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Fewer women will be jailed under new approach to justice

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Prison Reform Trust welcomes new approach to justice

Fewer women will be sent needlessly to prison under a new justice strategy which was unveiled today.

A prison reform charity has welcomed the Scottish Government’s new approach, which is based on placing a greater emphasis on crime prevention than punishment.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson published the new priorities as the demolition began of Scotland's only women's prison at Cornton Vale near Stirling.

It will be replaced by two new community-based custody units in Glasgow and either Fife or Dundee.

They will focus on recovery and keeping women closer to their families.

A smaller prison will also be built at Cornton Vale for 80 women.

The new strategy focuses on recent research which showed the extent to which traumatic childhood experiences can impact on future offending.

It referred to studies which showed that those who had suffered four or more adverse childhood events - including having a relative imprisoned, suffering abuse or being around drug misuse - were 14 times more likely to have been a victim of violence in the past 12 months and 20 times more likely to be incarcerated.

It emphasised that a different approach to youth justice - which focused on early intervention and prevention and trying to keep young people out of the criminal justice system - has contributed to a 78% fall in the number of under-18s convicted since 2006/7.

Welcoming the Scottish Justice Secretary’s announcement, Anne Pinkman, programme lead for the Prison Reform Trust in Scotland, said: “It is good to see the Scottish Government planning for a future in which far fewer women are needlessly sent to prison.

“We look forward to the minister providing regular updates on the programme of reforms to services for women in the community that will make this possible. It is crucial that the timetable for transforming the female prison estate does not slip any further.”

Justice secretary Matheson said: “Over the last decade Scotland has become a safer place, with less crime, including violence, falling drug use, improved fire safety and better support when people are victims of crime or other serious incidents.

“But we strive for greater progress, not least while inequality continues to influence the likelihood of someone being a victim of crime or being drawn into offending.

“This is among the challenges outlined in the vision paper, which also highlights the relatively poor physical and mental health of people in contact with the justice system.

“Our criminal and civil justice system, and the valued professionals who sustain it are focused on building a safer and a fairer Scotland – protecting the public while supporting individuals and families facing financial, emotional or other crises.

“Our decisive shift in approach to youth justice, intervening earlier and providing multi-agency support, has seen huge falls in youth offending and we continue to draw lessons from that success.”