Policy briefing, Press release | 16 September 2020

Working Chance Statement: Sentencing White Paper

Following the speech from Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland this morning, Working Chance makes this statement on the government’s proposed sentencing reforms:

The government’s stated commitment to improving employment outcomes for people with convictions must be backed up with evidence-based policies that put rehabilitation at their centre. However, there are a number of crucial issues that remain unaddressed by these proposals. Many women should not be receiving convictions in the first place. Policy focus and resources are directed towards sentencing and the building of prisons, while the root causes of most women’s offending remain unaddressed: poverty, homelessness, domestic violence and coercive control, mental health issues, childhood trauma and addiction.

Prison is rarely the right solution for women’s offending. We therefore welcome some of the proposals put forward today by the Justice Secretary, such as problem-solving courts, alternatives to custody, and higher quality pre-sentence reports. We hope that these measures will help to divert women from custody and mean they get the support they need.

It is encouraging that the government sees the benefit in reforming the criminal records regime, with convictions now being ‘spent’ sooner provided that the individual does not reoffend. This will mean that a criminal conviction will in some cases present less of a barrier to finding employment. However, it is disappointing that this will not apply to professions in which women are over-represented, such as teaching and nursing. And while amendments to filtering rules are long overdue, the exclusions based on type of offence will prevent many women from benefitting from the changes.

Lastly, we are concerned by the plan to increase use of electronic monitoring, which will limit people’s ability to engage in the community. This is especially the case for women, who usually have a range of care responsibilities. We are also alarmed by the introduction of longer sentences. Sentences have been getting longer for decades, with no evidence that crime has reduced or rehabilitation improved.