If you have a weapon, lock it up before reading this and having a chance to smoke a dart. No other commentary necessary on this, and believe it or not, this is not satire.
Women should no longer be sent to prison unless they have committed a serious crime, the Justice Secretary says today, as he unveils a “step change” in the way female offenders are dealt with. David Gauke will today announce plans for five residential women’s centres where offenders will get help with drug and alcohol problems, educational support and counselling instead of being locked up. Plans for new women’s prisons have been scrapped.
WOMEN should no longer be sent to prison unless they have committed a serious crime, the Justice Secretary says today, as he unveils a “step change” in how female offenders are punished.
Ministers want to “break the cycle” of sending women to jail after it emerged fewer than 40 women were behind bars in England and Wales for violent offences. Most were serving time for shoplifting and similar crimes.
David Gauke will today announce plans to open five residential women’s centres, where, instead of being locked up, offenders will get help with drug and alcohol problems, education and counselling.
He is to scrap plans to spend £50million on building new women’s prisons with the focus instead shifting to keeping women out of jail, after research showed the majority were mothers of young children.
It comes as Rory Stewart, the prisons minister, said jail terms of less than a year should be abandoned for all but the most serious of offences.
His remarks signal a growing shift toward community care instead of short sentences after Mr Gauke said handing out short jail terms did not work.
Mr Stewart told MPS that offences involving sex and violence were likely to be excluded to ensure dangerous offenders could not dodge imprisonment. He said: “We need to shape the argument as to why an ever-growing prison population is not in the interests of the public.”
Official figures show just 1 per cent of 4,000 women currently behind bars are there for violent offences. Five per cent of the prison population in England are female and half of them have committed shoplifting or similar offences to support the drug use of someone else, often a male partner.
Three per cent of the 95 per cent who make up the male prison population have committed a violent crime, while 77 per cent are there for minor offences. Women have much higher rates of mental health problems in prison and 60 per cent have experienced domestic violence.
The Justice Secretary said: “While public protection will always be our priority, and prison must remain the only option in the most serious cases, I want that to be a last resort.”
He added that shifting the emphasis to greater community provision “ultimately benefits offenders, their families and the wider community, as we see fewer victims and cut the cost of reoffending.”
If the five new residential centres are a success, more will be created. The emphasis will be on preventing women from going back to jail after figures showed most women reoffended soon after being released. It costs taxpayers £1.7billion a year to deal with female criminals and £5 million over two years will be spent on the scheme, in contrast to the £50 million new female prisons would have cost.
The plans were welcomed by prison reform campaigners but are likely to raise concerns that vulnerable men in the prison system are being treated unfairly compared with women.
Dame Vera Baird, from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said: “For the strategy to achieve its intentions, it needs to be properly funded.”