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23 Jan 2021

Howard League criticises government plans for more women’s prison places

The Howard League for Penal Reform has today (Saturday 23 January) criticised the government after ministers announced plans to waste more money on 500 new prison places for women.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “If the goal is to reduce the number of women entering the criminal justice system, then today’s announcement shows that ministers are looking at the issue down the wrong end of a telescope.

“The touted £2m of investment for community services is dwarfed by the money being sunk into 500 new prison places for women, which in a single year alone will cost more than ten times what is being offered to those helping vulnerable women before they ever reach custody.

“The Howard League’s own work with the police on reducing the arrests of women shows that energy, focus and resources need to be placed in the community, if women are to be effectively steered away from crime.

“Instead of hedging in favour of failure by throwing more money at women’s prisons, the government should be bold and put investment into the community where it really matters.”

The government’s plans include a concerning proposal for children to stay overnight in prisons as their mothers prepare for release. Women who are preparing for release from prison should be going home on temporary licence instead.

The average annual cost per place in women’s prisons in 2019-20 ranged from £45,565 to £55,411.

The Howard League’s campaigning has revealed that thousands of women in distress are arrested unnecessarily each year instead of being given the help and support they need.

The charity’s three-year programme to arrest the entry of women into the criminal justice system is pushing for change by promoting good practice by the police and other agencies that prevents women being criminalised needlessly.

The Howard League programme has run in parallel with a separate inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (APPG) into reducing arrests of women.

In September 2020, a briefing by the APPG revealed how police resources were being wasted on arresting women inappropriately, holding them in custody and releasing them without charge.

Across England and Wales, police made almost 100,000 arrests of women during the year ending March 2019.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. More information about the Howard League’s programme to arrest the entry of women into the criminal justice system can be found on the charity’s website.
  3. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System has produced two briefings from its inquiry into arrests of women. The briefings can be downloaded from the Howard League website here and here.
  4. Cost-per-prison-place statistics were published by the Ministry of Justice in October 2020. They can be downloaded online. 


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

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