Sentence review to slash numbers of women in jail

Ministers set for change amid warnings that females are severely affected by incarceration

Ministers plan to slash the number of women sent to prison amid complaints that women behind bars are exposed to increased risks of mental illness, self-harm and even suicide.

The Government plans to use the forthcoming sentencing review to reverse the rising numbers of women jailed – often on remand or for "minor" offences such as shoplifting.

Women make up 5 per cent of the overall prison population in England and Wales – just over 4,000 out of more than 85,000 inmates. However, the number has risen by a third in only a decade, and campaigners claim that the impact of sending a woman, rather than a man, to prison is usually more drastic – on themselves and on dependent children left on the outside.

Official figures show that 70 per cent of women in prison have two or more diagnosed mental health problems, and that female prisoners account for 52 per cent of all self-harm incidents behind bars. Fifty-five women prisoners killed themselves between 2002 and 2009.

Jackie Lowthian, director of the crime-reduction charity Nacro, said: "Going to prison generally has a much greater impact on a woman than on a man. They often face losing their children, their housing and their possessions."

Angela Prince, who served three years for attempting to smuggle drugs into the UK, had to pass her children on to other family members. "I gave one of my girls to her father and my sister took the youngest one. One of the boys went with his father but they didn't get on, so he moved into a hostel. It was very hard.... I weighed 18 stone when I went in but I developed bulimia and I went down to 10 stone."

Three years ago, the Government welcomed a review by Baroness Corston, a Labour peer, which called for more community sentences and fewer custodial sentences for more minor offences, to reduce the number of women prisoners. Despite this, the number of female prisoners continues to rise, and campaign groups now fear the new government's austerity programme may threaten community programmes across the country.

Ministry of Justice sources confirmed that the forthcoming sentencing review, which is designed to limit the overall prison population, will address the problem of the increasing number of women in jail.

Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, a charity focusing on deaths in custody, which advises bereaved relatives, said: "It is important to understand the context in which many women are increasingly being criminalised and imprisoned – one of poverty, addiction, racism, social exclusion, poverty, violence, family disruption, mental and physical ill health. Prisons are a repository for the mentally ill, the drug dependent, the poor and the sick for whom the social/welfare services no longer provide support."

Dominic Williamson, chief executive of the criminal justice charity Revolving Doors, said most of the women in prison were not there because they posed a serious danger to society "but because they are caught up in lives of chaos and despair".

He added: "The solution lies in ... personalised support, including secure and safe accommodation, and treatment for their substance misuse and poor mental health."

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the department had given more than £10m to fund voluntary sector projects providing "community-based alternatives to custody" for female offenders and those at risk of offending. He went on: "The impact of a custodial sentence can have huge costs, not just to the woman herself but also society more widely."

Angela Prince: Served three years for attempted drug smuggling

"I thought prison would be bad, but when I got there it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. The people were nicer. It wasn't like in the films.

"I had four children on the outside. It's hard. I gave one of my girls to her father and my sister took the youngest one. One of the boys went with his father but they didn't get on, so he moved into a hostel. My two eldest were just getting ready to go to college.

"I became bulimic while I was in prison. I weighed 18 stone when I went in and I came out 10 stone. That was the stress of being in there. Stress was something you saw every day. The people that I hung around with were self-harmers. I felt sorry for them. I'd try to talk to people who were cutting themselves. They were the ones doing longer sentences than mine.

"There are too many in prison for petty things. I don't think they need to be in prison, not for such short sentences, anyway.

"For me, it made me into a better person. If that hadn't happened, I'd still be the same person making the same mistakes."

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
i100
Sport
footballLatest scores and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties