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All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women in the Penal System

A prisoner and an officer talk in Styal prison for women

The APPG

The Howard League provides administrative assistance to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women in the Penal System. The group is chaired by Baroness Corston and Victoria Prentis MP. Its officers are Kate Green MP, Jess Phillips MP and Baroness Stern CBE.

The APPG works to ensure high quality debate and discussion on issues around women in the justice system in Parliament and continues to push for the full implementation of the Corston Report recommendations.

The Corston Report

In 2007, Baroness Corston published her seminal Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System, also known as the Corston Report. The report called for a ‘distinct, radically different, visibly-led, strategic, proportionate, holistic, woman-centred, integrated approach’ for women involved in the justice system.

It concluded that imprisonment was disproportionate and inappropriate for the vast majority of women in prison and that women’s centres and other community services were far more suitable for almost all women in contact with the justice system.

The work of the APPG

Inquiry into the sentencing of women

In 2018, the APPG conducted a 10-month inquiry into the sentencing of women. The aims of this inquiry were two-fold: to reveal the issues around sentencing that inhibit the use of non-custodial solutions and to encourage and enable the magistracy to avoid sending women to prison.

Following the inquiry, the APPG published a report which recommended that prison sentences of less than 12 months should be abolished for women. The report was launched at an APPG meeting with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Edward Argar MP.

The report outlined ‘knowledge gaps’ in the sentencing process. 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 heard oral evidence from John Bache, the Chair of the Magistrates Association, and Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation. It received written evidence and received submissions from a wide range of groups and individuals – including charities, trade unions, academics and women’s centres. All evidence submitted to the inquiry can be viewed here.

Inquiry into the treatment of women in the criminal justice system

The APPG published a report on the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation on women’s centres, following its inquiry into the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. It found that women’s centres were successful in reducing offending yet were under threat following the break up of the probation service under the government’s TR programme.

Minutes from the APPG’s evidence session on Tuesday 24 October 2017 with Sonia Crozier, Executive Director of Probation and Women at HMPPS are available here.

Inquiry into preventing the unnecessary criminalisation of women

In 2015, the APPG published a report on preventing the unnecessary criminalisation of women, following a year long inquiry into the treatment of women at risk.

The Inquiry found that for many women it is their repeated victimisation which has led to involvement in the justice system. Gender-informed policing of women is key to preventing unnecessary criminalisation.

Moreover, thousands of women are sentenced each year to serve expensive and destructive short term prison sentences, yet successful women’s centres and diversion schemes are poorly and insecurely funded. A large number of the women involved in the justice system have acute and multiple unmet needs. It is crucial that services in the community for these women are prioritised, but the criminal justice system must not be the gateway to access services.

Inquiry into girls in the penal system

The APPG conducted an independent inquiry into girls and the penal system and published two reports on keeping girls out of the penal system and on the experiences of girls from courts to custody. The aims of the inquiry were to achieve real change in the lives of young girls in need and to bring about a reduction in the number of girls who entered the criminal justice system.

The inquiry focused on policy and practice regarding girls and investigated the decisions that route girls away from or into the criminal justice system. It looked at the different approaches to working with girls both nationally and internationally. The APPG made recommendations for reform across the social and penal systems.

Following the inquiry, girls are no longer held in prisons and the number of girls entering the penal system has fallen.

Legal interventions on women and the penal system

The Howard League’s work with the APPG shapes and is informed by the charity’s broader work on women and the criminal justice system, including our legal interventions.

For example, in May 2017, the Howard League for Penal Reform intervened and submitted expert evidence in a landmark case at the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the distribution of approved premises (APs) discriminates against women.

Living in APs may be made a condition of release on license for certain prisoners. They are all single-sex establishments. There are 94 APs for men, located throughout England and Wales, with several in London. There are only six for women, in Bedford, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Preston and Reading, and none in London or in Wales.

This means that women are much more likely than men to be placed in APs that are far from their homes and families. They may suffer long-term disadvantages in terms of accommodation, rehabilitation and employment, as well as in re-establishing their relationships in their community after release.

Major achievements of the APPG:

  • Contributed to reducing the criminalisation of girls
  • Helped to end the policy of holding girls in prisons
  • Championed women’s centres
  • Influenced government thinking regarding women’s imprisonment ahead of the forthcoming female offender strategy
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