Women

Commenting on the findings of today's report, The Case for Sustainable Funding for Women’s Centres, published by the Women’s Budget Group in collaboration with Women in Prison, Nelson Trust, Together Women, Anawim and Brighton Women’s Centre, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

"For some time there has been broad agreement on the right policy solutions for women at risk of needless imprisonment. The government itself has signed up to a strategy that describes most of what needs to be done. But it hasn’t turned words into reality. This detailed and immensely practical report removes any last excuse for not doing so. At a time when the money available to build new prisons and employ more prison staff to run them appears to be without limit, this report doesn’t just make the case for a very modest investment in women’s centres, it describes in detail how to go about it. But time is short—if the government dithers, the organisations it needs to deliver the change it wants may no longer exist."

Click here to download a copy of the report

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A new report from the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative exposes a failing system that leaves thousands of women released from UK prisons with just £46, a plastic bag, nowhere to live and the threat of a return to custody if they miss their probation appointment.

The initiative is a unique collaboration of London Prisons Mission, Prison Reform Trust, the Church of St Martins in the Fields and HMP & YOI Bronzefield. It is calling for urgent action by actors across the criminal justice system to combat failings that result in 6 in 10 women released from prison, many of them suffering from multiple vulnerabilities, without access to safe and secure housing.

The Bishop of Gloucester & Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons, The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick to share the findings of the report and to encourage efforts to improve accommodation support for women leaving prison. You can read a copy of the letter by clicking here

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Since 2015, the Prison Reform Trust’s Transforming Lives programme has aimed to reduce women’s imprisonment across the UK. During that time the programme has engaged with over 150 women with lived experience of the criminal justice system. As we prepare to draw the programme to a close this autumn, research by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), published today, gives an insight into how women were involved, and the perceived impact of their contribution.

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The government has announced improvements to care for pregnant women and mothers in prison, in response to a review by the Ministry of Justice, after long running criticism of the poor care that pregnant women receive in prison, and the recent deaths of two babies during childbirth in prison.

Our own research, 'What about me?' highlights the impact of separation on children when mothers are imprisoned, and found that their needs and best interests are rarely considered by the justice system.

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Commenting on the findings of today’s report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons on women’s prisons during the Covid-19 period, Katy Swaine Williams, Senior Programme Manager for reducing women's imprisonment at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“This distressing report bears witness to a ‘failure of national planning’ by the government in its response to the threat of the pandemic in prisons, as well as the impact of cumulative failures to deliver on its Female Offender Strategy. Hardly any women have been released from these prisons under the government’s temporary release scheme, despite the fact that most women are imprisoned or remanded for minor non-violent offences. The suspension of family visits and delays in rolling out virtual visits are no doubt contributing to the increased levels of self- harm among the women in the prisons inspected.”

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PRT comment: Hidden Harms Summit

21/05/2020 15:50:00

Commenting on today’s announcement by the government ahead of the Hidden Harms Summit, Katy Swaine Williams, Senior Programme Manager at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We welcome the Hidden Harms initiative and the Prime Minister’s commitment to ‘support the most vulnerable and keep them safe from harm and exploitation’.

“Official figures show that nearly 60% of women in prison are victims/survivors of domestic abuse and this is likely to be an underestimate. Far from helping them, the state often compounds their victimisation. Many have been driven to offend by their experience of abuse. Yet while victims of trafficking rightly have a statutory defence where they are compelled to offend, there is no such legal protection for domestic abuse survivors. The government should use the Domestic Abuse Bill to modernise the law by providing equivalent legal defences.”

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Commenting on the announcement today by the Ministry of Justice, Jenny Earle Women’s Programme Director for Prison Reform Trust said:

“Whilst any additional funding to divert vulnerable women from the criminal justice system is welcome, £2.5m for women’s support services will have to be very thinly spread if it is to include establishing a residential women’s centre in Wales. The government needs to confirm adequate sustainable funding for struggling women’s services, now more critical than ever to ensuring hard-pressed police, courts and prisons have somewhere safe and effective to refer women for help in turning their lives around.”

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The Prison Reform Trust and the Barrow Cadbury Trust have partnered with The Griffins Society to support two fellowships in 2020–21 focused on the treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women in prison or more broadly across the criminal justice system. We encourage applications for the fellowships from BAME practitioners. The closing date for applications is Noon, 31 July.

Click 'read more' to find out more about the fellowships programme and how you can apply.

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The reintroduction today of the Domestic Abuse Bill presents an opportunity to strengthen legal protection for those whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse. This would address a gap in legal protection for survivors, strengthen recognition of the links between victimisation and offending and deter inappropriate prosecutions.

