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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 15:43 GMT
Women prisoner numbers 'shameful'
Kenny MacAskill at Cornton Vale
Kenny MacAskill visited Cornton Vale to assess overcrowding
Scotland's rising female prison population has been branded "shameful" by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

His comments came after figures revealed Scotland's prison population had hit a record high.

The Scottish Prison service (SPS) said there were now 7,609 people behind bars, including 393 women.

Mr MacAskill met staff and inmates at Scotland's female prison, HMP Cornton Vale, on a visit to see how the jail is coping with overcrowding issues.

He hit out at the 90% rise in the women's prison population between 1997 and 2007.

He told BBC radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "It's quite shameful in Scotland. It goes across both genders but clearly it's exacerbated amongst the female population."

We cannot go on as we are because our prisons are going to burst
Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

The number of women in custody is currently 11% above the average population of 353 for 2006/07.

The justice secretary admitted that too many offenders were being sent to Scotland's jails, which are "bursting at the seams."

He added: "We are loading up our prisons, whether it's Cornton Vale or Barlinnie, with not just bad people who need to be in prison, but sad people who need to be treated and helped.

"We've inherited record figures and they're continuing to rise and that's why it's my obligation as the cabinet secretary for justice to try to draw a line in the sand.

"We cannot go on as we are because our prisons are going to burst."

SPS figures showed that on Friday there were a record 7,609 people in Scotland's jails.

Since 1991, Scotland has seen its average daily prison population increase by 51.6%.

He said Scotland was in a "perverse situation" where offending had gone down, but the prison population had reached record levels and that people were regularly receiving short sentences for petty crimes.

Mr MacAskill said there were about 14,000 cases of sentences under six months every year.

In many cases the "fundamental problem" such as alcohol, mental health issues or drugs needed to be addressed, he added.

During the justice secretary's visit to Cornton Vale, the prison's governor Ian Gunn emphasised to Mr MacAskill the impact of high prison numbers on staff as well as the particular issues they faced dealing with women prisoners.

'Public safety'

Mr Gunn said: "The staff doesn't expand with the numbers so we have to do more with the same. It does make it really difficult.

"Women come in. They've got lots of issues they want to be dealt with and especially the women with mental health difficulties.

"It's just such a high impact with staff."

He added that Cornton Vale was currently holding 388 prisoners but could hold a capacity of 436.

Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken said there were few people in jail who could be dealt with by any other method other than custody.

He said: "The public are not going to swallow Mr MacAskill's line. The problem is that sentencers have no confidence in the so-called community disposals.

"How can it be otherwise when so many fines are unpaid and so many Community Service Orders breached?

"With regard to Cornton Vale, I too visited recently but found little evidence of women being there who could have been dealt with in the community.

"Quite simply public safety cannot be compromised and emptying the prisons is not a solution."

Woman prisoner describes her experience of life inside

Concern over prison overcrowding
22 Nov 07 |  Scotland
Report critical of women's prison
18 Jul 07 |  Tayside and Central
Number of female inmates doubles
03 Aug 06 |  Tayside and Central
Possible rise in inmate numbers
25 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Prison report overcrowding fears
27 Sep 05 |  Scotland
'Concern' over child jail numbers
01 Jul 05 |  Scotland

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