Women and the Criminal Justice System


Written evidence from Napo


In January 2021 The Minister for Prisons and Probation, Lucy Frazer, announced £2m investment into 38 women’s organisations providing support and intervention that rehabilitates women and helps reduce reoffending. There was also an announcement that 500 additional prison places for women would be built. The announcement was immediately challenged by prison reform campaigners and organisations campaigning for women in the CJS. This briefing looks at the facts about women in the CJS, the background to the announcement and what can be done differently to get better outcomes for women.


The facts about women in the CJS



The above information is from the Ministry of Justice and National Statistics, the source material can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/women-and-the-criminal-justice-system-2019


The facts about the cost of Prison and Probation




The facts about mothers in prison


The Prison Reform Trust published a briefing in 2017 that you can find here http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/Documents/Women/whywomen.pdf


They found that

Background – The Corston Report, 2007


In 2007 Baroness Corston released her report into women in the CJS. You can read it here https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130206102659/http:/www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/corston-report-march-2007.pdf


Here are some of the things she said:

“There are many women in prison, either on remand or serving sentences for minor, non-violent offences, for whom prison is both disproportionate and inappropriate. Many of them suffer poor physical and mental health or substance abuse, or both. Large numbers have endured violent or sexual abuse or had chaotic childhoods. Many have been in care. I have concluded that we are rightly exercised about paedophiles, but seem to have little sympathy, understanding or interest in those who have been their victims, many of whom end up in prison.”

“I have, however, concluded that it is timely to bring about a radical change in the way we treat women throughout the whole of the criminal justice system and this must include not just those who offend but also those at risk of offending. This will require a radical new approach, treating women both holistically and individually – a woman-centred approach. I have concluded that there needs to be a fundamental re-thinking about the way in which services for this group of vulnerable women, particularly for mental health and substance misuse in the community are provided and accessed; there needs to be an extension of the network of women’s community centres to support women who offend or are at risk of offending and to direct young women out of pathways that lead into crime.

Some of the relevant recommendations in the report are listed here:


Alternative Sanctions: the need for a proportionate approach

Prison without walls – the need For A holistic, woman-centred approach

Background – Corston +10


In 2017 Women in Prison released an analysis of the progress on the recommendations in Baroness Corston’s original report. You can read it here https://www.womeninprison.org.uk/media/downloads/corston-report-10-years-on.pdf


This report explores each recommendation made by Baroness Corston and categorises it as having no progress, some progress or fully implemented. It further adds indication of u-turns where some progress was initially made but since rolled back, warnings where imminent problems are foreseen and ‘viewpoints’ where positive developments appeared to be on the horizon.


Of the recommendations I have detailed above none were fully implemented. Four had no progress and the rest had some progress. Three of the recommendations had been subject to u-turns, four were subject to warnings of imminent problems and four had potential positive developments on the horizon.


Background – Transforming Rehabilitation


There was a clear impact on many of the projects and approaches put in place as a result of Baroness Corston’s report when ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ (TR) privatised much of Probation provision for women in 2014. The former Probation Trusts which were abolished to make way for TR had funded women’s centres and worked in partnership with many voluntary and third sector organisations to make progress from 2008 onwards. These partnerships and funding arrangements fell away when the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) contracts were sold, many of the contract owners failing to make good on promises to go into sub-contracting arrangements when it became clear they would struggle to make money from the contracts if they did.


With women making up such a small proportion of the Probation caseload and that caseload now being split across two providers (the state operated National Probation service and the privatised CRCs) there was little room for specialism and resources were split.




The recent announcement of £5m in funding for services for women is very welcome but is likely to only just manage to repair the damage done by disinvestment since TR. The announcement of an additional 500 prison places for women, an increase in 15% on the 3,100 places currently available is a deep blow to efforts that have been made since 2007 to reduce the imprisonment of women for non-violent crimes.


Since many of the recommendations made by Baroness Corston have not been implemented in the 13 years since her report was published it would be easy to dismiss them as no longer relevant but the report in 2017 by Women in Prison highlighted that they were as relevant ten years on as they were when written.


Women are still being sent to prison for non-violent offences and are still serving a high proportion of short sentences which have devastating social costs and consequences while offering little in the way of rehabilitation. Minister for Prisons and Probation, Lucy Frazer said when announcing the additional prison places that the impact of the separately pledged additional 20,000 Police Officers would mean more arrests and more imprisonment of women. Time and time again it has been demonstrated and argued that sending women to prison for short periods for non-violent offences increases the likelihood of reoffending rather than decreasing it. There are alternatives and they are cheaper than prison, but they need consistent central funding, like prisons, not to be left to chase scraps of funding from so many sources that their leaders end up spending more time bidding for the funding than overseeing the delivery of a quality service.


The costs to society of imprisoning women go far beyond the cost of policing, prosecuting, sentencing and delivering their sentence. Most of the women in prison are mothers and when they go into prison very few of their children are cared for by another parent and even fewer remain at home. The cost of caring for (or assessing and supporting those who care for) children of imprisoned mothers falls to Local Authorities. Children of mothers who go into prison will be more likely to have specific needs in terms of mental and emotional wellbeing and research shows they are more likely to require intervention by health and social services and to offend themselves in the future all of which has a cost to society.


Women and men are different and have different needs in the CJS. Baroness Corston said in her report “Women and men are different. Equal treatment of men and women does not result in equal outcomes.”





It is crucial that we now take a different approach to women in the CJS and use the wealth of research, experience and expertise that has been amassed since 2007 and divert the funding away from expanding the number of prison places for women to providing quality gender-specific rehabilitation services in the community along with the diversion and prevention services.


Women in Prison in their report on progress 10 years after the Corston report highlighted five key areas for further progress, none of these (listed below) includes 500 additional prison places and a move to imprison more women undermines all of the progress made to respond to Baroness Corston’s report so far.

I previously worked as a specialist Probation Officer co-located in a women’s centre in a partnership project set up in 2008 in response to the Corston report. We focussed on giving the women we worked with as much time as possible, and offering them a ‘one stop shop’ with services (both specialist and generic) visiting the centre to make engagement easy. We had a creche onsite in the early days and even offered the opportunity for a limited number of women to complete their Unpaid Work at the centre. We ran groups and offered gender specific services and interventions in a gender specific setting. I would attend Court if someone I worked with was appearing for a further offence to give Sentencers information on progress. I attended Court whenever I wrote a report in a case where custody was likely but I was offering an alternative.


We saw many women move away from the CJS and some come back around. We saw some women who had been viewed previously as a hopeless case make significant changes to their lives. For most of the women we worked with the result was protection for them, their children or potential victims from further crime. That is what our aims should be and imprisonment is a very expensive, destructive and unsuccessful way to approach those aims for the vast majority of women.



9 June 2021