Commenting, Katy Swaine Williams, Senior Programme Manager at the Prison Reform Trust said:

"The majority of women in prison are survivors of domestic abuse and many have been driven to offend as a direct result of that abuse. This landmark Bill presents an opportunity to protect survivors of abuse from prosecution where they have been driven to offend. With support from legal and domestic abuse experts, including the Victims' Commissioner, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Criminal Bar Association, we will be making the case for this essential legal protection to be added to the Bill."

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Penal Reform International (PRI), in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), has published a guide for prison and probation staff to help them understand how prison life can affect a person’s mental health, with a focus on women. The guide aims to break down the stigma and discrimination attached to poor mental health, especially for women in prison.

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A new briefing, Working It Out, published today by the Prison Reform Trust and Working Chance, reveals that fewer than one in 20 women (4%) were in employment six weeks after release from prison, compared with over one in 10 men (11%).

The briefing found that despite government recognition that employment for those who have been in trouble with the law is critical for reducing reoffending, too many women with a criminal conviction experience barriers to employment and do not receive adequate support. Enabling women to achieve financial independence is especially important for those whose offending is driven by abusive and coercive relationships.

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Jane Hutt AM, Deputy Minister for the Welsh Government, will set out plans today (10 October) on working in partnership to reduce the number of women in Wales in prison.

The Cardiff summit, jointly hosted by Prison Reform Trust, Clinks, Community Justice Cymru and the Welsh Government, will bring together ministers, government officials, organisations supporting women in the justice system and women with lived experience, to support the delivery of the Female Offending Blueprint, published by the Welsh Government earlier this year.

The event is being delivered as part of the Prison Reform Trust’s UK wide Transforming Lives programme to reduce women's imprisonment, and to encourage implementation and investment in better responses to reducing crime committed by women.

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Photo credit: Welsh Government

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Commenting on the publication of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report Right to Family Life: Children whose mothers are in prison, Jenny Earle, programme director of the PRT Transforming Lives programme to reduce women’s imprisonment said:

“Today’s report recognises that women overwhelmingly commit non-violent offences, spend short spells behind bars, and are more likely to be the primary carer of their children. Ensuring that children’s welfare is more consistently and effectively factored into sentencing decisions, requires changes to both law and practice. This means that women have the opportunity and the confidence to disclose if they have children, and a prohibition on custodial sentencing without a pre-sentence report. The government must act on the recommendations of this expert cross-party parliamentary committee, and break the cycle of intergenerational crime once and for all.”

You can download a copy of our evidence to the JCHR inquiry by clicking here.

You can download a copy of our report on maternal imprisonment, 'What about me?', by clicking here.

Click read more to see our Head of Prisoner Engagement, Paula Harriott speaking to Channel 5 News about maternal imprisonment.

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A year after the publication of the government’s Female Offender Strategy, the Prison Reform Trust, in partnership with NHS England and NHS Improvement and the Centre for Mental Health, are bringing together allied organisations to support the delivery of better outcomes for women in trouble with the law.

The event, held at The Supreme Court today (4 September), will host a keynote speech from Lucy Frazer QC MP, Minister of State for Prisons and Probation, and bring together practitioners, politicians and policy makers from health, social care and criminal justice fields, alongside women with lived experience of the justice system. London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, will also address the event.

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Photo credit: UK Parliament, licenced under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) 

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PRT comment: HMP Eastwood Park

28/08/2019 00:01:00

Commenting on the findings of the HM Inspectorate of Prisons report on HMP Eastwood Park, Dr Jenny Earle, Prison Reform Trust lead for reducing women’s imprisonment said:

“The cause of at least some of Eastwood Park prison’s failings lie outside its walls in the lack of housing and mental health support for women in the community. It is shocking that inspectors found that more than two in five women were being released homeless—only increasing the likelihood that they will return back to custody. Over a year on since the publication of the government’s Female Offender Strategy, this report suggests that progress in key areas remains disappointingly slow. Women are still too often being set up to fail.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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There were more than 140,000 admissions into prison in England and Wales in 2017—the highest number in western Europe, according to a new report published today (24 June 2019) by the Prison Reform Trust.

The report Prison: the facts, reveals that, despite the number falling in recent years, England and Wales still have over 40,000 more admissions to prison than Germany, the second-highest—which has a significantly larger national population.

