Women offenders following the Corston Report

The Justice Committee say that the Government’s probation reforms are designed with male offenders in mind and ignore women offenders in the Justice system.

Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, Chair of the Justice Select Committee says that it is unfortunately symptomatic of an approach within the Ministry of Justice and the National Offender Management which tends to deal with women offenders as an afterthought.

The Committee said that the Government plans to introduce payment-by-results in probation services needed to be redesigned in relation to women offenders, who are often classified as presenting a lower risk of reoffending, therefore they need intensive tailored support.

The Committee carried out a report that looked at the progress made since the Corston Report.

In 2006 Baroness Corston was commissioned by the Home Office to examine ways to reduce the number of women being imprisoned. This followed a 27% increase in the female prison population between 2000 and 2007 and the death of six women at HMP Styal.

In the Corston Report, there were 43 recommendations made which included improved governance and cross-departmental working on women offenders; the reservation of prison sentences for the most serious and violent women offenders; improvements in prison conditions and a reduction of strip searches; use of community sentences as the preferred method; and the development of a network of one stop shop community provision for women at risk of offending.

The Committee say that they have concerns that the efforts made to implement these recommendations have stalled and the Government is failing to deliver the joined up approach that is needed to support women at risk and help women offenders lead a law abiding life.

Progress has been made in the overall treatment of, and provision for, women offenders since the Corston recommendations, but there are still a number of concerns:

  • The female prison population has not fallen significantly fast
  • Over half of women offenders continue to receive ineffective short-custodial sentences
  • Mental health and substance misuse treatment is an issue which could reduce the use of custody but remains unavailable to Courts in sufficient volume

The Committee is not recommending substantive changes to the overall sentencing framework but argues that there must be more emphasis placed on ensuring courts are provided with robust alternatives to custody specifically appropriate to women offenders.

Dean Kingham, expert prison law solicitor at Swain & Co comments, “Our prison law team are very pleased with the findings of the Justice Select Committee’s report into women offenders.  The report exposes the clear lack of progress since Baroness Corston’s report. It appears very little has changed and women offenders are still in a very poor position. It highlights a real issue with the numbers of females incarcerated whom realistically pose little threat to public protection and sadly the progress through the system remains poor.”