Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I thank all who will contribute today for staying until the last moment before the House rises for a well-earned recess. There is a wealth of expertise on the list of speakers, and I greatly look forward to hearing everyone’s contribution.
Opening a debate provides the opportunity, perhaps even the responsibility, to stand back a little and set the scene. Last month the Ministry of Justice launched the final report from my review, Importance of Strengthening Female Offenders’ Family and Other Relationships to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime—quite a mouthful. Commissioned as part of the female offender strategy, in effect I was asked to look at women in the criminal justice system through the lens of family and other relational ties.
Obviously, it is my intention that this debate should go much wider than that. However, over the course of the review, I became aware of just how fundamentally important healthy and supportive relationships are to women in the criminal justice system, and how many other problematic issues stem from a lack of these. Ministry of Justice research identifies them as women’s biggest criminogenic need. If a woman has bad relationships and lacks good relationships, she is at greater risk of reoffending.
Nearly three-quarters of all female offenders, whether in custody or serving sentences in the community, have problems with relationships that increase this likelihood. This rises to over 80% of female prisoners. Many enter custody from chaotic relationships from which they require protection, and domestic abuse, which frequently includes pressure from coercive partners to commit crime, lurks in the background for 57% of them. Over half experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse in their family backgrounds and almost one-third spent time in care as children. Unresolved trauma related to such adversities in childhood or later life typically drives unhealthy coping strategies such as substance misuse and self-harm. Indeed, women’s vulnerabilities, concentrated in the criminal justice system, are the distillation of the breakdown of family and other relationships so prevalent in our wider society.
My concern about this and the lack of a comprehensive and coherent government strategy to address it was a key motivator for my becoming involved in politics over 12 years ago. It is a quarter of a century since the then aspirant Labour Prime Minister talked generally about being tough on the causes of crime and particularly about the role played by family breakdown. The implication was clear then and still is now: we need to do more to prevent crime happening in the first place. Research from the Centre for Social Justice, which controlled for factors such as socioeconomic grade and ethnicity, found that those who experience family breakdown in their childhood or youth are over twice as likely to experience homelessness, be in trouble with the police or spend time in prison.
Around a quarter of families with dependent children are headed by a single parent, which has perhaps normalised relationship breakdown. An understandable zeal to avoid piling stigma on top of the very heavy load single parents already bear can hamper public discussion about the significant challenges they face. They can also be framed almost exclusively in terms of financial poverty, as lack of money is a major problem for half of single parents. The lack of a co-parenting relationship to ease the load is a less readily acknowledged challenge, which is greatly amplified when a woman becomes enmeshed in the criminal justice system. The dependent children of three-quarters of women in prison are not looked after by their fathers. One study found that adult children of imprisoned mothers are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated than adult children of imprisoned fathers.
Such evidence compels me to support this and former Governments’ efforts to keep women out of prison where possible, as such punishment encroaches on family life in many troubling ways. The damage done to good relationships is one of the “referred” pains of imprisonment, the psychosocial burdens experienced by an inmate’s family members. These pains are particularly acute when it is a primary carer who is behind bars.
Professor Nicola Lacey from the LSE points out that for most of the two centuries in which imprisonment has been routinely imposed as punishment for crime, the systems of thought and governance on which it rests have focused on,
“the individual offender and his or her relationship with the state”.
She goes on:
“Penal philosophy’s strongly individualistic presuppositions about the nature of human beings and social relations are open to challenge”.
Hence my call for the importance of family and other relationships to be the golden thread running through all processes and the culture of the criminal justice system, including liaison and diversion services, sentencing, probation and prison. Ministry of Justice research found that male and female prisoners who received family visits were 39% less likely to reoffend than those who do not. Healthy and supportive relationships are undoubtedly rehabilitation assets. Enabling offenders to maintain and strengthen these relationships where appropriate must be valued as much as other rehabilitation activities such as employment and education. Indeed, this is the third leg of the stool alongside these, and can bring stability, meaning and motivation to offenders’ lives.
As I have already touched upon, female offenders are typically among the most vulnerable members of society. This word is used so frequently in relation to female offenders that we need to understand exactly what it means. From the Latin “vulnerabilis”, it means “wounding” or being susceptible to “attack”, “physical harm or damage” or,
“emotional injury, especially in being easily hurt”.
