Needs of women offenders 'ignored'

Times Series: MPs said that the Government's prison reforms have failed to take into account female offenders MPs said that the Government's prison reforms have failed to take into account female offenders

The Government is ignoring the needs of women offenders with its probation reforms, a group of MPs have warned.

Five years after the Corston report into female prisoners, the Commons Justice Select Committee has found that the female prison population has not fallen fast enough and more than half of women continue to receive ineffective short custodial sentences.

The committee said plans to introduce payment by results in probation services - part of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's so-called rehabilitation revolution - need to be redesigned for women offenders.

Baroness Corston's 2007 report, launched after a series of suicides in women's jails, called for large jails to be replaced with small units and recommended that prison sentences were only handed to the most serious and violent offenders

Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith MP said: "The Government's Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have clearly been designed with male offenders in mind. This is unfortunately symptomatic of an approach within the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service that tends to deal with women offenders as an afterthought."

The committee found that the Government's focus on cutting reoffending is likely to trigger further loss of funding for women's community centres.

The MPs said there was a compelling case for commissioning services for women offenders separately and for applying other incentive mechanisms that would encourage the diversion of women from crime.

Overall, the committee said the women's prison population had not fallen fast enough, while community sentences, which would involve mental health and substance misuse treatment, remain unavailable to the courts.

Sir Alan continued: "As the Corston report identified six years ago, helping vulnerable women break the cycles that lead to offending or reoffending requires a tailored, joined-up approach across Government.

"This is not about treating women more favourably or implying that they are less culpable - it is about recognising that women face very different hurdles from men in their journey towards a law-abiding life."

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