Mental Welfare Concerns for Female Offenders

 This report again underlines the shockingly high rates of victimisation and abuse that women offenders have experienced (half had experienced violent relationships and 73% had experienced sexual abuse).

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland has published a report on the mental health of women detained by the criminal courts. (http://www.mwcscot.org.uk/media/190441/women_offenders_final_report.pdf ) The report followed that of the Commission on Women Offenders, which highlighted the worryingly high incidence of mental health problems among the female prisoner population in Scotland. The MWCS report considered women offenders in both hospital and prison settings and looked in detail at the use of drugs and alcohol, contact with children and families, and domestic violence and abuse. Among its findings the Commission noted that “Women charged with incidents of violent and disruptive behaviour may have underlying mental health difficulties. Good assessments and appropriate alternatives to custody should be routinely available to the courts.” It also found that the women who were seen in a hospital setting received more support than those in prison. In relation to contact with family the report recommended that support to prevent family breakdown should be provided and suggested that technology such as Skype should be available to enable women to maintain contact with their children. The researchers found that most of the women in prison had at least 10, and some as many as 30, previous offences. This report again underlines the shockingly high rates of victimisation and abuse that women offenders have experienced (half had experienced violent relationships and 73% had experienced sexual abuse). As the report concludes, women’s prison service provision in Scotland is undergoing change; it is challenged to make appropriate changes in response to the clear evidence about women’s offending and women offenders.

 Dinah Aitken, SCCCJ, May 2014