This describes very well many of the women I met in prison, or those serving community sentences. Deprivation of liberty, the purpose of detention, has to be accompanied by diligent exercise of the duty of care. This has to involve thinking ahead to when a woman leaves prison, where she will live and who will be there to meet her.
While I was deeply motivated to improve the lives of mothers in prison and their children, many women have no children and no one in their family able or willing to come and see them. About half of prisoners may have no family or other visits and some have no supportive relationships at all. Frankly, these are the women who concern me most. Without the safe haven of good relationships, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to rebuild their lives. When they leave prison, they lose all anchor points and are cast adrift, and life can be unbearably difficult. Many will return to drugs or other crime. Abuse and trauma can have profoundly affected their ability to develop and sustain healthy, trusting relationships.
Therefore, it is essential that all professionals, wherever they are in the criminal justice system, are trained in and adopt a trauma-informed approach, and know which relationships are rehabilitation assets in the life of a female offender and which are toxic. I recommended gathering information about a woman’s relationships, any children in her care and other circumstances, such as her accommodation, in a personal circumstances file which she, not the state, owns and controls. The aim is that, with her permission, this information is used to help her sustain or resume supportive, meaningful relationships with people with whom she might otherwise lose touch. For the more than half of women in custody who have dependent children, we need to know who and where those children are.
A key priority of my review was enabling mothers to continue to shoulder their parental responsibilities. A governor told me women often ask her, “How can I stop being a mother now that I am in prison?” She replies, “We don’t want you to stop, we want you to continue”. These women are still assets to their family and need to know it, yet the practical and emotional difficulties that mothering from inside prison entails must not be underestimated. Several of my recommendations sought to mitigate these. For example, I proposed Skype-type visits for all women who do not breach risk boundaries.
On that subject, more broadly, I encouraged governors and the Government to think about risk-to-reward ratios. As a trader, I take risks for a living based on sound intelligence and the expectation that I will reap a reward. Research suggests that taking bold and ambitious steps to make the most of prisoners’ family and other ties could reap significant gains. Whatever is learned by rolling out Skype-type visits across the small female estate will inform deployment of this technology in the much larger male estate, where the risk-to-reward ratio might be harder to gauge without the insights garnered from a pathfinder population.
I also called for workforce changes inside female prisons, largely on the advice of prison governors on the female estate, who are incredibly alive to the essential role good relationships play in rehabilitation. One told me, “I don’t want more prison officers, I want social workers and family engagement workers”. As parenting difficulties and other family factors are not addressed in the community, she often sees the third generation of offenders come through her gate.
The family engagement worker model evaluated by Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology is highly effective in improving the quality of ties and resolving tensions between prisoners and family members. These workers can also help women reconnect, where necessary, with their families or friends. Much of their caseload involves supporting prisoners with ongoing children’s care proceedings, but they can struggle even to get hold of the community social worker who has a prisoner’s child on her caseload. They, and therefore the women they represent, are at a disadvantage because they do not have the same professional status. If every women’s prison had its own resident social worker, she or he could represent the interests of these women in professional dialogue with community-based social workers. In the sadly commonplace battles over custody of prisoners’ children, such equality of arms is incredibly important to ensure a just outcome.
Other noble Lords might describe the difficulties women face accessing housing on release—the desperate insecurity of those who have in some ways been kept safe in prison but are then turned out with nothing. Again, information captured in the personal circumstances file might enable contact to be made with someone who can provide a roof over her head until she gets back on her feet and, I hope, avoid the harrowing scenario of her ending up in a tent outside the prison perimeter.
A particularly pernicious Catch-22 is faced by women with children who cannot secure suitable accommodation until the family is living together, but whose children cannot join them until appropriate housing has been found. I recommended that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government change allocation guidance for local housing authorities to recognise the prospective housing needs of women leaving prison in a parallel way to families seeking large enough properties to house future foster and adoptive children. Every department of government, not just the Ministry of Justice, has a role to play in meeting the needs of women in the criminal justice system.
