Editorial: We risk creating the felons of the future

Share

Two clear messages have emerged from the major investigation which this newspaper has conducted this week into the state of women's prisons. The first is that as a nation we jail far too many women for minor offences. They would be much better dealt with in other ways.

The second is that imprisoning so many mothers is doing such harm to their children – about 17,000 of them every year, all innocent of any crime – that we risk creating an even larger generation of criminals to fill our jails in decades to come. A third of prisoners' children go on to suffer mental-health problems. Two-thirds of the boys go on to commit a crime themselves.

There are ways to break this vicious circle. The first would be unrealistically expensive at a time of austerity. It is to close several of our big women's prisons and replace them with more, smaller units in which the unproductive punishment regimes of our present system can be replaced by an approach which combines punishment with serious and effective rehabilitative strategies. If and when the public purse can afford it, this is undoubtedly the strategy which should be pursued.

In the shorter term, there is a parallel approach which could seriously reduce the size of a female prison population that is now double what it was in 1990. As we have reported, there is already in existence a network of women's centres that run an extensive range of programmes for non-violent offenders. They offer drug and alcohol treatment, anger management and sessions to develop skills to tackle parenting, debt, job and housing problems. They are cutting rates of reoffending to as low as 10 per cent. Of those who do not enjoy access to such services, as many as 62 per cent leave prison and commit another crime within 12 months.

Such punishment in the community is not at all a soft option, as our reports have shown. It needs to be massively extended. To do so would have the additional benefit of saving the Treasury huge amounts; to keep a woman in prison costs £56,000 a year; punishment in the community costs less than a quarter of that.

There are other measures that we set out today (pages 24-25) to improve the way that courts, prisons, probation services, local authorities, schools and government ministers could exercise a proper duty of care towards these children. If we do not act, we are abandoning a lost generation of children who are effectively orphaned by our criminal justice system.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The rules were simple: before the results are announced, don’t mention the S-word

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Howard Jacobson has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for the second time  

In praise of Howard Jacobson

Simon Kelner
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week