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31 Oct 2018

Abolish prison sentences of less than 12 months for women, says cross-party group of MPs and peers

A prisoner and an officer talk in Styal prison for women

Prison sentences of less than 12 months should be abolished for women, an influential cross-party panel of MPs and peers recommends today (Wednesday 31 October).

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (APPG) has found that many women are being sent to prison unnecessarily – in spite of overwhelming evidence that prison makes matters worse for them – while the number of community sentences has decreased.

A 10-month inquiry by the APPG into the sentencing of women in England and Wales found that the failures of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms – which involved the part-privatisation of probation – have undermined magistrates’ confidence in community sentences.

Furthermore, magistrates often lack knowledge about the circumstances of women’s lives and the likely impact of prison, as well as about what specialist provision for women is available in their local area.

The inquiry’s findings are published in a report, called Sentencers and sentenced: exploring knowledge, agency and sentencing women to prison.

Baroness Corston, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, said: “It is well established that imprisonment makes things worse, not better, for women, but our inquiry has found that women are still being sent to prison unnecessarily, and overwhelmingly for short periods.

“Too often, magistrates view custody as the only option when all the evidence indicates that women’s centres provide better support for women and are more effective at reducing offending.

“Ministers are aware and have spoken publicly about the futility of short prison sentences. Scrapping them for women would save lives and reduce crime.”

The inquiry received written evidence from charities, academics, women’s centres, a trade union and a Police and Crime Commissioner.

MPs and peers visited a problem-solving court and heard oral evidence from John Bache, the Chair of the Magistrates’ Association, and Dame Glenys Stacey, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation.

In 2017, more than two-thirds of women sentenced to immediate custody were given sentences of less than six months. They included 246 women who were sentenced to prison for less than two weeks.

Notes to editors

  1. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Women in the Penal System (APPG) was set up in July 2009, with Baroness Corston as Chair and administrative support from the Howard League for Penal Reform.
  1. The APPG comprises MPs and Members of the House of Lords from all parties and works to increase knowledge and awareness of issues around women in the penal system, as well as push for the full implementation of the recommendations of The Corston Report: A review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system.
  1. The APPG’s report, Sentencers and sentenced: exploring knowledge, agency and sentencing women to prison, can be viewed online.

Contact

Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
The Howard League for Penal Reform
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094.

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