The Government’s implementation team, with whom I have already met, understand that the body of recommendations in the report is not a ceiling of good practice to aspire to, but a basic floor of provision. The goal is cultural change, in the criminal justice system and more widely in government.
I wanted to emphasise at the outset of this debate that meeting the relational needs of women in the criminal justice system is of fundamental importance. Without the unconditional support of at least one other human being, any talk of rehabilitation risks being empty rhetoric. Only once good foundations have been laid can we start to rebuild damaged lives. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. He has given us an extremely brilliant and articulate account of the prison system and the place of women in it. He has given us a wonderful start.
It is widely recognised that our prisons, as well as our entire criminal justice system, are designed with male offenders in mind. Their structure and practices, and the assumptions we make about who is likely to commit a crime and what the consequences of being in prison will be, are all based on a male offender being the central character. In recent years, women have been recognised as offenders, but that is more of an add-on to our larger thinking than a central or constitutive principle of our way of designing the criminal justice system. That is the point we are here to debate and talk about.
In recent years, the number of women in prison has increased. Broadly, the figures are as follows: there are 82,700 prisoners in total, of whom 78,900 are male and 3,800 are female. The most common indictable offence for both male and female offenders is shoplifting, but again one begins to see the difference with 17% of offenders being men and 38% women. If we look at the cases of self-harm in prison, which are very tragic and very disturbing, women are five times more likely than men to commit self-harm, largely because they are worried about their children, what will happen to the family and to their children’s education, and about the bullying and name-calling in school that their children might go through. As a result, they undergo a period of depression almost bordering on psychosis, which is what the Farmer report talks about and which I think is absolutely right.
In the light of all that, the questions we need to ask ourselves are threefold. First, how do we reduce the number of female offenders and prisoners? Secondly, how can their treatment in prisons be made more humane? Thirdly, how can they be integrated in the community? To answer these three questions and achieve these three objectives we have to think of female-specific needs. What needs of female offenders are peculiar to them and not shared with men? We need to address that and provide female-specific solutions to these questions. That is broadly what I intend to do in the next four minutes.
First, we should reduce short-term custodial sentences. Custodial sentences should be meant only for serious and violent crimes. For others, residential women’s centres or community management should be the answer. It is also the case that those who have been confined to residential women’s centres tend to reoffend far less often than those who have been sent to prison.
The second important thing to bear in mind is that women offenders should receive more family visits. This was stressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in 1991 and by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. Crime is never committed in isolation. An isolated individual is a trigger through whom an entire social process is crystallised and explodes into a crime. Therefore, the answer to crime is to recognise this social embeddedness and the importance of relationships to the offender. This is very important. It has also been shown in the reports of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that people in prison who have been allowed more visits are 39% less likely to reoffend.
The third important female-specific factor has to do with female judges and sensitivity training for male judges. I could cite many cases where, for example, a prisoner is brought before a judge who then makes assumptions about how an ordinary person in her position would behave and judges her on those grounds, but the judgment turns out to be totally wrong because it is a woman who does not meet these assumptions. Therefore, it is not quite female jurisprudence but female-sensitive jurisprudence and female-sensitive judges that are extremely important.
In that context, it is also important to bear in mind that there are female-specific or gender-specific applications of law. Take a simple case, which happened in the United States: a Muslim woman was asked by her father-in-law to carry drugs from the United States to the UK. She was in no position to say no. Quietly, she carried them; she was arrested at the airport and given lighter punishment. A man in her position would have been treated differently. He is expected to stand up to his father-in-law and to behave independently, whereas in this case the woman had long been trained to obey, and if she dared to disobey it would have made no difference at all. Her father-in-law would simply have compelled her to do what he wanted her to do. In this case, one needs to tweak and adapt the law to the individual situation.
There are two other important factors to bear in mind. One is what is sometimes called a personal circumstances file. There should be a file for each offender, to ensure that sensitive information is easily available when it is needed. This file could be carried through the entire criminal justice system and include all the relevant information about a particular individual and the way that various factors trigger that individual’s behaviour in certain ways.
Secondly, and most importantly, the entire culture of prison needs to change. If one looks at prison, it is a macho kind of place; it is authoritarian, highly disciplined and force based. There is no sense of community. If one looks at our society, it is more informal, more sociable and warmer. Prison is a totally different picture; it is a totally different world. It is important to recognise that in prisons there could be a warmer relationship among prisoners themselves and between prisoners and wardens; it could become a community, where people are able to talk freely about their problems and solve them.
