Leading article: The future of women's jails merits attention

Share
Related Topics

A radical call for the closure of women's prisons is the key recommendation of a report published today by the Women's Justice Taskforce, which calls for the savings to be reinvested in community-based alternatives to custody. The Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, should give the report careful consideration as he completes his White Paper on sentencing, which is to be published shortly and will look hard at ways to cut the total number of prisoners in Britain – at more than 85,000, the highest as a proportion of the population in Europe.

In the context of Mr Clarke's description of prison as a "revolving door", almost as an alternative welfare system, the statistics about women prisoners give cause for concern. It is disturbing that the number of women prisoners has risen threefold in Britain over the last 15 years, that so many – at least 70 per cent – have mental-health issues, that 40 per cent have no qualifications and that although they comprise a small fraction of the overall prison population – just over 4,200 out of 85,000 – they are responsible for almost half the annual recorded incidents of self-harm in prison. Most importantly, most women in jail are not guilty of violent offences, the largest categories having been put there for stealing or handling stolen goods or drugs offences.

No one is suggesting that women criminals should be singled out for special treatment and automatically exempted from jail terms. Rather, as an overwhelmingly non-violent category of prisoners, they should stand to benefit disproportionately from Mr Clarke's stated aim of reserving custodial sentences primarily for people who pose a physical danger to the public. It may satisfy some people's desire for punishment to see thieves and drug dealers also doing time, but the Justice Secretary is right to question what purpose is being served, if the only result is to confirm these offenders in lives of petty crime.

Mr Clarke has already set about an ambitious campaign for penal reform. Whether or not he decides that all women's prisons need to be closed, women prisoners are a category that deserve his close attention.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans  

Yet again, the economy is the battleground on which the election will be fought

Patrick Diamond
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders