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Women in prison inquiry launched

26 April 2021

The Justice Committee launches an inquiry on Women in Prison. 

Women make up just 5% of the overall prison population but there are a number of factors which make this group of considerable interest and concern:

  • a significantly higher proportion of women than men report mental or physical problems, drug or alcohol issues, money worries and housing concerns;
  • women self-harm in prison more than men;
  • sending a mother to jail can have serious, long-term detrimental effects on her children – and yet a recent report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights found there is a complete lack of reliable data on the number of children whose mothers are in prison;
  • women on average commit less serious offences and often pose a lower risk to the public than men; and
  • the government’s official 2016 Female Offender Strategy is to have fewer women in custody - yet the government is planning to build 500 new cells in the female estate.

The above issues will be among the areas to be studied in the Committee inquiry, with the overall Terms of Reference being: how to reduce the number of women in prison, how to improve their conditions and resettlement after detention, and how to reduce re-offending.

The inquiry is expected to take in written evidence as well as testimony at one or more public evidence sessions. The Committee is likely to welcome the following to give oral evidence: the Prisons Minister and senior government officials; representatives of the Prison Service and its Inspectorate; and other experts and stakeholders.

Terms of reference:

Please send submissions of no more than 3,000 words through the online portal by 7 June:

Reducing the number of women in custody

1. What progress has been made on commitments to reduce the number of women in custody since the publication of the Female Offender Strategy

  • What more can be done?

2. What has been done to reduce the number of women serving short prison sentences?

  • Do community sentences currently offer a credible alternative to custody? (If no, why not?)
  • What more could be done?

3. What progress has been made on the development of Residential Women’s Centres?

  • Do these offer a suitable alternative to custody?

4. What has been done to ensure that the welfare of dependent children is taken into account when sentencing decisions are made?

Women in Custody

5. Since the publication of the Female Offender Strategy, what work has been done to improve conditions for those in custody?

6. Does the female prison estate take a Whole System Approach (that considers all of the offenders needs)to those in their care?

  • What does this look like in practice?
  • Are there any barriers in achieving a Whole System Approach to female offending?

7. How are women supported to maintain family ties in prison? What progress has been made on improving family ties since the Farmer Review? What effect has Covid-19 had on maintaining family ties for women in custody?

  • What support is available for mothers to maintain contact with dependent children?

8. What factors contribute to the high levels of self-harm in the female estate?

  • What is being done to address the high levels of self-harm in the female estate?
  • What more could be done?

9. Does the custodial estate offer a trauma-informed environment for females? (a trauma informed environment, being that which is about putting experience, behaviours and needs first, and creating a safer, healing environment that aims to reduce and prevent trauma and retraumatising an individual)

  • Could more be done? If so, what?

10. What support is available to ensure that women are successfully resettled into the community upon release and reduce reoffending?

  • Are there any barriers to effective resettlement, and reduced reoffending?

11. What support does the female adult estate offer to girls transitioning from the youth custodial estate?

Further information

Image: PA