Comment, analysis and debate for those with an interest in the issues facing women in the criminal justice system...

Comment and Analysis

Justice Reinvestment for Women
21/06/2016 10:13:00 by Jenny Earle

The UK has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in Western Europe. Every year the government spends billions of pounds locking people up despite evidence of high reoffending rates and other adverse consequences for individuals and communities.

Little wonder that there is growing political consensus on the need for a different approach to lower-level offending, with more emphasis on community based supervision and support to enable people to address the causes of their offending and make amends for it.

The value of a justice reinvestment strategy for women, which would see funding redirected from prisons into local services, was the focus of a high-level seminar held as part of our Transforming Lives programme on 15 June 2016. Chaired by Juliet Lyon, participants were a mix of researchers, penal reformers, government officials and women’s organisations.

Professor Julie Stubbs, visiting from Australia, spoke about ‘Downsizing Prisons in an Age of Austerity? Justice reinvestment and Women’s Imprisonment’, drawing on her recent research in the USA and Australia. She made the point that women are often overlooked in justice reinvestment programmes because their numbers in the criminal justice system are small, but they should be at the centre of such initiatives because the impact of their incarceration – on children, families and communities - is so far-reaching. A copy of Julie's presentation can be found here.

Professor Michele Burman of Glasgow University then spoke about developments in Scotland and the opportunities there to reorient criminal justice policy and expenditure away from imprisonment. Michele's presentation can be found here. These were highlighted in a powerful BBC Scotland documentary that evening where the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson admitted “historically we have been over-dependent on prisons”. The BBC documentary can be found here.

Justice reinvestment is not only about saving taxpayers money, it is also about devolving accountability and responsibility for better criminal justice outcomes to the local level. In the context of devolution and localism there is scope for realigning financial incentives to invest in responses that work for women.

The closure and sale of HMP Holloway offers the perfect opportunity for such investment and our proposal for a women’s centre on the site continues to garner support.

Watch this space!