The rate of prison admissions, which accounts for the effects of differences in national populations, shows that England and Wales have a rate approximately three times that of Italy and Spain, and almost twice as high as Germany, with 238 prison admissions for every 100,000 people.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Commenting on the publication of the final report from The Farmer Review for Women today (18 June 2019), Jenny Earle, Prison Reform Trust’s Transforming Lives Programme Director said:

“Lord Farmer’s report makes many practical, and measurable, proposals that if implemented will reduce the number of children unnecessarily separated from their mother by her imprisonment. The review’s focus on increasing the role of community based women’s services, recognises that many women in prison are there for non-violent crimes. It allows women to take responsibility for their actions, whilst minimising the trauma, stigma and social isolation faced by children when a parent is imprisoned. Our own research found that the views and best interests of children are rarely considered by the criminal justice system and that they face many barriers to getting support. The message couldn’t be clearer, what’s needed now is speedy implementation. Doing so will benefit women, children and society.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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The report published today (14 June 2019) by the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill recommends that the government should consider the proposal made by the Prison Reform Trust and Criminal Bar Association for a statutory defence to be introduced to protect those whose offending is driven by domestic abuse.

Commenting, Dr Jenny Earle, Transforming Lives Programme Director at the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“We are delighted with this important recommendation by the joint committee. Well over half of women in prison report that they are victims of domestic abuse and the true figure is likely to be much higher. The government has acknowledged the mounting evidence of domestic abuse as an underlying factor in many women’s offending, yet the law provides no effective defence for those facing prosecution in these circumstances. The government should seize this opportunity to strengthen protection and deter prosecution of women who may have been victims of more serious offences than those for which they are commonly imprisoned.”

For more information, see the Prison Reform Trust’s report "There’s a reason we’re in trouble": Domestic Abuse as a Driver to Women’s Offending.

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Women with learning disabilities are at risk of becoming drawn into the criminal justice system due to failures to recognise their disability and a lack of appropriate support, according to a new report published today by the Prison Reform Trust, produced in collaboration with KeyRing Living Support Networks.

The report, Out of the Shadows, draws on the experiences of 24 women with learning disabilities in contact with, or on the edges of, the criminal justice system; and practitioners working within criminal justice, social care, and women’s services. Abuse by men lay behind the offending behaviour of most of the participating women.

The report gives a voice to women with learning disabilities, enabling them to talk about their experiences. This includes not understanding the implications of their behaviour and failure to comply with imposed sanctions; their histories as victims of violent and abusive behaviour; and enforced separation from their children, bewilderment and a sense of injustice.

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Photo credit: Polly Braden

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A new analysis of court data published today by the Prison Reform Trust has found significant variations in imprisonment rates for women between police force areas in England and Wales.

The average imprisonment rate for women in England is 30 per 100,000, and in Wales 48 per 100,000.

Cleveland has the highest imprisonment rate in England and Wales at 67 women per 100,000 head of population. Between 2012 and 2017 this region saw an increase of 22% in the use of immediate imprisonment for women.

By contrast, Greater Manchester, where there is a co-ordinated strategy involving the local authority, police diversion, a problem solving court and women’s support services, has an imprisonment rate of 25 women per 100,000 head of population. Between 2012 and 2017 it saw a decrease of 33% in the use of immediate imprisonment for women.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Earlier this month the UN Committee on Women (CEDAW) published its latest report on progress in achieving women’s equality in the UK.  The UN Committee welcomed the UK Government’s “first female offender strategy in June 2018 to divert the most vulnerable women in the criminal justice system away from custody through the provision of tailored support in England and Wales.” However, reflecting concerns expressed by Prison Reform Trust and others, the Committee recommended that the UK government allocate sufficient resources to effectively implement the Female Offender Strategy; continue to develop alternative sentencing and custodial strategies, including community interventions and services, for women convicted of minor offences; and take further measures to improve the provision of mental health care in all prisons, taking into account the particular needs of women.

Welcoming the United Nations CEDAW Committee’s conclusions, PRT Transforming Lives programme director Dr Jenny Earle said:

“The government has recognised in its strategy that most of the solutions to women’s offending lie in the community, but so far has failed to adequately fund the women’s services that are key to delivering these.  Now an influential international body has added its voice to the growing clamour for more realistic funding. The time has come for the government to deliver on its commitments, and invest in those services it says it supports.”

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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The number of women recalled to prison has more than doubled since the introduction of government measures designed to support people on release, according to a new report published by the Prison Reform Trust.

The report, Broken Trust, reveals that over 1,700 women were recalled to prison in England and Wales during the last year, and that reforms which were intended to help are making things worse. Women are trapped in the justice system rather than being enabled to rebuild their lives.

The study, based on in-depth interviews conducted with 24 women, explores why increasing numbers of women are being returned to custody, and what the impact is on them and their families. It found that the threat of recall for women serving prison sentences of under 12 months is contributing to a breakdown in trust between them and the probation officers responsible for their supervision in the community.

