A new report, entitled Reforming Women's Justice, has been published in the UK by the Women's Justice Taskforce and the Prison Reform Trust. It recommends changes to be made in how women's offending is addressed, especially since the number of women in prison has more than doubled in the last 15 years.
It suggests that many of the underlying causes of female offending lies outside the criminal justice system, in areas such as health, housing and drug treatment:
"Better national provision of women-focussed community disposals could result in more successful completion of community orders, lower rates of re-offending and fewer women being sent to prison. In particular, women’s centers, which enable women to address the causes of their offending and at the same time maintain responsibility for their children, should be employed more widely..."
The recidivism rate for women is 54% within one year and this increases to 64% for those who have served sentences of less than one year. In addition to this, the average annual cost of keeping a woman in prison is £56,415, and the cost of a community sentence is approximately £10,000-£15,000 per programme.
The report recommends that some women's prisons be closed and funds be redirected to womens' centres where issues can be addressed in more appropriate ways.
The report wants to take the lessons learned from the reform of the youth justice system and apply them to women's justice with the possible establishment of a women's justice agency:
"Any punishment... needs to be appropriate, proportional and support rehabilitation. For many of these women, dealing with their offending in the community, or finding ways to divert them from crime in the first instance, would be a more effective way of meeting those criteria."