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“Proportionate, informed and timely interventions designed to meet the needs of women”- Prison Reform Trust

27th March 2014

The Prison Reform Trust’s three year programme (2012-2015) aims to reduce the imprisonment of women in the United Kingdom recognising that many of the solutions to women’s offending lie outside the criminal justice system. The publication of "Brighter Futures: Working together to reduce women's offending" forms part of this strategy, concluding that improved and cost-effective outcomes for women require co-operative working between criminal justice, health and social care and local community services.

The Prison Reform Trust believe there are opportunities now to influence and accelerate the reform agenda in the United Kingdom which include promoting the development nationally of early interventions that divert women out of the criminal justice system.

Main Findings

1. Women suspects and offenders form a relatively small yet increasing group within the criminal justice system, accounting for 13% of those arrested, 24% of those sentenced by the courts, 15% of those supervised by probation and 5% of the prison population. 

2. Theft and handling offences account for 30% of women’s arrests and 41% of all custodial sentences given to women.

3. There are significant differences between women and men who offend, including:
• Female patterns of offending tend to be more acquisitive and less violent in nature,
• Women are more likely to experience poverty and be primary carers of dependent children, including as lone parents,
• Women in prison report higher rates of opiate use and use of (legally or illegally obtained) prescription drugs,
• Women have higher rates of self-harm and eating disorders, their rates of depression and anxiety are twice as high as those for men,
• Women are more likely to have symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and are more likely than men to have a mental illness,
• Women are vulnerable both to sexual exploitation and to coercion into criminal activity.

Main Recommendations

1. Screening and assessment of individual needs
The particular needs of women and the needs of their children and other dependents should be routinely screened for and, where appropriate, assessed at key points of entry to the criminal justice system.

2. Liaison and Diversion services
The particular needs of women suspects and offenders should form part of the training for all Liaison and Diversion staff. Liaison and Diversion services should routinely offer women-specific provision and build links with local women’s service providers.

3. Funding for women’s services
The Government should fund a national network of women’s centres, projects and services as these are critical to improved outcomes for women in contact with the criminal justice system. Women’s community services should take the form of one-stop-shops offering a range of practical and emotional support and supervision to women (who may have been referred by other agencies, have self-referred, or attend as part of court orders) in women-only spaces. These centres must be sufficiently flexible to avoid the criminal justice system being the primary gateway through which vulnerable women can access appropriate support.

4. Mapping local needs
Local strategies should take account of women’s housing needs, parenting support needs and the needs of children whose mothers are in the criminal justice system.