My simple suggestion is that a better understanding of the typical problems that affect women, of the circumstances under which they function and of the way in which various factors can influence their behaviour is quite important in tackling the position of the woman in the criminal justice system.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for obtaining this debate and for his unstinting efforts in this area, not least the welcome emphasis in his most recent report on relationships, which he expounded so clearly when introducing this debate.
I am sorry that the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Gloucester and the Bishop of Newcastle are not in their places today, because they both take a very close and informed interest in the issues around women in the criminal justice system. However, I have visited a good number of women’s prisons over the last few years and, in making those visits, I have been both shocked and inspired.
I have been shocked, saddened and disturbed, as I have met some of the most vulnerable and damaged people that I have ever encountered in our society: women who have been “done to”, usually by men, often from their earliest days and, in some cases, from before their births. As many studies show, and the noble Lord’s reports build on them, issues which we find in the wider prison population—poor mental and physical health, self-harm, addiction, being victims of abuse and violence—are writ large among women in the criminal justice system. These women are often convicted of crimes committed on behalf of another, usually a man, such as theft to support a partner’s drug-taking or prostitution, where a male pimp takes the money and the woman takes the risk, often out of desperation, and then takes the punishment.
I have been shocked and saddened, in many respects, but also inspired sometimes by the sheer fortitude and resilience of some of the women I have met and their determination, despite everything, to turn things around. I recall one woman, whom I met in HMP Styal. We participated in a filmed piece of research by the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, which I think is still available on YouTube. She was preparing for release after a lifetime of considerable difficulties. She had reached the stage where she was going out each day to work for a charity in one of our larger cities, thereby herself supporting other vulnerable people. She had, with considerable determination and a lot of support, turned her life around, and I found that inspiring.
I have also been inspired by some of the staff, and their commitment and passion for the work in which they are engaged, in our women’s prisons and in some of the community initiatives. I recall, on a visit to HMP Eastwood Park, meeting a male prison officer, probably in his 50s, and having the opportunity to talk to him about his role. He spoke to me about the delicacy of maintaining proper boundaries between himself and the female prisoners for whom he cared. He observed that, for some of those women, the relationship that they had with him was probably the first adult to adult relationship they had ever had with a man that was not abusive. The opportunity that he had, as a man in that setting, to try and set a different pattern, I found quietly inspirational.
I am also inspired by the efforts of our voluntary sector organisations—many of them faith-based—often working with and alongside the chaplaincies in our prisons. If the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester were here, she would draw our attention to the work of the Nelson Trust women’s centre in Gloucester, and there are many others like it. As has been alluded to in the various reports, there are funding issues around women’s centres and the aspiration to see the formation of residential women’s centres. I applaud any efforts to move us in those directions. Those kinds of interventions are both effective and cost-effective, and the place of the voluntary sector within that world is an important one.
I want to pick up on one thing which the noble Lord spoke about in his opening comments. One of the key factors in helping all prisoners to turn away from crime is security of accommodation on release. It is a scandal that some 40% of women released from prison are released to no fixed abode. That was the figure in the independent monitoring board’s report last year into HMP Bronzefield—no wonder so many reoffend within a year of release. It may be anecdotal that charities are providing women with sleeping bags upon release, but it is true; I have seen it. As a member of our society and our nation, I am ashamed by that.
This week, I heard about a small charity, the Imago Dei Prison Ministry, working mainly with women prisoners in the south-east, where the housing issues are sometimes the most acute. This tiny charity is seeking to raise funds to buy a 12-bed house for women leaving prison, where they will have not only a roof over their heads but also continued training and support towards employment and independent living. It is a tiny initiative but an example of what needs to be happening across the country to meet the needs of women leaving our prisons. Surely it is not beyond the capacity of our society in the 21st century—given the relatively small numbers of women leaving custody—to ensure that these kinds of housing provisions are in place. The right reverent Prelates the Bishop of Gloucester and the Bishop of Newcastle are hosting a seminar in this place on 15 October around these issues. I dearly hope that some good initiatives will come out of it, and out of other thinking in this area.
