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27 Jun 2018

Howard League welcomes government U-turn on prisons for women

The Howard League for Penal Reform has welcomed the Ministry of Justice’s strategy for women in the criminal justice system, to be published today (Wednesday 27 June).

Ministers have decided not to pursue plans to build new prisons for women – a policy that had been strongly opposed by the Howard League.

The government will announce pilots for five residential women’s centres across England and Wales, with greater focus on innovative community provisions to keep women away from prison.

About 3,800 women are in prison today – representing less than 5 per cent of the total prison population – but many more are affected. Prisons are like revolving doors; as some women leave, others are sent in to take their place.

Seven in 10 women entering prison are sent there to serve sentences of six months or less. Last year, one in four was sentenced to 30 days or less. Almost 300 women were given sentences of two weeks or less – a short period of time, but potentially so disruptive that a woman can lose her job, her home and contact with her children.

One in five women in prison is released without somewhere to live.

More than 8,300 incidents of self-injury were recorded in women’s prisons last year – at a rate of one every hour. The Howard League would be happy to work with the government to identify prisons that should be closed.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Ministers deserve real praise for the broad direction of travel this strategy for women outlines. It is particularly encouraging that the government has listened to experts and decided not to proceed with building oxymoronic community prisons – a policy that was strongly opposed by the Howard League and members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Women in the Penal System.

“Women’s centres can achieve what prisons cannot – working with other organisations in the community to turn lives around and reduce crime. It is essential that they are properly funded to continue this success.

“The government should now follow this with a commitment to close women’s prisons. Building more centres without closing jails would undermine what the government is trying to achieve.

“Combined with Rory Stewart’s strong condemnation of short prison sentences, this strategy for women should result in an end to women being sent to prison for just a few weeks and investment in community responses instead.

“I hope that the new residential units will be used for more problematic women who would otherwise be getting mid-range prison terms. In a few years we could be looking at a completely new landscape for women, dealing with their needs, reducing the number of victims and saving the public money.”

Currently, there is a network of about 50 women’s centres in England and Wales that offer safe spaces for women where they are treated as individuals and their needs can be addressed holistically. Services provided include counselling and mental health services, drug treatment, employment skills, help for women in abusive relationships, literacy, CV support, child care, and housing assistance.

Some of these centres offer residential services, including Willowdene Farm in Shropshire and Anawim in Birmingham – two projects that have been awarded Community Awards by the Howard League for their work in guiding women away from crime.

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.
  1. The Howard League provides administrative support to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (APPG), chaired by Baroness Corston and Victoria Prentis MP. More information about the APPG can be found on the Howard League website.
  1. Howard League Community Awards are awarded annually to successful community projects that reduce crime and transform lives for the better. More information about the awards, including how to nominate a project for a prize in 2018, can be found on the Howard League website.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
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