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8 Mar 2018

International Women’s Day 2018: MPs and peers to launch inquiry into the sentencing of women

A prisoner and an officer talk in Styal prison for women

A major inquiry into the sentencing of women in England and Wales is to be launched in Parliament, it was announced today (Thursday 8 March) as the world marked International Women’s Day 2018.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (APPG), which comprises MPs and peers from all parties, will begin hearing evidence next week.

With the number of women in prison now standing at almost 4,000, the inquiry will attempt to discover why courts so often impose damaging custodial terms when women’s centres have been shown to be successful in guiding women away from crime.

It will build on the work of a previous inquiry by the APPG, which found that women’s centres were providing high-quality services but were struggling to get funding following the part-privatisation of the probation service.

Baroness Corston, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, said: “As we mark International Women’s Day, there is compelling evidence that many women are being sent to prison unnecessarily, and these sentencing decisions can have disastrous consequences.

“Seven in 10 women entering prison are sent there to serve sentences of six months or less. One in four is jailed for 30 days or less, and almost 300 women last year were given sentences of two weeks or less.

“Women represent less than 5 per cent of the total prison population, but account for almost 20 per cent of all incidents of self-injury. One in five women in prison is released with nowhere to live.

“The need for a rethink on sentencing could not be clearer, and I hope that this inquiry will help to encourage and enable the magistracy to send fewer women to prison.”

Victoria Prentis MP, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, said: “Women’s centres provide a range of vital services to guide women away from crime successfully, but too many women are being sent to prison instead.

“Our inquiry will explore why this is happening and suggest ways in which we can prevent more being women being dragged into the prison system.”

Kate Green MP, an officer of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, said: “It is scandalous that thousands of women are in prison for non-violent offences.

“Even a short spell in custody can be so disruptive that a woman loses her job, her home, and contact with her children.”

The inquiry will hold its first meeting on Tuesday 13 March, when the national chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, John Bache, is scheduled to give evidence.

The justice minister responsible for women in prison, Dr Phillip Lee MP, has accepted an invitation to give evidence at a later date.

The inquiry will seek to build on the success of a previous inquiry by the APPG, held for 12 months from October 2011, which prompted a reduction in the number of girls entering the criminal justice system.

Following that inquiry, girls are no longer held in prison.

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. A 2016 report published by the APPG, Is this the end of women’s centres?, can be viewed on the Howard League website.
  1. Two reports were published following the APPG’s inquiry on girls and the penal system. Keeping girls out of the penal system and Inquiry on girls: From courts to custody can be viewed on the Howard League website.

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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