Margaret Mitchell MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 28 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Labour on bringing the issue of women offenders to the chamber. I am sympathetic to the intent behind the motion, but it misses the mark with regard to focusing on the issues that must be clarified and resolved if we are not to find ourselves in the same situation many months—or even years—from now, still pursuing an unrealised Angiolini-type strategy to deal with this vexing problem.

I pay tribute to the cabinet secretary for being prepared, even at this late stage, to reverse the plans for HMP Inverclyde. However, questions must be asked about why the decision to commission the prison was taken in the first place and why it has been reversed only at this late stage, after a staggering £7.8 million has been spent on the proposals. At a time when budgets are being squeezed across the board, that represents a significant dent in the public purse, which takes us back to the drawing board and creates yet more uncertainty about the way forward.

The Government has recognised the need for a national women’s prison, but the Labour motion fails to mention that, although Kezia Dugdale clarified the position. It is worth taking a moment to set out why such a prison is needed.

First, women are not in a different category from male offenders purely because of their gender but rather, as Dame Elish Angiolini emphasised, because there is a need to address the “distinct features and characteristics” of female offending.

Secondly, there is no doubt that there are dangerous—and even evil—women, just as there are men who fall into that category. Yesterday was Holocaust memorial day, which also marked 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, where approximately 1 million Jews were exterminated. It was a chilling reminder that some of the cruellest and most feared guards in Auschwitz were women.

Decades later, in the United Kingdom, there is a clear and present danger that results from a known increase in the number of women terrorists who are joining the Islamic State and who are not just perfectly prepared for, but fully committed to, carrying out the most evil atrocities.

I also found in my teaching experience in a previous life that a disruptive female pupil could be much more problematic than a male pupil. It is crucial that, in devising and delivering the best way forward to tackle female offending, and in sympathising with and seeking to put in place the most effective treatment for the vast majority of women prisoners, we avoid the temptation to look at the issue through rose-tinted glasses.

Instead, there is a need for a forensic and realistic assessment of the risk that women offenders present, which acknowledges that some—albeit a very small percentage—of the female offender population will, by the nature of their crimes, require a prison sentence for the public’s protection.

For the debate to be of tangible value, we want to hear a clear indication of precisely how the Government intends to move forward, including what provision is being made for the 218-type centres that tackle the higher lifetime incidence of severe and repeated physical and sexual victimisation, the higher rates of poor mental health and the greater tendency to self-harm that are recognised as being distinguishing features of women offenders. The evidence from judges, including sheriffs, makes it perfectly clear that they value having 218-type centres as a disposal and support many more of them being available as an option for sentencing.

It is depressing that, instead of giving a distinct commitment to 218-type centres and an explanation of how they will be resourced and financed, the Government has merely stated that the Scottish Prison Service

“will now undertake a period of extensive engagement with key partners.”

Community service and disposals have been mentioned, but not precisely the 218-type services that are the key. This is after the Equal Opportunities Committee conducted an inquiry into female offenders in the criminal justice system in 2008 and after the commission on women offenders, which was led by the former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, published its comprehensive recommendations on women offenders in 2012, having consulted more than 100 individuals and organisations.

Seven years later, unless there is some meat on the bones and some concrete proposals, it looks very much as if we are back to square 1. Rather than vague statements about funding community projects that are not specified and about how it is imperative for service providers to work collaboratively with the criminal justice system, there should be a clear indication of how the 218-type centres, in line with the constructive proposals in the Angiolini report, will be funded and established.

I move amendment S4M-12160.3, to leave out from “welcomes” to end and insert:

“notes the decision of the Scottish Government to reverse its previously published plans for a female prison in Inverclyde; seeks clarity about the proposals for the new prison together with an explanation as to why this decision was taken so late in the day; further seeks information relating to the financial ramifications of the decision, and believes that the report produced by the Commission on Women Offenders led by Dame Elish Angiolini has constructive proposals for dealing with women offenders.”

15:42  

Meeting of the Parliament 28 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Margaret Mitchell

Is the point not that the facility that was proposed was not in line with Elish Angiolini’s recommendations, which had been fully debated? It had been identified that that was not the way forward, so how on earth did we get into that position?



Meeting of the Parliament 28 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Margaret Mitchell

I wonder how Mike MacKenzie reaches that conclusion, given that the amendment refers specifically to the constructive recommendations in Dame Elish Angiolini’s report.



Justice Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

I want to pursue that issue a little further, cabinet secretary. The problem is not new. For many years—in excess of 10—we have looked at the inadequate provision of rehabilitation programmes for prisoners. It boils down to resources.

Dr Monica Barry highlighted that

“There is not a demand problem with programmes”

in prison; rather,

“there is a supply problem.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 13 January 2015; c 3.]

Therefore, it does not matter how professional the SPS is or how many discussions there are: unless the resources are in place, we will have the same kind of situation that is referred to in the report on HMP Shotts, which found that there

“is still a lack of meaningful and productive work available for prisoners”.

That is not a good state of affairs for anyone.



Justice Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Mitchell

For various reasons, people end up with short-term sentences if they have gone through all the other disposals and there has been a breach. Very often, a short-term sentence is the only disposal that is left. I would have thought it more important that rehabilitation programmes were available for people in that circumstance—for example, to identify literacy and numeracy problems, which we know a large percentage of the prison population has.

