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UK: Retired governor of women’s prison condemns short-term sentences and calls for alternatives to incarceration

13th February 2012

Low literacy, substance abuse, stealing, and prostitution are a few of the patterns that present themselves among the population of 4,100 women incarcerated in England. Many of them are given short sentences for minor offences, placing an enormous financial burden on the prison system and achieving little in the way of rehabilitation or lowering crime rates. Clive Chatterton, the recently retired governor of Styal prison, claims that if even 30% of women were placed in non-custodial programs, the savings would be huge, both economically and in terms of ensuring family stability. Women in prison often lose ownership of their homes or are the primary (or sole) caregivers for their children. And whereas it costs £43,000 to incarcerate a woman for a year, it costs less than £15,000 to deliver an intensive community order which achieves lower rates of re-offence. Judges give many women a custodial sentence, despite acknowledging that incarceration is not the appropriate response to minor offences, because there is no other choice. Thus, Chatterton wants to review the “aims and intent of the use of custody” and look for ways to ensure that only those women have committed serious crimes are ultimately incarcerated. Instead, many women should ideally be placed in secure mental health units or other programs that could be funded by the savings derived from not jailing them. A “staggering” rate of self-harm among female prisoners is indicative of how inappropriate prison sentences are for many of the women. Though the female population comprises only 5% of the UK’s prisoners, they account for nearly half of the instances of self-harm, which are estimated to be above 13,000, or more than 35 per day, in 2011-2012.

Read more about the need for alternatives to incarceration here.

Read more about female prisoners and rates of self-harm here.

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