Letter: Mothers who spend Christmas in prison

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The Independent Online
Sir: Sending women, such as the fictional Susan Carter, to prison just before Christmas is far more common than is suggested in the Roger Ede interview ('Jailing the Ambridge one', 28 January). For example, there were at least 20 women offenders from the South-east sent to Holloway Prison between 20 and 24 December 1993. Many were on remand. At least six were beginning their sentences, of whom two had children. In one case, a 34-year-old woman, with two daughters of school age, was sentenced on 22 December to 18 months for handling stolen goods.

On December 20, a 33-year-old mother of four children, aged nine, seven, five and four, was sent to prison for seven months. Her offence was DSS fraud and credit card deception to obtain food. In the North-east a 31-year-old woman with four children was given six weeks' imprisonment over the Christmas period for DSS fraud. Another mother was remanded in custody over the holiday and released on bail immediately afterwards. Serious as such offences are, prison is primarily for those who represent a danger to the public, and the Home Secretary seemed out of touch when he remarked that no trial judge would send a woman such as Mrs Carter to jail just before Christmas.

Seven out of 10 women remanded in custody do not, in the end, get custodial sentences. Community penalties such as probation and community service are themselves demanding while keeping families together. There is, indeed, a case for change in the sentencing 'mood' as Mr Ede puts it.

Yours sincerely,

MICHAEL WARD

Assistant General Secretary

Association of Chief Officers of Probation

London, E1

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