Women's organisations respond to government's female offenders strategy

By agency reporter
June 28, 2018

On 27 June 2018 the Ministry of Justice published its new Female Offender Strategy. Kate Paradine, Chief Executive of Women in Prison, said: “We warmly welcome the strategy’s commitment to reduce the number of women in prison and to focus on community alternatives. It recognises the vision that Baroness Jean Corston set out 11 years ago in her groundbreaking report on the issue. The strategy acknowledges the harm caused by the current criminal justice system to women, families and communities and it is the right decision not to build new women’s prisons.

“The strategy recognises that community-based services like women’s centres are the answer to addressing the root causes of offending, including addiction, homelessness, mental ill health and experience of domestic abuse. But these services are facing a serious and deepening funding crisis.

“If women’s centres are really to be at the heart of the strategy this crisis must be addressed.  It is impossible to see how the vision set out in the strategy can possibly be delivered with the pitiful amount of new funding that has been announced.

“We now need to see evidence of urgent cross-government action to resource and implement this strategy. If this does not happen then the opportunity will be lost to transform the current shameful response to some of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable women, and their families.  We will be left with a broken system that fails victims and communities.”

The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) also welcomed the Strategy’s commitment to reducing the women’s prison population, and acknowledgement of the intergenerational harm perpetuated by custodial sentences for women’s law breaking, which is less frequent and less serious than that of men.

“It is however worrying that pitiful amounts of funding are being diverted from criminal justice to community-based services. Women in prison often have traumatic histories of sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, trafficking, exploitation, institutional care, periods of homelessness, racism, substance misuse, mental illness and self-harm. These experiences of trauma also inform women’s response to imprisonment; the Strategy itself recognises that “[t]he prevalence of anxiety and self-harm incidents is greater than for male prisoners.”

“The poverty and inequality which underpins women’s offending demand redress through properly funded community services such as refuges and rape crisis centres, gender appropriate community schemes like Women’s Centres and drug and alcohol services.”

CWJ Trustee Davina James-Hanman said, “We welcome the recognition of the multiple issues facing female offenders and warmly welcome the move towards community-based services rather than the pointlessly destructive short sentences – as recommended by Baroness Corston over a decade ago. However, we are deeply concerned at the funding crisis being faced by Women’s Centres. Without additional resources, many will cease to exist and the high hopes of this strategy will turn out to be empty words.”

* Read the Ministry of Justice Female Offender Strategy here

* Centre for Women's Justice http://centreforwomensjustice.org.uk/

* Women in Prison http://www.womeninprison.org.uk/

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