The MoJ is developing a strategy for women which will focus on how we can improve provision for women in the community. Priorities include more early intervention and improved health support, to help women break the cycle of offending and reoffending. They are also undertaking a review of the wider probation system and will look at how this, too, can help to deliver better services for women.
They want to start modernising the women’s prison estate to provide the best rehabilitative regimes, and hold women in environments that better meet their gender-specific needs to support their rehabilitation. They say:
‘Building five small Community Prisons for Women (CPWs) begins this work. The CPWs will be designed specifically for women and in many cases, enable them to be located closer to home, in accommodation that allows them to access appropriate interventions and support and to reconnect with the community before release. To reassure you, we are not planning to build more custodial places for women: we want to build CPWs on a new for old basis, allowing the closure of prison places elsewhere in the women’s custodial estate.’
MoJ has said that they are proposing that the strategy is based on the following principles:
- better early intervention for vulnerable women at risk of offending, to steer them away from the CJS and into treatment and support where appropriate;
- improving the quality and consistency of robust gender-specific sentencing options in the community, allowing women to receive a community rather than a custodial sentence where appropriate. This will include looking at the potential for improving residency based accommodation support for female offenders in the community;
- improving the women’s custodial estate, including some smaller community prisons, allowing female offenders to be held closer to home and to meet women’s physical, emotional, and social needs supported by suitably trained staff;
- improving outcomes for women in the CJS who are at risk of self-harm and suicide. Our response to self-harm will be a multi-agency stepped approach, undertaken in partnership with the women themselves;
- cross-Government leadership at the national level and stronger co-operation between central and local government;
- multi-agency collaboration at local level, with the justice system working in partnership with other statutory and voluntary agencies to develop whole system approaches that provide the holistic support female offenders need, supported by a network of high quality Women’s Centres.
They are asking for a response to the following questions:
- Have we identified the key principles or are there others that we should be considering?
- What more can be done to support and divert vulnerable women when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system?
- How can we improve community sentences for women in a way that inspires sentencer confidence; ensures that they are seen as a viable alternative to custody for some women; and contain the right support/interventions to support rehabilitation?
- How can government work with the sector to increase the resilience of women’s centres?
- How do we move towards a higher quality women’s custodial estate which is safe, secure, rehabilitative and closer to home for the majority of women?