Number of women in jail is disgraceful, says Labour

Reducing the "disgraceful" number of women in prison will be treated as a priority by an incoming Labour government, the shadow Justice Secretary will today promise.

Sadiq Khan will announce plans to create an organisation dedicated to tackling the causes of female offending and looking for ways of diverting more women from jail.

His initiative follows an investigation by The Independent which revealed the plight of many female offenders sentenced for relatively minor offences.

Almost 11,000 women were jailed last year – separating some 17,000 children from their mothers – and the population of women's prisons has more than doubled since the late 1990s.

Mr Khan will tell the Manchester conference: "More than half of all women in prison are the victims of some kind of abuse and 28 per cent have no previous convictions, double that of men.

"This is a disgrace and Labour's values mean we must sort it."

He added last night: "The light shone by The Independent on the disgraceful number of women in our prisons system is a real jolt to politicians.

"That is why I'm prioritising addressing it – working to prevent offending and reoffending through a targeted approach involving local and central government and all the other agencies involved in tackling crime."

Under Mr Khan's plan, Labour will set up a Women's Justice Board, bringing together central government, councils, police, probation and social services to tackle female offending. It will be modelled on the Youth Justice Board, which has presided over a sharp drop in the number of teenagers being locked up.

Mr Khan will say: "Targeting specific groups, tailoring an approach to offenders' unique needs, has been shown to work. Instead of abolishing the YJB as this Government proposed, I want to emulate its success."