Earlier in your Lordships’ House, people were offering their good wishes to Mr Johnson and his new Government. I join them in doing so, but I recall it being said that a society is often judged by how it treats the most vulnerable in its midst. Here is an opportunity for Her Majesty’s Government, and all of us in civil society, to do what we must to ensure that the judgment on us is a positive one.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for bringing this debate to the House today and for the opportunity to take part. His excellent published review shows how relationships are so important for women and for the personal emotional needs of women in the criminal justice system. We need to see a new course of action.
I am pleased to acknowledge the ongoing work between the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England in developing a treatment requirement programme which aims to reduce the number of community sentences, addressing prisoners with mental health and drug and alcohol issues. It is being tested in courts across five areas in England. We know that stable accommodation is a key factor in reducing reoffending.
What will be effective is making the shift from prison to more community sentences, backed up by a probation system that commands the confidence of the courts and the public. When a prison sentence is being considered, it is recommended that comprehensive pre-sentence reports are prepared, but at the moment there appears to be a lack of comprehensive reports. It is plainly unacceptable for magistrates and judges to sentence a person to custody without the benefit of essential information and advice on why they offended and their current circumstances. This limits alternative sentencing options. Prisons and probation services are therefore often left without vital information to manage the individual’s case after they are sentenced.
The main issue to tackle is, again, the lack of accommodation, to address barriers to claiming universal credit, along with better access to mental health and substance misuse treatment. Community supervision is less likely to have a negative impact on employment and family time and is better chosen over prison sentences. There has to be more investment in the probation service, as it is the key driver of maintaining that thread to the outside world, with its work and family. This would avoid as much as possible prisoners becoming institutionalised and ultimately losing hope. As research shows, the more a prisoner is released on a temporary licence, the less chance there is of them reoffending, but they need support throughout.
However, for those in prison, I welcome the £7 million investment in new in-cell telephones to maintain family links. I agree with my noble friend Lord Farmer that each prison should have an on-site social worker to provide dedicated support for women and their children, to ensure they are able to maintain those vital ties with children and family outside the prison gate. The old system, I fear, is outdated; we want to see fewer women in custody, especially on short-term sentences, and a greater proportion of women managed in the community successfully. Having better conditions for those is unquestionably the best route forward.
The emphasis must also be on partnership working, backed up by a strong co-ordinating strategy. A key theme must be to include health, police and crime commissioners and local authorities to develop a whole-system approach. I look forward to the development of this and the publication of a national concordat on female offending by this autumn, so that we can have better joined-up working and collaboration at national and local level to improve those outcomes.
Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of supporting healthy relationships. They are utterly indispensable for every woman in the criminal justice system, helping them turn away from criminality, reduce intergenerational crime and contribute positively to society—and see it as an opportunity to take. Unfortunately, families are still having to travel and may be faced with long distances. The associated cost is certainly another barrier and a driver in breaking down family ties.
There is also evidence strongly demonstrating that prisons are not currently maximising opportunities for rehabilitation, which is being held back by restrictions related to staff shortages and other disruptions. These restrictions severely undermine the delivery of rehabilitation services: for example, those on education, mental health treatment, substance misuse treatment and offending behaviour programmes. More staff are required to drive this change.
For the future, the issue is to turn the negative into the positive and therefore create interventions, so that prisoners more often see a real opportunity to change their lives around, giving them hope for a new start. Their need for help with mental health is twice as likely as it is for men, with their more complex needs making prison a negative experience. Putting women into prison can do more harm than good to society, by failing to cut the cycle of reoffending while increasing difficult family circumstances.
Statistics show that, for women on release, only 55.8% are released with settled accommodation. As I mentioned earlier, the lack of accommodation increases the risk of reoffending and a woman’s inability to engage in employment, training and support services. Employment is worse for women following short prison sentences, with 50% of women in the CJS claiming out-of-work benefits two years later, as against 35% of men.
A strategy aiming to break the cycle must be well resourced if it is to deliver a meaningful approach to tackling the major issues. It should not only break the cycle but deliver a new start, however young or old the prisoner, with a move away from non-participation and a stop on the negative responses we hear, such as, “I will not be around long enough to change anything”. Something has to change.
