Whitehall plan for women to share cells

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT has drawn up emergency plans to cram a record number of women into overcrowded jails, a confidential Prison Service briefing paper shows, writes Nick Cohen.

Despite the wave of public sympathy that led last week to the release of Rebecca Gillon, the pregnant Barclays clerk who stole pounds 380 from the bank and then returned the money, the Home Office is considering forcing women to share cells.

In a memorandum to jail governors, Philippa Drew, Director of Custody for the Prison Service, warns that the number of women receiving prison sentences increased by 20 per cent in the 12 months to May 1994.

The female jail population is now at its highest since 1988, and rising rapidly. Prison Service planners predict that by September 1995, 2,020 women will be behind bars.

However, Miss Drew says this projection does not take into account the Criminal Justice and Public Order Acts - almost certain to lead to more people being locked up.

'The reasons for the increase in the female population are not entirely clear,' Miss Drew writes. But the rise is 'possibly due to the implementation of tough new guidelines . . . on cautioning'. The favoured option for coping with the increase is to force women to share a cell.

Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: 'The vast majority of these women have not committed violent crimes and have children who do not need to see their mothers locked up in overcrowded jails.'

Research by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders showed that most women convicts were minor offenders, in jail for not paying fines or for offences such as non-payment of the poll tax and TV licence. Nearly half have children. Only one in four women in jail have partners who look after their children while they are inside.