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Female Offender Management

Volume 632: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2017

15. What steps he is taking to improve the management of female offenders in the criminal justice system. (902754)

We are investing over £1 million between 2016 and 2020 to support local areas in developing multi-agency approaches to female offenders. We also developing a strategy for female offenders to improve outcomes for women in the community and in custody.

East Sutton Park Prison in my constituency does a fantastic job in helping women offenders prepare for life after prison, and I look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend to the prison in the new year. What are he and the Government doing to help women across the country prepare to make a fresh start on leaving prison?

I look forward to visiting East Sutton Park with my hon. Friend in the new year. It has an excellent record of building strong links with both national and local employers such as Timpson, Sainsbury’s and Specsavers. We want to develop and spread such relationships across the country, because people who have a job on leaving prison are less likely to reoffend.

It is 10 years since the Corston report. Can the Minister update us on the progress the Government are making in meeting all 43 of Baroness Corston’s recommendations, in particular funding for specialist units such as Eden House in Bristol?

The Corston report was the very first document I read on being made the relevant Minister in July 2016, and it is a very good document. Since then I have worked tirelessly, along with my officials, to develop a women’s strategy that goes some way to meeting the challenges set by Baroness Corston. I recently met the Corston funding group to discuss the proposals that we will bring forward when the strategy is published.

As female offenders are more likely than male offenders to have caring responsibilities for children, what role does the Minister think prison governors should play in maintaining and strengthening family ties?

In my travels around the country, every governor of a women’s prison I have met knows the importance of maintaining good family links. In the strategy, we have this in our minds in developing an infrastructure for the future, whereby women are held as close a possible to their families, if they have to be locked up.

What action are the Government taking to reduce the incidence of breach and recall, which is leading to an increase in the women’s prison population?

We are aware of the challenges around recall, and some of this is to do with the fact that women go back out into the community and into exactly the same situation they were in before going into prison. This is being considered in depth, and our approach to it will be part of the women’s strategy.

The Minister will know that a disproportionate number of women are sentenced to very short prison terms, and judging by his previous statement he probably shares the view that they are generally ineffective in breaking the cycle of reoffending. Will the Government think seriously about adopting the Scottish system, under which short sentences have to be actively justified by the court before they are passed?

We already have a presumption against custody in our system in England. I acknowledge, however, that Scotland is embarking upon an exciting path in managing its women offenders, which is why I am going there on Thursday.

Given that half of all women in prison are there just for a few weeks, does the Minister agree that we can achieve a better outcome for the women themselves, and reduce the number of victims of crime, if we invest in women’s centres, rather than sending non-violent women to prison?

When visiting prisons and meeting prisoners, what is striking is that many of them have been victims themselves. I am very conscious of that, and the strategy will try to deal with it through the way in which we handle and manage women who have committed offences.