Our announcement of the closure of Holloway prison signals a new beginning in the way we treat female offenders. It reflects our commitment to hold women in environments that better meet their specific needs and support their rehabilitation, helping them towards better lives on release.
Foston Hall is now a resettlement prison, so it is much better placed to support inmates throughout their time in prison and back out into the community. My hon. Friend will know that many female offenders have complex needs, which is why we have introduced a personality disorder pathway and a centralised case management system for female offenders. We have also ensured that family engagement workers are in place at all public sector women’s prisons, including Foston Hall.
The Minister might know that New Hall women’s prison is quite close to my Huddersfield constituency. Does she agree that often literacy issues stop women getting back into society and leading a good life? Also, many people—women particularly—are on the autistic spectrum, but are never tested. Could more attention be paid to special educational needs in women’s prisons so that we can help women more?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, and we will certainly take it into consideration. I visited New Hall prison towards the tail end of last year and had a look at some of the excellent work that it is doing to help women offenders both with literacy and numeracy and with their various other complex needs.
My hon. Friend will be aware, as will her colleagues, of the work of RAPT—the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust. She may not know that it began its work in Downview prison in my constituency when it was a category C/D male resettlement prison. That work had to come to an end when it was re-roled as a female prison back in 1999-2000. Now that the Minister is moving women prisoners to Downview, will she make sure that RAPT can restart its work as the prison reopens?
On the advice of organisations such as Families Outside, the Scottish Government have been trialling community sentencing for women serving sentences of six months or less, in order to reduce reoffending. Given that early indications suggest that that is working, will the Minister commit to looking at rolling it out across the whole United Kingdom?
I am keen to look at the Scottish model and see what progress has been made. I am also keen to intervene earlier in women’s offending journey to make sure that the right wrap-around services are put in place to try and divert as many people as possible away from ending up in prison, because we know that every woman in prison represents a potentially broken family and children potentially taken into care.
Given that the Minister is usually such a great champion of gender equality, may I suggest that instead of trying to turn the women’s prison estate into some kind of holiday camp, she makes sure that if a woman commits an offence, she is treated in exactly the same way as a man, and that female prisoners are treated in the same way as male prisoners? It is still the case that for every single category of offence, a man is more likely to be sent to prison than a woman. Why is a female offender who commits burglary any better than a male offender who commits the same offence?
I fear we may have been down this road before with my hon. Friend. I take on board his comments. Sentencing is a matter for the judiciary, but I will always defend my strongly-held belief that equality of outcome is what we are looking for in the female prison estate. At present, female prisoners are much more likely to have many complex needs and are far less likely to gain employment once they leave prison. I am seeking to tackle that.