THE HOWARD LEAGUE for Penal Reform has criticised the UK Government after ministers announced plans for 500 new prison places for women in England and Wales.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League, said: “If the goal is to reduce the number of women entering the criminal justice system, then today’s announcement shows that ministers are looking at the issue down the wrong end of a telescope.

“The touted £2 million of investment for community services is dwarfed by the money being sunk into 500 new prison places for women, which in a single year alone will cost more than ten times what is being offered to those helping vulnerable women before they ever reach custody.

“The Howard League’s own work with the police on reducing the arrests of women shows that energy, focus and resources need to be placed in the community, if women are to be effectively steered away from crime.

“Instead of hedging in favour of failure by throwing more money at women’s prisons, the government should be bold and put investment into the community where it really matters.”

The government’s plans include a concerning proposal for children to stay overnight in prisons as their mothers prepare for release. Women who are preparing for release from prison should be going home on temporary licence instead.

The average annual cost per place in women’s prisons in 2019-20 ranged from £45,565 to £55,411.

The Howard League’s campaigning has revealed that thousands of women in distress are arrested unnecessarily each year instead of being given the help and support they need.

The charity’s three-year programme to arrest the entry of women into the criminal justice system is pushing for change by promoting good practice by the police and other agencies that prevents women being criminalised needlessly.

The Howard League programme has run in parallel with a separate inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (APPG) into reducing arrests of women.

In September 2020, a briefing by the APPG revealed how police resources were being wasted on arresting women inappropriately, holding them in custody and releasing them without charge.

Across England and Wales, police made almost 100,000 arrests of women during the year ending March 2019.

* More information and briefing papers available here

* Source: Howard League for Penal Reform