The extension of mandatory post-custody supervision has disproportionately affected women. Recall numbers for men have risen by 22% since the changes were introduced, whilst for women they’ve grown by 131%.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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HMP Bronzefield IMB report

06/11/2018 09:00:00

Commenting on today's report by HMP Bronzefield's Independent Monitoring Board, Jenny Earle, Director of the Prison Reform Trust’s Transforming Lives Programme to Reduce Women’s Imprisonment, said:

“Yet again, a prison watchdog highlights the problem of short term prisoners being released with no home to go to. More than two years after Bronzefield prison had to resort to giving women tents to sleep in when they left custody, and nearly six months after the government published its long-awaited strategy on women offenders, this report rightly asks what has been done to fix a problem that only ministers can solve.

“The startling growth in the number of women recalled to prison since the Government’s so called “rehabilitation revolution” took effect; and the continuing scandal of women detained under the discredited IPP sentence rightly attract criticism. Ministers are quick to hold others accountable for operational failings, but as this report makes clear—the challenges facing Bronzefied require answers from the politicians.”

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As a result of growing demand, we’re pleased to announce that we have just re-printed copies of our report, Leading change: the role of local authorities in supporting women with multiple needs. Two years after the report was first published, its reprinting is timely and has a renewed relevance following the publication of the government’s Female Offender Strategy in June this year. The strategy rightly places emphasis on the importance of joining up agencies and work at a local level. Local Authorities are key in achieving this, providing strategic oversight, and enabling collaboration and coordination to deliver necessary support to women in contact with, or on the edges of the criminal justice system.

This report suggests ways in which local leaders and councillors can make a positive difference to the daily lives of women and children, helping them to lead healthy, fulfilling and productive lives.

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Vulnerable foreign national women in the criminal justice system, including trafficking victims, are facing inappropriate imprisonment and the threat of deportation at the expense of rehabilitation or support, according to a new report published today (17 September) by the Prison Reform Trust and Hibiscus Initiatives.

The report, Still No Way Out, found that foreign national women, many of whom are accused or convicted of non-violent offences and who have in many cases been trafficked or coerced into offending, are receiving inadequate legal representation, poor interpreting services and disproportionate punishment.

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Efforts to reduce the number of women in prison for non-violent offences have received a significant boost, with £520,000 of National Lottery funding. Announced today (16 August), the funding will extend the Prison Reform Trust's Transforming Lives Programme.

This continuation funding from the Big Lottery Fund, the UK’s largest funder of community activity in the UK, will extend the programme for a further two years, allowing PRT to maximise its impact and build on its successes to date.

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Children are often devastated when their mum is sent to prison but their interests are rarely considered by a justice system which is blind to their needs, a new report by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) reveals.

For most children, their mother is their primary carer. Every year an estimated 17,000 children experience their mum being sent to prison. Last year, 83% of women sentenced to prison had committed a non-violent crime and 62% were serving a sentence of six months or less.

The report shows that a mother’s imprisonment not only damages the child’s relationship with her, but can affect every area of their lives, including their housing, education, health, and well-being.

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Commenting on the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s female offender strategy today (27 June 2018), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The strategy is welcome recognition of the futility of short prison sentences for women whose offending is often driven by abusive relationships or unmet mental health needs. The strategy recognises that many women are victims of more serious crimes than those they are accused of, and contains many positive promises of change. But it has not provided the resource to deliver that change, and no timetable to drive it.

“If the Government turns its good intentions into action, many thousands of women and families, including victims, will benefit. That work must start immediately.”

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A chronic shortage of housing support for women released from custody is driving them back to prison, according to a report published today by the Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison.

Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system, found that while in-prison housing support should be an integral part of preparing for release, it is often last-minute, with some women unsure on the morning of their release if they will have accommodation that evening.

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Today's edition of the Guardian (3 May) reported that the Ministry of Justice has postponed the publication of its long awaited strategy for women offenders, according to a Whitehall source. The story was also covered by BBC Radio 4's World at One.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, to seek clarification and reassurance that the strategy will be published before Parliament's summer recess.

Click read more to view a copy of the letter and to read Peter's full comment

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The government's consultation on domestic abuse, launched today, includes a welcome committment to £2 million of dedicated support for female offenders. Research collated by the Prison Reform Trust shows that 57% of women in prison report having been victims of domestic violence as adults. This is likely to be an underestimate.

Commenting, Jenny Earle, Director of PRT's programme to reduce women's imprisonment, said:

“We welcome the government’s recognition that coercive relationships can be a major driver to offending by women. It is time for concerted action to help women break the cycle of victimisation and offending that blights too many lives. The police, prosecutors, courts, probation services and the judiciary must work closely with women’s services to achieve the government’s aims of better outcomes for women and their families, and to reduce offending. The proposed Domestic Abuse Commissioner can play a key role in achieving a joined up approach to women who have been victims of much more serious offences than those for which they are commonly imprisoned.”


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