Are there plans to consider early testing for such problems and to provide even just a signpost to indicate where more support can be found, for example for people with dyslexia? Such things help to rehabilitate people who have offended for various reasons. We know that difficulties with literacy and numeracy can lead to criminal behaviour. Is there resource in prison that could be used to stop recidivism? With the revolving door, people are going back to prison, which is, I would argue, a greater cost to the community.



Justice Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Mitchell

I sense that the convener wants us to move on.



Justice Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Mitchell

I ask your opinion, cabinet secretary, on Professor Tata’s comment that, rather than making sentencing clearer, the bill muddies the water. A 10-year sentence is 10 years, but somebody with a nine-year sentence, for example, will be released after two thirds, or six years, of the sentence. Is the bill just complicating the sentencing process rather than making it easier to understand and more effective?



Justice Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Mitchell

Would that be the case if automatic early release was abolished for everyone, rather than for a small group?



Justice Committee 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Mitchell

I sense that you want to move on, convener.



Meeting of the Parliament 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

I thank Stewart Maxwell for bringing the debate to the chamber today, which is appropriately not only Holocaust memorial day 2015 but, as other colleagues have acknowledged, also marks the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where more than 1 million Jews were exterminated.

In November last year the Yad Vashem world centre for Holocaust research, documentation, education and commemoration in Israel, in partnership with the Council of Christians and Jews, embarked on a pilot programme consisting of a visit for politicians to Israel and to the centre. The politicians were drawn from different parties, representing approximately every tier of government across the United Kingdom.

I had the privilege of being invited to take part in that pilot programme, which included a three-day varied programme with seminars, discussions and a tour of Yad Vashem and its features. Interestingly, the programme also included a visit to Ramallah in Palestine.

The Yad Vashem centre has an impressive and compelling air of tranquillity, situated as it is on a hillside with a panoramic vista of Bethlehem. In the centre itself and throughout the campus, there are poignant memorials and opportunities are provided for interactive engagement and analytical discussions. It is therefore very much a living and working centre. Its features include the Holocaust history museum and the heart-wrenching hall of names, which contains the names and personal details of millions of victims recorded on pages of testimony by survivors and many of their loved ones. The museum of Holocaust art exhibits the world’s largest collection of art that was created in the ghettos, camps and hideouts, and other places where artistic endeavour was well-nigh impossible. Here, the tenacity and bravery of the human spirit are clear for all to see.

Meanwhile, the visitor centre enables groups such as our party, or individuals, to watch documentaries, films and survivor testimonies on screen. In particular, I found the learning centre challenging and enlightening, as it presents the opportunity to explore historical, thematic and moral dilemmas related to the Holocaust. For example, I understood how important family was to the Jewish community and how that often meant that Jewish families could not take flight, even when they knew that danger was imminent, because it would have meant leaving grandparents or other members of their family behind. Quite simply, they were not prepared to do that.

The group was also privileged to go behind the scenes to see how the centre gathers and forensically analyses historical artefacts using state-of-the-art technologies to decipher even minuscule and damaged material. Consequently, items that may seem to the casual observer to be meaningless scrap are recognised for their potential value in connecting an individual who perished in the Holocaust with their family, who might still not have any concrete proof of what happened to their loved one.

I recommend the programme to anyone in the Parliament who has the opportunity to take part, for it is imperative that we never forget the extensive atrocities that were committed by the Nazi regime. I commend the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and its commitment to ensuring that we remember the horror of and learn from the Holocaust.

18:12  
Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12182.1 Alex Fergusson: The Chilcot Inquiry—As an amendment to motion S4M-12182 in the name of N
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-12182 Nicola Sturgeon: The Chilcot Inquiry—That the Parliament calls for Sir John Chilcot’s offi
>> Show more
AbstainCarried

S4M-12176 John Swinney: Community Charge Debt (Scotland) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the gene
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-12160.2 Michael Matheson: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Kez
>> Show more
AbstainCarried

S4M-12160.3 Margaret Mitchell: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Ke
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-12160 Kezia Dugdale: Women Offenders—That the Parliament welcomes the decision of the Scottish G
>> Show more
AbstainCarried

S4M-12154.1 Lewis Macdonald: Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) – Supporting Indivi
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12120.1 Jenny Marra: 2020 Vision, the Strategic Forward Direction of the NHS—As an amendment to
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12101 John Swinney: Budget (Scotland) (No.4) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the general prin
>> Show more
AbstainCarried

S4M-12095.4 Ken Macintosh: Tackling Inequalities—As an amendment to motion S4M-12095 in the name of
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Margaret Mitchell
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-12160.3: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 27/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12093: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 19/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11955: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 18/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11758: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 01/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11656: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 21/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11567.2: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 17/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11551: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 13/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11480: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 07/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11468: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11467: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Margaret Mitchell
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-23912: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 07/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03876: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 17/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02448: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 01/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22936: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 24/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03595: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 29/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22466: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22227: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 01/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22228: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 01/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22226: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 01/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21815: Margaret Mitchell, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 17/06/2014 Show Full Question >>

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