My Lords, I refer to the disclosures that I have made in the register of interests; those interests have continued. I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on obtaining this debate and on his two excellent reports, in particular his second report, The Importance of Strengthening Prisoners’ Family Ties to Prevent Reoffending and Reduce Intergenerational Crime. I hope that his recommendations are accepted.
I cannot help but indicate that I am sad that events in the wider political field mean that we have lost a Minister of Justice who I thought was exceptional in his attempt to acquire knowledge of the problems in the prison system and to promote changes that would help to break the cycle that has gripped our prisons for so long. Time is needed for the changes that are necessary in the prison system; the constant turnover of Ministers of Justice has been an unfortunate aspect of the scene for as long as I have known it.
There is no doubt that, when it comes to sentencing female offenders, special considerations arise. This has already been accepted by the Ministry of Justice. However, regrettably, insufficient effect has been given to this recognition. It is my hope that the second of the reports for which the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, is responsible will have the effect of redressing that.
I am a recently retired member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has considered this subject recently. There will be a report from the Joint Committee in due course—after the Recess, probably in September. One of the matters focused on in the report is the effect that imprisoning mothers has on their children. It also stresses that the Human Rights Act requires, as a matter of law, the human right to family life of children. In considering this subject in relation to women, I suggest that considerable importance should be attached to that matter. The unfortunate fact is that the regeneration of criminals, as generations pass, is one matter that explains why we have such a consistent problem within our prison system. We must realise that if we do not get our approach to women and mothers right, that will continue. We will keep on creating the circumstances that lead to generation after generation being the subject of intervention from our criminal justice system.
One fact that comes out in the reports that have been published is that no proper statistics and records have been maintained of cases where children could be affected. I suggest that this is a worrying sign. Of the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, that one should be given high priority because, if the records are not there, the defects in what happens will not be known in the way that they should. This indicates that sufficient attention is not being paid to what happens in our courts at different levels, every day, and the consequences on the responsibility of the judiciary for sentencing. The lesson has to be regularly repeated that judges have an important responsibility to make sure that they receive, in time to deal with it when it comes to sentence, sufficient information on the circumstances of the women before them. Once they have been dealt with and sent to prison, it is foolhardy not to arrange the available prison accommodation so that family ties are not prevented from operating normally because of the locations of prisons. I am afraid that that is the situation with female prisons today. It is a significant matter.
This is not a problem that is not capable of redress; it is just that one has to think about what is needed and ensure that it happens. We have to take into account that this is an important aspect of our criminal justice policy. Money will not be saved and our prisons will not be improved unless we give this the priority that it deserves. I say in the time available that, when this debate is over, we will hope that the messages that we have been learning today, from the admirable speeches that were made prior to mine, are taken into account in the future. Equally, I hope that it will be recognised that you cannot do this unless you are prepared to make proper use of the resources available.
My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. It touches on issues with which I was closely aligned before coming to this House. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Farmer for introducing this excellent debate and conducting this new review, further to his very good review in 2017. It makes important recommendations that highlight the need to address the specific circumstances of female offenders. In particular, I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend that the promotion of strong family ties and other relationships must be the golden thread running through the whole criminal justice system. Prisoners who receive family visits are, as previously mentioned, 39% less likely to reoffend. Research suggests that these relationships are even more important for women than men. We cannot ignore this significant figure.
Furthermore, according to the Office for National Statistics, 22% of females in prison are serving sentences of less than 12 months, compared with 9% of males. Sadly, women are easily caught in the so-called revolving door, with short prison sentences. They lose their homes and often custody of their children, which exacerbates a downward spiral into more serious offences and an inability to secure the vital employment they need. Prison is and should continue to be the appropriate option for women who commit serious crimes. However, for those who commit less serious, non-violent offences, there are alternatives.
As mentioned before, last year I too visited the Nelson Trust women’s centre in Gloucester. It is clear to me that female offenders are among the most vulnerable in our society. As part of the female offender strategy launched last year, the Government committed to working with local and national partners to develop a residential women’s centre pilot in at least five sites across England and Wales, offering an alternative to short custodial sentences. As per the Minister’s Written Statement last month, I am pleased that the Government have recently concluded the first phase of the consultation to inform the scope of the project, and will now continue to consult to refine the design and delivery of the pilot. This is encouraging.
