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Custodial Sentences (Women)

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 28 October 2010

3. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the number of women given custodial sentences. (19945)

The Government are committed to diverting women who do not pose a risk to the public from custody, and to tackling women’s offending. I met the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), who has responsibility for prisons and probation, on 28 July to discuss the community options available to the judiciary, and we agreed to work together on the issue. We noted that the women’s prison population has now reached a plateau. We are jointly supporting a holistic approach to diverting women from custody.

The Minister will be aware of the Corston report, which said that women who pose no threat to the public should not go to prison, owing principally to the attendant issues for children and the next generation, yet in the past decade, the number of women going to prison has increased by 100%, which is four times faster than the number of men going to prison. That cannot be right. What will we do to reverse that legacy?

The coalition is committed to diverting women away from crime and tackling women’s offending. We are taking a number of measures on alternatives to custody. There is a £10 million fund for women-only projects that is run by the voluntary sector and that supports community services. The bail accommodation support scheme means that we can support and mentor women on remand outside so that they do not have to go into the prison system. It is important that we move forward on this issue, because as my hon. Friend says, the knock-on consequences of short sentences for women are totally unacceptable and unproductive.

May I urge my hon. Friend to go a little further on the Corston report, which also recommends that we put women in small local centres to tackle the multiple problems that cause them to reoffend, so reducing the number of women in prison? The previous Labour Government said lots of warm words about the report, but did nothing. What will this Government do?

The Government broadly support all the Corston recommendations and have looked very closely at the recommendation to create another special sort of accommodation. However, we are committed to women not going to prison at all. We are looking at approved accommodation in the community where women can have a good balance between surveillance and support. The ambition is not to need the centres recommended in the Corston report, but keeping women out of prison is paramount.