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Prison Uniform Policy

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 2 July 2015

15. What recent assessment she has made of the equality implications of the way that the prison uniform policy is applied to male and female prisoners. (900712)

It has long been the case that women are not required to wear prison-issue clothing. Men can earn the opportunity to wear their own clothes under the incentive and earned privileges scheme. That reflects the understanding that the experiences that lead to imprisonment and the impact of imprisonment can be very different for men and for women.

I very much welcome the Minister to her position. Female prisoners do not currently have to wear prison uniforms because it might affect their self-esteem. Research by the Ministry of Justice that was supposed to back that up was so deficient that it was not even published. In the interests of real equality, not just the “equality but only when it suits” agenda, will she get on with ensuring that both male and female prisoners have to wear prison uniforms?

I am interested in equality whether it suits or not. The fact is that 95% of prisoners are men, and our entire prison system is largely designed with them in mind and to suit them. I make no apologies for the fact that I believe our prisons should be places of rehabilitation as well as punishment. If this small compromise helps to achieve that aim, it is well worth doing.

I thank the Minister for noticing that one of the problems with the prison system is that women prisoners are too often treated as though they were “not men” prisoners. Will she tell the House how far from their children the average woman prisoner is compared with the average male prisoner who has children?

That is a detailed question, and I will of course write to the right hon. Lady with a full answer. We take the needs of women in our prisons very seriously. Lots of schemes are being introduced to help to build and maintain bonds for women, particularly those who have caring responsibilities, not least the use of video links so that they can keep in contact. Babies and children are allowed into some parts of our prisons, and we will keep that under review.

Rather than focusing on uniforms, what lessons does the Minister take from the work of the Scottish charity Families Outside to ensure that offenders, in particular mothers, can continue to play a role in their children’s lives, which reduces the likelihood that they will reoffend, and from the measures taken by the Scottish Government towards a custody in the community approach to female offenders?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I am very happy to look at the charity that she mentions. We have to look at the individual needs of mothers, particularly if they are sole carers, because in many cases we must consider what will happen to the children if their mothers are in prison. Judges look at every case individually and take into consideration whether mothers have caring responsibilities, and we know that they will continue to do so.