SCOTLAND is still jailing too many women, especially for counter-productive short sentences, prison reformers have warned.

As of last week, there were 333 women behind bars north of the Border, 77 of them on remand.

That marks a drop from an average figure of 383 in 2015, but remains far higher than at the turn of the century.

In a report published today to mark International Women’s Day, the Prison Reform Trust said an over-reliance on remand, and on short custodial sentences, was drawing too many women into the jail system.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has announced plans for new local jails for women – rather than the overcrowded Cornton Vale in Stirling – and is trying to cut the prison population.

Yvonne Donald, of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Scotland is leading the way in making positive changes for women in the criminal justice system.

“The introduction of women’s criminal justice centres, and services where women receive support to tackle their offending behaviour, along with the issues that cause it, are an important step in achieving the Scottish Government’s goal to reduce the number of women in prison.

“However, as our report shows, Scotland still has a long way to go.

“While reforms to the women’s prison estate are welcome, we must not lose sight that the services women need to turn their lives around often lie outside prison walls.”

The Prison Reform Trust used numbers from a previous report published by the Scottish Government in 2015 comparing Scotland’s female prison population with those of other countries.

Two years ago there were seven women in jail for every 100,000 people, men and women, in Scotland. That figure has now dropped to just over six.

However, the comparisons from 2015 remain striking: the female incarceration rate per 100,000 in that year was 3.3 in France, 4.6 in Germany and 4.2 per 100,000 in Norway. England’s figure came close to Scotland’s. Spain’s was higher.

Reformers stressed that high jail numbers are new. Scotland’s incarceration rate was as low as four per 100,000 for women in 2000.

Most women inmates are being locked up for short sentences.

Some 77 per cent of women sentenced to custody in 2015-16 were given six months or less.

Campaigners – with backing from HM Inspector of Prisons – want to see an end to such short sentences.

The Scottish Government issued guidelines in 2010 making a presumption against jail terms of under three months.

A Government spokesman said: “We are taking forward bold and ambitious plans for development of a new female custodial estate.”

“The number of women in custody in Scotland has gone down in recent years and we are working hard to continue that trend.”

She added the Government wanted to see fewer ineffective short-term prison sentences used, and more community sentences, saying they help to reduce reoffending by supporting people to turn their lives around “and, in so doing, help keep crime down and communities safe”.