Booth says courts jail too many women

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Indy Politics

Cherie Booth made a plea last night not to send more women to jail and accused the judiciary of "warehousing people temporarily" while failing to stop reoffending.

Cherie Booth made a plea last night not to send more women to jail and accused the judiciary of "warehousing people temporarily" while failing to stop reoffending.

The Prime Minister's wife said there were too many women in jail, particularly for trivial offences such as shoplifting. She called for alternative sentences to stop women being wrenched from their communities, including evening imprisonment, electronic tagging and weekend sentences. During her visits to women's prisons she had found "a terrible feeling of depression and grief".

Ms Booth, who is a barrister, was addressing a fringe meeting of the Fawcett society, which campaigns for equality for women in politics, the law and other professions.

She said that she was concerned by the 115 per cent increase in the number of women in prison between 1993 and 2000. "That's a hell of an increase," she said. "There's little point in sending people to prison for less than 12 months because we can't do anything constructive with people who go to prison for less than 12 months."

When women went to prison their families suffered. Sixty per cent of women prisoners were mothers. "It's a tragedy for them but even more of a tragedy when we think of the impact this is having on their families," she said. She accused the judicial system of "warehousing the problems and not really dealing with the root causes of the problem".

Ms Booth said she was convinced that restorative justice, where offenders were forced to confront their victims and the consequences of their crimes, was a way forward. Too many women sent to prison lost their homes and their jobs and more "intermittent custody schemes" should be looked at such as "weekend prisons or going to prison in the evening".

"I am not saying that they haven't done things for which they need to be punished but the way we treat them has to be geared to the realities of their lives," she said.

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