New reforms will see female offenders being transferred to a prison that is closest to their family homes.
The justice minister Lord McNally has planned an overhaul of the rehabilitation system which will see twelve women’s prisons in England being turned into resettlement prisons so that the women will be able to maintain relationships in their family so that reoffending rates will be reduced.
McNally said: “When a female offender walks out of the prison gates, I want to make sure she never returns. Keeping female prisoners as close as possible to their homes, and importantly their children, is vital if we are to help them break the pernicious cycle of reoffending. And providing at least a year of support in the community, alongside the means to find employment on release, will give them the best possible chance to live productive, law-abiding lives.”
A report released in July found that MPs on the Commons justice committee said that previous governments had ignored issues surrounding women offenders and had failed to curb patterns of re-offending. This reformation of women’s prisons is thought to be due to this criticism of female offending being “an afterthought” in plans to transform rehabilitation, reports the Guardian.
These new measures will see offenders being given tailored support for twelve months after their release and low-risk female inmates will be offered “genuine employment opportunities” before leaving prison.
The proposals were met with disappointment from judicial reform charities. “It’s a terrible wasted opportunity,” said Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform. “They could have closed the women’s prisons altogether and invested the money into women’s centres.”
Crook believe that the majority of women in prison are on remand or serving a sentence that is under twelve months, therefore proposals to move offenders closer to home would only affect a fraction of those in jail.
Rachel Halford, director of the support group Women in Prison, welcomed the government action, but said it was unclear how the proposals would work in practice. “If everything works that is being promised, of course this would be fantastic,” she said. “My question is, how is the government going to get them closer to home when there are only 12 prisons? We want them to provide support for mental health, domestic violence, low education levels – all of these different hurdles that face women in prison.”