In the Media

Too many women in prison for breaching community orders

PUBLISHED October 12, 2011

Criminal justice report says women-only community centres offering support provide credible alternative to custody Too many women are still serving short-prison sentences, often for breaching community orders for crimes that do not themselves carry a prison sentence, according to criminal justice watchdogs. A joint report by the chief inspectors of prisons, probation and the Crown Prosecution Service, published on Thursday, says the size of female prison population ? 4,243 in England and Wales ? is still a matter of concern. The report said the growing network of women-only community centres to provide counselling, support and practical assistance to women offenders on community orders was providing a credible alternative to custody and was beginning to win the backing of magistrates and judges. But the chief inspectors said some offender managers ? senior prison and probation staff ? still lacked the necessary awareness to work with women effectively and often saw them as marginal to the criminal justice system. The thematic report, Equal but Different , also noted that "perhaps surprisingly, many female probation officers are less sympathetic to women's needs than some of their male counterparts". It said the inspection's most striking finding was that such a high proportion of women were in jail for breaching a community order or the terms of their release licence. Ministry of Justice figures show this may account for as much as 25% of all new female prisoners. Lady Corston's inquiry in 2006 found that 50% of new receptions at Holloway women's prison in London were for breaching community orders or release licences. "In many of these cases, the original offence or behaviour would have been unlikely to have resulted in a custodial sentence. Most received short sentences which allowed little time for interventions in custody aimed at reducing their reoffeding and were not subject to supervision on release," says the report. Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust said the report revealed that, at huge public cost, far too many women were still serving very short prison sentences for non-violent offences: "What good will come out of locking up women for not sending their children to school?" she asked. "With funding hanging in the balance for the successful women's centres profiled in this report, it's important to sustain effective community provision for vulnerable women." Prisons and probation UK criminal justice Crime Alan Travis © 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