New legislation changes will encourage judges to consider community-based alternatives rather than a prison sentence of a year or less for vulnerable women.
Around 90 per cent of women who are sent to jail are given a custodial sentence of 12 months or less, with Scotland having one of the highest female prison populations across northern Europe.
The new order will extend the current presumption against sentences of three months or less to 12 months or less.
Scottish Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, believes extending the current presumption against short prison sentences would mean more women would receive a community-based sentence:
“Many of the women currently serving prison sentences have complex needs that contribute to frequent offending.
“We should be helping them tackle those problems in the community so they can escape prison’s revolving door, rather than taking away what stability they have in their home and family.”
The debate to reconsider the current policy was ignited last week when Natalie McGarry – mother to an 18-month-old daughter – was sentenced to 18 months for embezzling money. Having just suffered a miscarriage, some believe Ms McGarry should have been shown leniency.
With more than two-thirds of female prisoners being mothers, Mr Yousaf also raised concerns that children who watch their parents go to jail could endure “lifelong issues” such as mental health problems and poor academic performance.
Chief executive of Sacro, Tom Haplin, also addressed the fact that children can be drawn into the criminal justice system as adults due to parental imprisonment:
“We must not underestimate the effect on children of having a mother in prison. The experience is often extremely damaging on their development and life chances and can increase their chances of becoming involved in the criminal justice system later.”
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