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Female Convicts

Volume 471: debated on Tuesday 29 January 2008

12. What recent consideration he has given to changing the types of establishment in which female convicts are detained. (182477)

The Government’s response to the Corston report makes a commitment to consider the future of the women’s custodial estate. A project has been set up to examine Baroness Corston’s recommendation that the women’s estate should be replaced with smaller, geographically dispersed custodial units. I hope that that project will report to Ministers in April.

Can the Minister give some indication of the time scale? The Corston review was published about nine months ago, and can be contrasted with the Carter review, which recommended the expansion of male prisons. It seems as if all the available money is being targeted at the men, while women are being left in conditions that are totally unsuitable, given that 70 per cent. of female prisoners have mental health conditions.

I do not accept that—and the figures that I have suggest that 80 per cent. of female prisoners, rather than 70 per cent., have diagnosable mental ill health. The hon. Lady is not right to suggest that the approaches are separate. There is no doubt that the work that we are doing through the project to which I referred, which will establish more detail about how the reconfiguration of the women’s estate would work, as well as how smaller units would work and the extent to which they would be appropriate, will inform our estate strategy. Lord Carter referred in his report to the need to ensure that investment under that programme is made in such a way that it can assist in ensuring that women are not disadvantaged in the custodial system. The hon. Lady has made it clear that the needs of women are often different, and I agree with her. That is why I am the ministerial champion whose role is to ensure that we implement in a sensible way the 40 of the 43 recommendations in Baroness Corston’s report that we have accepted. These approaches can go hand in hand.