Ambitious for Change
Women in Prison’s Key Campaign is to reduce the women’s prison population to 2,020 (or fewer!) by 2020.
Here’s the why?
Women in prison are often victims themselves: Over half of women in prison have been victims of domestic or sexual violence. Serious mental health problems are endemic in women’s prisons as well as substance misuse, homelessness, and poverty, all are interlinked and often a response to trauma. These issues are the root causes of offending - enabling women to address these issues is the key to reducing the prison population.
Prison harms individuals and communities: In 2016, 22 women died in prison (12 took their own lives) - the highest number on record; 21% of self-harm in prison is by women (although they account for 5% of the population). A few weeks in prison is enough time to lose your home, job and children. The stigma can last a lifetime and the harm ripples out to children and communities. 9 out of 10 children with a mother in prison are forced to leave home to go into care or live with relatives.
Prison is not the answer, there is a better way: Most women serving short sentences are back in prison within a year. The 2020 Ambition can be achieved with investment in diversion, community alternatives and women’s centre interventions which enable women to address the root causes of offending, without being offset by the harm of prison. These interventions are proven to have lower reoffending rates than prison. This approach makes economic sense too the average prison place (£42,000) costs over ten times more than a community sentence (£3,000) - and investment in community support services can prevent women from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.
Here’s the How?
A moratorium on building new prisons: Achieving the 2020 Ambition is not an easy task and will take commitment and action from many sectors from Government, Courts and Police to Local Authorities and Employers. But one thing we do know is that the solution does not lie in the current £1.3billion prison building programme which includes the proposal for five new community prisons for women. There is no evidence to suggest that these new prison buildings will reduce reoffending. The evidence shows that investing in specialist women’s centres, and other community solutions such as housing or mental health support is a more effective use of that money.
Sentencing Reform & Access to Justice: Sentencing Guidelines state that prison should be used as a last resort, for the most serious offences and consideration should be given to the impact on dependents. Prison should only be used for the very small number of women who pose a risk of harm to others but this is not the reality. 84% of women’s prison senteces are for non-violent offences - last year 40 women went to prison for non-payment of council tax. In many cases imposing a custodial sentence in unlawful.