Irish Penal Reform Trust

UK: Sentencers and sentenced: exploring knowledge, agency and sentencing women to prison

31st October 2018

On Wednesday 31st October 2018, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women in the Penal System published its most recent report, Sentencers and sentenced: exploring knowledge, agency and sentencing women to prison, which aims to draw attention to factors contributing to the continued sentencing of women to prison, despite the wide range of evidence highlighting the ineffectiveness of this practice in most cases.

The three main factors identified in the report are:

  • Problems facing probation: A failure of the Transforming Rehabilitation model has undermined the confidence of magistrates in handing out community sentences for women, as well as major under-funding of women’s centres;
  • Knowledge gaps: The lack of knowledge on behalf of the magistrates regarding the circumstances of women's lives and the likely impact that prison will have on them has led to misconceptions and implicit bias with magistrates often considering prisons as 'places of safety' for such women; and
  • Failure to regard children's rights frameworks: Despite the Bangkok Rules stating the impact of a sentence on a woman's children should be taken into account if she is the sole/primary caregiver, it is inconsistently followed throughout the justice system in England and Wales.

The report suggests that in order to tackle these particular issues, inspiration can be taken from Scotland where a presumption against custodial sentences of up to three months was introduced in 2011 and saw a major reduction in the number of people receiving custodial sentences of less than three months.

The report also makes recommendations that custodial sentences of less than 12 months should be abolished for women and calls for any future probation model to have protected, ring-fenced funding specifically for women’s services.

Read more:

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.

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