- A YouGov opinion poll, launched today by the Prison Reform Trust, reveals strong support for public health measures to tackle women’s offending
- Dame Elish Angiolini, chair of the Scottish Commission on Women Offenders, to deliver Prison Reform Trust lecture tonight on Reforming Women’s Justice
- Prison Reform Trust launches three year strategy to reduce the imprisonment of women in the UK
A YouGov opinion poll, launched today by the Prison Reform Trust, reveals strong support for public health measures to tackle women’s offending. Treatment for drug addiction, help to stop alcohol misuse, and mental healthcare, were the top three solutions to get public backing for reducing offending by women who commit non-violent crimes.
The poll of 1,552 people across Britain reveals:
- Nearly seven out of ten people polled (69%) believe treatment for drug addiction would be effective at reducing the risk of offending
- 68% thought help to stop alcohol misuse would be effective
- 62% believe mental health care would be effective.
The poll also reveals that getting out of debt was considered effective by 61% of people surveyed, supervision and support centres for women serving community sentences were seen as effective by 54%, and making amends to victims was considered effective by 53%.
Imprisonment was considered the seventh most effective way of addressing women’s offending and was backed by 52% of people surveyed.
The poll findings come as data just released by the Ministry of Justice shows that the rate of self-harm for female prisoners is over ten times higher than that for men (F: 2,104 self harm incidents per 1,000; M: 194 incidents per 1,000 male prisoners). Over half the women in prison report having suffered domestic violence and 1 in 3 has experienced sexual abuse. Around half of women leaving prison are reconvicted with one year of release. This figure rises to over 60% for those women serving a short sentence of 12 months or less.
The Prison Reform Trust is launching these poll results on the day that Dame Elish Angiolini delivers the Prison Reform Trust Lecture 2012 on Reforming Women’s Justice. Dame Elish is the former Lord Advocate of Scotland, the highest law officer in the Scottish legal system. She most recently chaired the Commission on Women Offenders in Scotland, which found that Scotland’s women’s prison Cornton Vale was not “fit for purpose” and recommended a radical overhaul of the system. In response to the Commission’s recommendations, the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has confirmed that the Scottish government will identify “suitable alternatives to Cornton Vale, leading to its replacement”.
Elish Angiolini was tasked by the Scottish government with finding more effective outcomes for the population of women offenders in Scotland; a population that has more than doubled over the last ten years. In the lecture she will explain the thinking behind her call for radical change to the systems in place in Scotland and the demolition of the national woman's prison there, of the need to abandon easy slogans of "tough or soft" on crime and to replace the soundbites with what works.
Dame Elish Angiolini will say:
In a long history of pretty meaningless sound bites "short, sharp shock" at least has the merit of being an attractive display of an alliteration. That is its only value. Far from having a deterrent effect, the short sentence has the impact of inoculating women offenders from any deterrent value of imprisonment. Neither are these sentences suitable as a refuge from the harsh reality of life outside for some badly damaged women. Prison needs to stop being the default position because of inertia in finding robust and effective alternatives in the community. It is time to abandon the fragmented efforts at tackling the profound underlying problems propelling so many women in Scotland and elsewhere into prison and adopt a cohesive and coherent approach.
The lecture, which will be attended by around 700 PRT Friends and supporters and allied civic society groups, will be an opportunity to consider the lessons from Scotland for women’s justice reform in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. The coalition government in Westminster has acknowledged the distinct needs of women offenders and is expected to publish a strategy on women’s justice by the end of the year. Helen Grant MP, the newly appointed minister for women in the criminal justice system, will be attending the lecture at Friends House in London as the special guest of the Prison Reform Trust.
Commenting in response to a Parliamentary Question on women offenders by Amber Rudd MP on 13 November, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, said:
One of the first prisons I visited was Holloway. I saw at first hand the very different challenge we face with women offenders. One of the earliest steps I took was to separate ministerial responsibility for men and women in our prisons, asking the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) to take on the role of Minister with responsibility for women in prisons, and to look at whether we are getting the regime right and how we should adapt it to reflect the very different challenges we face with women in our prisons.
Mumsnet – the UK’s busiest social network for parents – will be holding a discussion
with its members from midday on Monday about women and prison.
The lecture will be broadcast live online at the PRT website from 7.00pm
The lecture marks the official launch of the Prison Reform Trust’s three year strategy to reduce the unnecessary imprisonment of women in the UK. Supported by the Pilgrim Trust and PRT Friends, the strategy builds on the work of the Women’s Justice Taskforce which reported in 2011.
Too many women are imprisoned every year for non-violent offences. About 13,500 women are sent to prison in the UK every year. At any one time there are around 4,650 women in our prisons. The average annual cost of a women’s prison place is £56,415, compared to £10,000 - £15,000 for an intensive community order
Women’s offending is commonly linked to underlying mental health problems, drug and alcohol misuse, financial difficulties and debt, and experience of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Many women who offend spent time in local authority care as children. Some are victims of human trafficking and are coerced into offending. Most women in prison have dependent children.
Over the next three years we will work with our partners including the Soroptimists, the National Council of Women, and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, and allied charities and organisations, PRT Friends and supporters committed to reforming justice for women, and achieving change.
Commenting, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
Most women in prison are serving short sentences for petty persistent offending and non-violent crime. Most have been victims of serious crime, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Solutions to women’s offending lie, not behind bars, but in effective treatment to beat addictions to drugs and drink, mental health care and help to get out of debt. The public understand this, now it is up to government to put things right.
Jenny Earle, the director of the new PRT programme to reduce women’s imprisonment, said:
Because women are such a small minority of the prison population they are easily overlooked. But change is also more easily achieved on a smaller scale. By working constructively with government, and together with our partners - including the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the Soroptimists and the National Council of Women, and other organisations committed to reforming justice for women - we will ensure more effective responses to women’s offending.