AT First Minister’s Questions Ruth Davidson went on prisons and prisoner release on home visits. The Conservatives are still fixated with this Victorian idea that prison should be about hard labour, so hard that no-one in their right mind having served their sentence would ever commit another crime ever again, for the consequences of doing so would be so dire. Sorry Ruth, but people are sent to prison as punishment, not to be punished.

There is no easy answer to prison reform and unfortunately, in Scotland, it is embroiled in politics. I suspect many in society don’t give much thought to the justice system and prison sentencing and even less to prison reform unless, of course, it comes knocking on their door.

Too many people today are in prison simply because judges have no other option. Our prisons are full of people who simply should not be there in the first place. If someone steals to feed an addiction, for instance, then clearly the problem is his/her addiction not the crime of stealing, and prisons are not equipped to treat people with complex problems such as addiction and/or mental illness.

If you are not going to end up with prisons simply being warehouses with a revolving door, then you have to treat the symptoms to get the desired cure. The Scottish Government has thankfully learned that lesson. The government has closed down its large women’s prison in favour of small units for women prisoners situated across the country, so women with complicated backgrounds, possibly having been in an abusive partnership, drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness and a record of re-offending, can now get help in turning their lives around. Being sent to an area close to their family is seen as being an essential part of the rehabilitation programme, allowing them to stay in touch with immediate family. All who have been through such programmes have said it is no cop-out. Here they will have to take on the responsibility for their own lives, not stay in a cell and have everything done for them. They will also be asked to face their demons and work with doctors and therapists from the start.

All prisoners must be given the opportunity (and help) to turn their lives around so that when they do leave prison they will hopefully take their place as a useful member of society. Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie still have much to learn about prison and prison reform, it would seem, but as I said at the start, in Scotland prison reform for opposition parties has become more about party political point-scoring than a real debate on prisons, the justice system or prison reform.

Walter Hamilton
St Andrews

SHONA Craven asks “If being trans is a matter of self-ID, how can any claim [to legal recognition of one’s gender] be said to be ‘genuine’ or ‘false’?” (Why plans to change our gender identity laws must be prison-proof, The National, February 23). The proposed changes to gender recognition law call for a new process based on self-declaration. This means removing intrusive medical evidence requirements and the need to have a psychiatric diagnosis for trans people to be legally recognised as who we are.

However, applicants will still sign a statutory declaration, a legally witnessed document, stating both that they live in their gender identity, and intend to do so permanently. To deliberately make a false statutory declaration is a crime, and to do so in order to commit a criminal act is an even more serious crime.

We agree with Shona that the Scottish Government needs to speak with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and other organisations with knowledge and experience of trans-related issues, to ensure there is clarity that the proposed changes will not have the unintended consequences some think they might. We understand the Scottish Government have already been discussing this with the SPS. So have we – in fact we have a justice policy officer dedicated to working with the justice sector in Scotland, to ensure the rights and safety of all are upheld.

Becky Kaufmann
Justice Policy Officer, Scottish Trans Alliance

I AM disappointed with the recent surge in transphobic and trans-exclusionary articles in The National recently, which I feel is alienating marginalised people within the independence movement and praying upon “trans panic” hysteria, which is something I expect from the Daily Mail or Mumsnet rather than The National.

Caoimhe Anderson