Friday, 12 October 2012

System failing women
By Eric McGraw, from insidetime issue October 2012
Prison reform groups slam penal policy on female offenders

Justice System failing women
The Criminal Justice System is failing to meet the needs of women of all ages who are at risk of offending. This is the conclusion that emerges from evidence compiled by two major prison reform groups and presented this September to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee.

In fact this failing had already been identified as far back as 2007 in the Corston Report – whose findings had received cross-party support.
Five years on, many of the damaging effects noted in the Corston Report still prevail. Most notably, these include the harmful impact of prison on mothers and their children. Following the imprisonment of their mother only five per cent. of children remain in the family home. And the imprisonment of the mother often increases the chances that, later in life, her children will become offenders themselves.

The evidence presented to M.P.s indicated that, more often than not, prison is seen by the Court as the only option for women who have offended [for men too, for that matter! Ed.]. Yet according to a National Offender Management Service (NOMS) Report issued this year, no more than 3·2 per cent. of women in prison are assessed as posing a “very high”, or just “high”, risk of harm to others. What’s more, the re-offending rate for women serving a sentences of less than twelve months is 60 per cent., and for those women who have served more than ten previous
custodial sentences the re-offending rate rises to a staggering 88 per cent..

In the same week The Independent reported that the U.K. has the highest rate of female imprisonment in the European Union, with the number of women in British prisons having more than doubled over the past fifteen years.

Two-thirds of the 10,181 women sent to prison in 2011 served sentences of six months or - often significantly - less. More than a third were jailed for low-level “nuisance” offending, and a quarter had no previous convictions.

The average cost of keeping a woman in prison is £56,415 a year. Punishment in the community costs less than a quarter of that. The taxpayer can but repeat the question asked by The Independent: “Isn’t there a better way?”

The evidence to the Select Committee was presented jointly, on September 10th 2012, by CLINKS and the Reducing Re-offending
Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3).