problems or who have been the victims of abuse;
* the effectiveness of resettlement programmes for women offenders,
ex-offenders and the wider community;
* the effects of the current prison policies on mothers keeping
their babies in prison;
* how best to reduce the occurrence of re-offending; and
* how best to ensure women maintain meaningful contact with their
families whilst incarcerated.

In addition to focusing on female offenders, the SWC are asking that the
commission also examines the treatment of female victims and witnesses.

The spokesperson adds: ‘Feedback from members of the SWC has led to a belief that certain offences against women, in particular domestic abuse and rape, have historically been
treated with ‘less rigour’ than other crimes and they would like the review
to examine how to reverse the falling conviction rates for rape; what
policies are needed to deal effectively with domestic abuse; what is women’s
experience of the police, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and
court system and how well women are kept informed of the process of
investigation and decisions to prosecute.

“Finally, with women accounting for only 20 per cent of police officers, 16 per cent of
sheriffs and currently only two women are of Association of Chief Police
Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) rank in the Scottish Police Service and five
out of 32 judges, the SWC would like the commission to examine whether there
are discriminatory attitudes prevalent in the justice system and how career
structures can be made more sensitive to women’s employment patterns in
order to encourage an increase in women working in the senior judiciary,
police and other such areas.

“If given the go-ahead, the commission would most likely draw conclusions
from evidence resulting from a series of hearings for service providers; an
‘open submission’ which would permit a wider range of organisations and
individuals to submit evidence; and a series of specialist seminars where
experts can discuss specific policy issues as well as drawing on the work
and existing local projects already underway to create a comprehensive and
cohesive report. The outputs would be used to influence policy initiatives
and legislation, both in the short-term as well as informing longer-term
challenges for criminal justice policy.”

MSP, Marlyn Glen, said: “I welcome this initiative from the Scottish Women’s
Convention. There is a great deal of reform already taking place in the
Criminal Justice system and this further focus on women involved as victims
and witnesses as well as offenders adds weight to the call to address gender
issues in legislation.”

Mr Paddy Tomkins the Chief Constable “As the lead officer for the
Association of Chief Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) on the issue of diversity
and equality, I would support any initiative aimed at improving the positive
impact the criminal justice system can have upon the quality of life of
women in Scotland. Our Diversity Strategy for the police service in Scotland
supports the essential need to deliver a high quality, equitable service to
all members of our communities. It also recognises that to do this we must
demonstrate exemplary conditions of service for our own staff. Policing in
Scotland is alive to its responsibilities to women in these areas and we
would be eager to co-operate with and learn from the work proposed.”

Helen Adamson, a member of the policy group representing the Scottish sector
of Soroptimists International said: “Re-offending is higher amongst women
than men and it is therefore important to address the root causes of women’s
offending, for the benefit of society as well as the individuals concerned
and their families.

“The criminal justice system is currently geared towards men since there are
far fewer female offenders and senior women practitioners working in the
system. A commission investigating women’s experience of the criminal
justice system in Scotland would address the large gaps in our knowledge and
ensure a more holistic approach to policy-making. It is about how best we
can deal fairly with women as offenders, victims and witnesses without
sacrificing the principles of fair trial and punishment.”


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Contact: Juliette Cassidy, Sundance Communications. Tel. 0141 342 5942 / 07816 775720