ALMOST two decades on from the Corston Report, which called for a radical change to the way women are treated in the criminal justice system (CJS), HM Inspectorate of Probation has published a new report, The quality of work undertaken with women.

The Corston Report in 2007 showed a woman-centred approach was needed, which recognised and responded to the range of complex needs that drive women’s offending. However, this new report shows that there is much more to be done to support women on probation and pre-release.

The Chief Inspector of Probation, Martin Jones, said: “Seventeen years on from the Corston report, which criticised the treatment of women in the CJS, our joint inspection with HMI Prisons has found that progress has been far too slow. Too often, services for women fall far short of the gender-informed approaches that were envisioned, meaning safe spaces where women can be offered support and rehabilitation are not available to those who need them.”

The inspection found that in prisons, there were too many barriers to good resettlement support, the provision of services was disjointed and too complicated, and support to address practical needs, such as access to bank accounts or national insurance numbers has deteriorated rather than improved.

In particular, suitable accommodation was often not found until very close to women’s release dates, creating uncertainty and preventing other necessary services, such as mental health treatment or medication, from being arranged reliably. There are also not enough staff in prison teams, leading to delays in addressing women’s needs, and reducing the chance of any meaningful support being provided during their sentence.

Inspectors also found little evidence that progress is being made in addressing the reasons why women offend and, while evidence-based interventions designed to address women’s needs are available, few women are given the opportunity to benefit from them.

The report shows some strong examples of best practice – offering hope that positive changes can be made when the Probation Service works closely with local authorities and partners to develop a whole-system approach – however unfortunately, these are rare, and the quality of supervision and support varies significantly across England and Wales.

Mr Jones added: “Prisons and probation service regions need to be held to account to ensure they are delivering services that meet women’s needs. Our report calls for renewed action on the ground to help meet the needs of vulnerable women who will often have experienced trauma and abuse that may underpin their offending.”

Sonya Ruparel, CEO of Women in Prison said: “It’s simply common sense that we should not be taking a group of women, who have often experienced huge amounts of trauma, and placing them in a broken system which cannot meet their needs.

“We welcome today’s report, which highlights women in contact with the justice system, who often face multiple disadvantages like poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse, and mental ill-health, are being failed.

“The report clearly shows that women are being met with a complex postcode lottery of services that are frequently unable to meet their most basic needs, both in prison and when they are in the community. Where gender-specific services do exist, like Women in Prison’s and those provided by our partners, the report found that women were not able to access and benefit from them often enough.

“We must take this seriously and invest in community-based support services that respond to women’s needs and prevent them from being swept into the criminal justice system. With the women’s prison population predicted to rise to 4,200 by November 2027, the urgency to act is mounting.”

* Read: The quality of work undertaken with women here.

* HM Inspectorate of Probation and Women in Prison