Probation union calls on government to scrap plans to send more women to prison

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Press Release

For immediate release – International Women’s Day 8 March 2021

Napo, the Probation and Family Courts Union, has produced a comprehensive briefing on Women and the Criminal Justice System to mark International Women’s Day on 8th March.

The briefing considers the announcement in January by Prisons and Probation Minister, Lucy Frazer, about Government plans for the Women’s Estate and particularly challenges the proposal to build 500 additional prison places for women.

The briefing, which will be presented to the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group of parliamentarians today, argues that sending women to prison (for overwhelmingly non-violent offences) does not work, is expensive and ignores the particular needs of vulnerable women caught up in the criminal justice system.

The briefing states: “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.”

It goes on to say: “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.”

Katie Lomas, National Chair of Napo, and author of the briefing says: “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 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.”

Napo is joining other campaign groups in calling for the government to reconsider the proposal to build more prison places and instead concentrate resources in alternatives to custody for women. The union plans a high profile online event to launch its campaign in April. More details to follow.


Women in Napo Briefing – Women and the Criminal Justice System


* In 2007 Baroness Corston released her report into women in the CJS. You can read it here