'Women inmates need more help'
During a Holyrood debate yesterday Mr MacAskill responded to a report on female offenders in the criminal justice system by the equal opportunities committee.
Mr MacAskill said: "We do need to improve access to health services for these women to meet their wide-ranging and complex needs. We can provide better learning opportunities to help improve their literacy, numeracy and employability skills if they are to move on in their lives.
"And we should do more for those women on short-term sentences and those held on remand so that they are better engaged in productive activities, and we must provide better support for women leaving prison to help them reintegrate into the community."
He said it was not a case of "providing better treatment to women than we do to men" but that current interventions were designed for men. "We do need to work harder to deliver better services and equality of outcomes for women even with the current pressures of the increased prison population," Mr MacAskill said.
However, there is now a greater understanding of women's needs, he claimed.
The Scottish Government is "tackling" drug and alcohol abuse among female offenders, and improving literacy and numeracy is "also a priority", Mr MacAskill said. But agencies "must get better" at co-ordinating support for former prisoners.
He said some women in the female-only Cornton Vale prison – those serving short sentences or coming to the end of longer ones – would be transferred to Inverness and Aberdeen jails.