Page last updated at 14:21 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 15:21 UK

Drink linked to female offenders

Woman sitting on the ground with her head down
The lord advocate spoke of the link between alcohol and female offending

Worrying signs of an increase in women committing violent offences may be linked to binge drinking, according to Scotland's top prosecutor.

Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini said most crimes carried out by females were offences such as theft or fraud.

But she told MSPs more women were using aggressive behaviour.

Holyrood's equal opportunities committee is probing the high number of inmates at Scotland's only women's prison, Cornton Vale, near Stirling.

There has been a 90% rise in the number of women being sent there over the last 10 years, compared to a 16% rise for the male prisoner population.

Elish Angiolini
There's a very, very real concern about the number of women in prison and that they are suffering
Elish Angiolini
Lord advocate

"There is evidence that while most of the crime committed by women is acquisitive, there are those committing violent offences, " Ms Angiolini told the inquiry.

"I've seen anecdotal evidence and from my own experience as a prosecutor over 25 years or so, that many women are not just simply the collaborators, going along with a dominant male partner, being an accessory, carrying knifes for boyfriends, assisting in cleaning up after a murder, hiding weapons etc - but are actually prime movers in some of the cases."

The lord advocate spoke of cases involving "appalling acts of torture" by women against women, and said the signs of groups of young girls using knives were increasing.

She went on: "The violence seems in some way to be aligned with the increasing consumption of alcohol by young women, binge drinking."

Ms Angiolini told MSPs it was vital to minimise the number of women sent to prison, adding: "There's a very, very real concern about the number of women in prison and that they are suffering."

View of a woman prisoner in her jail cell through the cell door window
Women prisoners in Scotland struggle with a variety of personal problems

Cornton Vale governor Ian Gunn told the committee that inmates' issues included problems with mental health, drug abuse and self-harming.

"Being a victim of abuse is something that male and female offenders suffer from, but there are much higher levels in my view in the females that come into our prisons," he added.

Independent criminologist Dr Nancy Loucks suggested to the committee that, rather than keeping most women inmates in one prison, there should be smaller jails across the country to keep female offenders closer to families and support services.

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