A 2015 Ministry of Justice report found that the reoffending rate for female offenders who received support from women’s centres was lower compared with those who did not. We also know that women’s centres are a more cost-effective way of rehabilitating women than prison. Women’s centres provide an opportunity for a different path, and I strongly believe that the women’s centre model will deliver positive outcomes for more female offenders through the entire criminal justice system.
I will now speak to my noble friend Lord Farmer’s suggestion of making pre-sentence reports mandatory for all female and male primary carers before a custodial sentence is passed. I served as a magistrate for more than 20 years and, as I have said before in this House, one of the most difficult duties a magistrate faces is, where there is no alternative, to send an offender to prison. It is not a decision that is ever taken lightly, particularly when imprisoning women who have children, because of the often damaging impact that such a sentence can have on these relationships. Further, while it is important to recognise that women are likely to be the primary carer, we should also consider these recommendations for men.
When I was in the youth court, I saw first hand how essential pre-sentencing reports were in helping us come to our decision from a more informed viewpoint. I would support mandatory pre-sentencing reports for those cases where there is an opportunity for a different path to custody.
I recognise that any change in the law would increase the workload of the national probation service. However, if this measure helps break the cycle of reoffending by properly addressing and considering the vulnerability of many female offenders and their families, it is certainly worth progressing.
We must also pay more attention to the children of offenders, as previously mentioned. According to the Prison Reform Trust, 17,000 children per year are affected by maternal imprisonment, only 5% of children remain with their family when a mother goes to prison, and only 9% are cared for by their father. I was therefore pleased to see the Sentencing Council highlight to courts in its new Overarching Principles guideline the necessity of considering the effect of a sentence on dependants and ensuring that a court has the information it needs. The council also states that a PSR should be obtained when a community order or custodial sentence is being considered for any offender who has, or may have, caring responsibilities. These are welcome steps.
When considering my noble friend Lord Farmer’s recommendations regarding video-conferencing facilities and in-cell telephones, it is important to recognise, as I have mentioned previously, that prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend. Maintaining these relationships can only reduce intergenerational offending.
I strongly support the recommendation that women’s prisons be prioritised for the rollout of virtual visits given the positive impact that they can have on dependants, especially when so many women offenders are primary carers whose children are likely to live far away. We can all sympathise with a child who wants to be with and speak to their mother on the first day of school, on their birthday or when they receive exam results. Video-linking and in-cell telephones will help reduce the trauma of separation, maintain relationships between offenders and their dependants; in turn, improving outcomes after they leave prison. Such facilities must of course be properly monitored and judged on a case-by-case basis.
Virtual visits should not be viewed as an alternative to face-to-face visits. They should be an addition to the ongoing rehabilitation of offenders through maintaining relationships with their dependants. Children do not deserve the punishment that might occur from their parents’ behaviour, nor to endure the generational cycle of offending. We owe it to them to support recommendations that will make their lives better and provide them with better life opportunities. We must recognise the importance of maintaining relationships between offenders and their children, family members and friends.
Tailoring interventions and the treatment of women within the criminal justice system is vital. Only then can we provide them with the appropriate environment to address their needs. Let us remember that this in turn will mean less reoffending, fewer victims of crime and a healthier society for all.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and the report of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. It was a full and sensible report, with many practical recommendations for supporting female offenders as they pass through the criminal justice system. I remind the House that I sit as a magistrate in adult, youth and family jurisdictions, and it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, as we sat on the same youth panel for a number of years.
I shall concentrate on the purpose and utility of short sentences for women—I am talking about sentences of six months or less. The current position will be well known to participants in today’s debate, but I shall briefly set out some of the statistics, many of which other noble Lords have referred to.
There are 78,000 men in prison in England and Wales and 4,000 women. Shoplifting is the most common offence for which women are imprisoned. Statistics from the Revolving Doors Agency indicate that three in five women report drug or alcohol dependency when arriving in prison—that is a higher proportion than for men; one in four are homeless when they are released; seven in 10 reoffend within one year of release; and eight in 10 of those convicted of theft reoffend within one year of release. Many agencies agree on the common factors among women prisoners. They are more likely than men to self-harm when in prison; custodial sentences increase the risk that dependent children will also fall into a life of crime; and more than half of women prisoners have experienced domestic abuse.
