Policy briefing, Press release | 02 February 2021

Open letter from women’s centres and women’s specialist providers about plans to build new women’s prison places

Working Chance has joined with colleagues representing local women's centres across England and Wales, and national women's specialist services, to condemn the government's plan to create 500 new prison places for women. The letter has been sent to the Minister for Prisons and Probation and will be publicised by the signatory organisations. See our previous statement on this here.

Open letter

We condemn in the strongest terms the plans unexpectedly announced on Saturday 23 January to build 500 new women's prison places.

This plan flies in the face of all the evidence built up over years (including official Government data) about how to address the root causes of women's offending that so often include experiences of trauma, mental ill health, substance misuse and domestic abuse. These have been exacerbated as the consequences of the pandemic take their toll on the health and safety of the most disadvantaged women in our communities through increases in poverty and abuse.

In 2018 the Government published its strategy to invest in community-based support with the goal of reducing both the women's prison population and reoffending rates. This strategy is supported by the police, prison governors, probation officers, local authorities, health services and charities, including those providing specialist services for women, like women’s centres.

Building new prison places will make the collective efforts of these organisations all the more difficult, and undo progress with the strategy, including delivery of the Government’s newly published Concordat and all the commitments within it.

Building these prison places will harm women, their children, families and communities. The most recent Safety in Custody statistics show self-harm across the women’s estate is at the highest levels on record. These figures point to the urgent need to rethink these plans before the impact of prison expansion results in a steeper trajectory of this devastating upwards trend. We call on the Government to do the right thing - to halt these plans, and return to focusing on the strategy that so many are committed to.

Kate Paradine, CEO, Women in Prison Lisa Dando, CEO, Brighton Women’s Centre
Amanda Greenwood, CEO, Lancashire Women Marchu Girma, CEO, Hibiscus
Angela Everson, CEO, WomenCentre Naomi Delap, Director, Birth Companions
Anna Herrmann, Joint Artistic Director, Clean Break Natasha Finlayson, CEO, Working Chance
Angela Murphy, Chief Executive Officer, Tomorrow’s Women Wirral Niki Gould, Head of Women’s Community Services, Nelson Trust
Caroline Baker, Project Manager, Women's Work (Derbyshire) Niki Scordi, CEO, Advance
Gemma Fox, Managing Director, North Wales Women’s Centre Nikki Guy, CEO, Stockport Women’s Centre
Hannah Shead, CEO, Trevi Rokaiya Khan, CEO, Together Women
Helen Voce, CEO, Nottingham Women’s Centre Sara Swire, CEO, New Dawn, New Day
Jackie May, Chief Executive, Women’s Centre Cornwall Sofia Buncy, National Coordinator, Muslim Women in Prison Project
Jan Fishwick, CEO, Alana House, Parents and Children Together (PACT) Stef Martinsen-Barker, CEO, Cambridge Women's Resource Centre
Joy Doal, CEO, Anawim Susanah Stennett, Women’s Services Manager, Willowdene Farm
Lisa Boyack, Area Manager for Criminal Justice Services, Changing Lives Suzi Heybourne, CEO, The Magdalene Group