A friend of mine knows how to get me worked up – by pressing the ‘Cornton Vale button’. I was a part-time chaplain there from 2000-3, and it’s the sort of experience you don’t forget. How can we ‘do justice and love mercy’, in the prophet Micah’s words, with women who have some of the most intractable problems in our society?
The latest report says that Cornton Vale has got worse and not better, despite money and effort being thrown at it. There is still overcrowding and a lack of rehabilitation. Dame Elish Angiolini is to head up a commission to look at reducing offending by women.
One of the key problems, it seems to me, is the centralisation of the treatment of female offenders. You take them out of their neighbourhood, tear them from their family and disrupt their lives sufficiently for it to be a disruption but not for long enough to turn their lives round. Then you send them back to the same place – though by this time they may well have lost their tenancy.
If women could be worked with in situ, they might find ways to cope with their situations without resorting to drugs, alcohol and associated crime. If they have mental illness, going to prison for difficult behaviour is not going to improve it if there are no adequate programmes, but local support might do so.
I expect it all comes down to money. Multiplying really effective local day centres and personal support programmes across Scotland would be expensive. but would it be less than banging them up in a central institution, which costs plenty (upwards of £32,000 per prisoner per year)?