In December 2021, the Ministry of Justice released its Prisons Strategy White Paper, setting out its 10-year vision for the UK’s prisons and a two-year action plan.
The White Paper has a strong focus on employment support, as well as a chapter on the approach for women’s prisons. Women-specific employment support is vital to help women prison leavers to find a job and move on with their lives. It can also be effective at reducing reoffending. Currently, just 4% of women are in paid employment six weeks after release from custody, compared to 10% of men.
The Ministry of Justice invited responses to the White Paper from charities and interested parties. As a charity dedicated to supporting women with convictions into employment, we submitted a response which focuses on the best approach for women in the criminal justice system, employment support, and access to Universal Credit.
Here are our five main takeaways and recommendations for the Ministry of Justice.
1. Halt plans to build 500 new women's prison places
Halt plans to build 500 new prison places to prevent the flow of more women into the criminal justice system. Prison expansion plans run counter to the government’s own Female Offender Strategy and evidence which recognises the negative impacts of imprisonment on women.
2. Focus on diverting women away from the criminal justice system
Refocus the Prisons Strategy White Paper to divert women from the criminal justice system into trauma-informed, gender responsive services in the community. The root causes of women’s offending should be tackled in the community where women can retain employment, family relationships, housing, and support systems.
3. Return to the Female Offender Strategy
Refocus the proposals in the Prisons Strategy White Paper to meet the aims of the Female Offender Strategy. The Female Offender Strategy was rooted in evidence and gained wide support across government, HMPPS and the criminal justice voluntary sector. The White Paper represents a rollback from its objectives.
4. Provide gender-specific employment support
Provide one-to-one employment support tailored to women, that includes support around confidence and self-esteem. Without the right building blocks in place, prison leavers seeking work will be set up to fail. The government’s strategy should include gender responsive, trauma-informed one-to-one employment support.
5. Reform Universal Credit for prison-leavers
Ensure that no one leaving prison is locked into poverty or debt on release. Work with the Department for Work and Pensions to introduce a non-repayable grant for anyone leaving prison who can’t afford to see through the five-week wait for the first Universal Credit payment.
These measures would give women leaving prison a better chance of securing employment and thriving.
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We would be happy to discuss the points raised in this response further. Please contact our Policy and Research Officer, Olivia Dehnavi at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07985 475 493.