Scotland is to adopt a new approach to dealing with female offenders with a move towards custody in the community, backed by targeted action to address underlying issues and reduce the numbers of women receiving custodial sentences.

Under plans unveiled by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, a new small national prison with 80 places will be created, alongside five smaller community-based custodial units each housing up to 20 women across the county and action to enhance community-based alternatives to prison.

The smaller community-based custodial units will provide accommodation as women serve out their sentence, alongside intensive support to help overcome issues such as alcohol, drugs, mental health and domestic abuse trauma which evidence shows can often be a driver of offending behaviour. The units will be housed in areas close to the communities of female offenders so that family contact can be maintained.

There will also be a renewed drive to increase the use of electronic monitoring and curfews with time served in offenders’ own homes as an alternative to prison, and increased investment in community-based services to give additional support to those diverted from prosecution.

Ministers also plan to consult shortly on proposals to further strengthen the presumption against short-term prison sentences.

The proposals have been shaped by experts from both within Scotland and across the world who visited Scotland last month to share their expertise and the proposals are to be backed by capital investment of up to £82 million, with annual resource costs of approximately £9 million.

Speaking during a visit to the acclaimed 218 centre in Glasgow, Mr Matheson said:

“When I announced in January my decision not to proceed with HMP Inverclyde as a large national prison for women, I said that it did not fit with my vision of how a modern and progressive country should be addressing female offending and that we needed a bolder, more radical and ambitious approach in Scotland.

“Following a period of intensive dialogue with our own experts in Scotland as well as international experts from across the world, I’m pleased to announce a new approach to how we deal with female offenders.

“These are progressive proposals, they draw on the best available international evidence of what works, but they are tailored to specific circumstances here in Scotland.

Martin Cawley, Chief Executive for Turning Point Scotland said:

“We are delighted to welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, to Turning Point Scotland 218.

“Any plan to focus on the underlying issues of offending is to be welcomed.

“Community based alternatives to custody, like our 218 service, support women to make positive long lasting change in their lives. By
provided a structured environment, in an area they are familiar with will help them to tackle the issues that they have struggled with.

“We know from our experience that many of the women using 218 have a range of complex needs such as addiction, poor mental health or physical health and trauma.  By addressing these, it reduces the likelihood of them reoffending in the future.”