HUMZA Yousaf has pledged he will half the number of women in Scotland’s prisons if he becomes the next first minister.

The former justice secretary claimed that despite his previous efforts, the Scottish Government has failed to make a “substantial dent” in the female prison population.

The current prison population of women fell slightly in 2021-22 by 5% from 301 to 284.

Yousaf told the Scottish Sun his vow would see an increase in the use of community payback orders and community custody units in order to redirect female offenders away from the prison estate.

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The Health Secretary also said intervention work in the community will be key to stopping the “revolving door” of women who reoffend and repeatedly end up housed in the prison estate.

In 2019, Yousaf unveiled reforms urging judges to consider community sentences instead of jail terms of 12 months or less for vulnerable women. Around 90% of female prisoners were given sentences of less than a year.

Yousaf said: “For me, we have not gone far enough, we need to build on what we have done”.

He added: “We need to drastically reduce the female prison population for a number of reasons. It’s good for families, it’s good for the children.

“We know some of the reasons why women offend, often because they are in abusive relationships, because there are issues around substance abuse and we need to be preventing that and ensuring that intervention.

“By the next parliamentary term, I’m starting the work now, I’d want to drastically reduce that female prison population, potentially even try to cut it and reduce it by half.”

Yousaf said his plan would involve “a lot of intervention and initiatives” in the community but also a “ramping up and accelerating our work on community custody units that we’ve got because unfortunately too many women in the prison population, and this is true for men too, just go round that revolving door back and forth, back and forth”.

He added that his work will involve getting to “the crux of why” women are offending, and dealing with linked issues such as substance abuse and abusive relationships.

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Yousaf added: “We have got to get to the crux of why they’re offending, get our community payback orders working on rehabilitation, if we do that it’s not just good for the women involved, it’s good for families, it’s good for children.

“We have far too high a prison population, we have far too high a female prison population and we’re not making the substantial dent into it we need to.

"So by the end of the next parliamentary term I’d want to see that halved at least.”

A previous report from the Scottish Prison Service found that around 60% of female prisoners had suffered adverse childhood experiences, while around half reported drug use outside of prison.