In the Media

Crispin Blunt's enlightened views must be backed by cash | Observer editorial

PUBLISHED November 13, 2011

Options to custody are more likely to reduce recidivism, but support organisations are facing deep cuts Crispin Blunt, the junior justice minister, was asked last week how many women he expected to be in prison at the end of this parliament, in 2015. Mr Blunt's perhaps surprising response was "zero" . According to an adviser, what Mr Blunt meant to say is that a small number of women will always have to be locked up for the safety of the public and because of the enormity of their crime. However, options to custody are more likely to reduce recidivism. This position does not appeal to conservatives, so all the more reason therefore for this paper to applaud Mr Blunt's courage. Research is on the minister's side. In 2007, the Corston review proposed that prisons should be scrapped for all but a tiny number of women. It advocated community sentences and the expansion of therapeutic women's centres. Mental ill health, addiction, experience of abuse in childhood and domestic violence are common patterns in the female prison population, as is time spent in care. Much of this mirrors the experience of convicted males; however, women have additional difficulties. Many are solely responsible for children. Since there are only a handful of female prisons, female prisoners are often sent many miles from home. Two thirds of them are sentenced to six months or less ? long enough to disrupt already chaotic lives for crimes that most often involve debt, drugs and petty theft. To its credit, the Ministry of Justice has established programmes of work to divert from custody vulnerable women who do not pose a risk to the public. It's good value for the taxpayer. A place at a therapeutic centre in the community costs up to ?2,300 a year, compared with ?51,000 for a year in jail. However, organisations such as Women in Prison , providing specialist sustained support, are facing deep cuts. Mr Blunt's clarity of vision is admirable; what's missing now is the money to make it a reality. Prisons and probation © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds