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Alternatives to Imprisonment

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

12. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on alternatives to imprisonment for women. (212138)

The Government are fully committed to reducing the number of women in prison. I have had regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on that matter and the Government have agreed to promote community orders as an alternative to custody, in response to Baroness Corston’s recommendations on women offenders.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. She will know that the Corston report talks about the need to inform sentencers of the need for alternatives to custody. What is being done specifically to make non-custodial sentences a reality so that the women who end up in Low Newton prison in my constituency get the support that they need in the community to direct them from crime in the first place?

First, I commend my hon. Friend on the work that she is doing in this particularly difficult area. She is quite right: we need to ensure that more women, who often get sentences for relatively minor offences, are dealt with in the community.

To that end, the Government are considering how we can promote a sentence package that targets offenders who might otherwise have received a custodial sentence with an intensive community order using the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and making use of the mix of requirements available to the courts. I am glad to say that a pilot project is under way in the Derbyshire area to promote such a community order and I look forward to hearing the results.

How many women’s prisons have been closed and converted to mixed asylum centres, a process that has effectively forced the Government’s hand on the issue of finding a viable alternative?

I am afraid that I do not have the information at my fingertips, although I do know that 4,000 of the 82,000 people who are currently in prison in the United Kingdom are women. I will, however, write to the hon. Gentleman with the answer to his question.