January 29, 2021

Statement: Creating 500 new prison places for women goes against government’s own strategy

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced plans to build 500 new prison places for women, representing a projected 15% rise in the female prison population. They say the proposal reflects their expectation that the number of investigations and prosecutions will increase amid the hiring of 20,000 more police officers.

The announcement came as the MoJ also announced a £2m funding boost for 38 organisations that work on steering women away from crime, including Working Chance.

Working Chance Chief Executive Natasha Finlayson said:

‘We are very pleased that the government has recognised the value of Working Chance in preventing reoffending and helping women to build productive, purposeful futures for themselves, and has supported our work through this grant. However, we are deeply concerned and puzzled by the government’s proposal to build 500 new women’s prison places, which flies in the face of their own Female Offender Strategy. This published strategy, which explicitly aims to reduce the female prison population, is supposed to underpin government policy around women who offend or who are at risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system. The strategy rightly acknowledges that women are mostly convicted for non-violent offences and receive short sentences that do far more harm than good, stating: “There is persuasive evidence that short custodial sentences are less effective in reducing reoffending than community orders. Short sentences generate churn which is a major driver of instability in our prisons and they do not provide sufficient time for rehabilitative activity. The impact on women, many of whom are sentenced for non-violent, low level but persistent offences, often for short periods of time, is particularly significant.” ‘

‘Working Chance supports the existing network of local women’s centres whose work provides a far more effective alternative to custody, and also prevents women from becoming criminalised in the first place. These services produce better outcomes for women, families, and communities than putting women in prison, and at a fraction of the cost to the public purse. Sustainable, ongoing investment in these specialised services is what is needed.’