In a speech earlier this year, David Gauke said—I think quite frankly—that the impact on women of short custodial sentences was “particularly significant” and that they often caused,
“huge disruption to the lives of their families”.
He said that he believed there was a strong case for abolishing short sentences.
My response to that advocacy—if I may put it like that—is that I still think that short sentences have a place. One hundred per cent of the women whom I have put in custody have been through multiple community orders and, for one reason or another, have either reoffended or failed to comply with the elements of the order. In my experience—I agree on this with the noble Baroness, Lady Sater—magistrates are acutely aware of the impact. Although it may not be a statutory requirement, it is certainly common practice for there to be a full report, and one would see the impact of putting a woman in custody. However, sometimes, where there are multiple failures of community sentences, that is really the only option available to a sentencing magistrate.
There could be unfortunate side-effects if, for example, sentences of six months or less for women were banned. One would be to undermine community orders themselves if women knew that there was no way they would be sent into custody if they did not comply with the provisions of the order. Another unintended consequence could be—I am not saying this would happen—that women’s sentences would be increased to get to the minimum threshold. That would be an undesirable effect of a minimum sentence.
The whole purpose of the supervision element in the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014—12 months supervision after a short sentence—was to reduce reoffending: men or women who got short sentences would be supported by the probation services for 12 months. It would be easy to make comments about the Government’s approach to probation and the car crash of the reform the probation service. However, the problems of non-compliance with community orders have always been present, as long as there have been such orders. They were certainly present in the previous probation regimes that I was aware of. The particular vulnerabilities of women in this group have also been well understood—although the importance of domestic abuse is more apparent now than perhaps it was in the past.
I support all the elements of the Government’s female offender strategy to reduce the women’s prison population and to recognise women’s distinct needs. However, it is important that this is properly funded, so that the strategy has a full opportunity to take effect. The noble Baroness, Lady Sater, talked about the importance of women’s centres. I wholly agree with her. My own area of Hammersmith, in London, has the Minerva women’s centre. I have visited it a number of times and, as far as I can see, it is very effective in dealing with women, on both a voluntary and a statutory basis, to try to reduce reoffending. Will there be a commitment on the part of the Government that each of the 11 new probation areas will have specialist women’s support and that that will be a requirement when putting together support packages in those areas?
On one point I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sater. It is a note of caution on the role of video or Skype links for mothers with children, based on my experience in the family courts. I absolutely understand and support the point that this is, or can be, a good way of maintaining family relationships. However, I deal with this type of arrangement for people in prison and for families where the parents have split up and, unfortunately, the arrangements can lead to further conflict if not sensitively handled. They can undermine the person who is actively caring for the child. From what I have been told, the children can find doing these regular Skype conferences a burdensome obligation. So they are desirable but they need to be managed in a sensitive way. This certainly happens in the family courts system; there are programmes to allow children to either maintain or restart relationships. But beyond that, I support the recommendations of the noble Lord.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for initiating this debate on the Motion that this House takes note of the needs of women in the criminal justice system. One has to look at the reasons why women end up in prisons. These are varied and many, and largely depend on whether the woman is from a BAME community or the majority white community. However, the common factors are: violence at home by the husband or other family members; the poverty of the family; and, because of poverty, shoplifting, which becomes necessary to feed or clothe the family, particularly the children.
From reading the documents of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and from my own experience, there is perhaps a need for women judges to preside over these proceedings, since male judges may not comprehend why a woman is being charged. The law in such cases is blind as to which sex is being charged. Similarly, there may be a need for women lawyers and solicitors to appear on behalf of a woman being charged, and the Crown prosecutors should also be women. The best practice is to increase the number of women police in charge of such cases.
There are also considerable variations when women from BAME communities come to court to face trial. Translators should be present to translate questions put by prosecutors and judges. Some women from BAME communities do not speak or understand proper English. Many years ago, before there were translators in court, there was a case in which an Asian woman was asked whether she was guilty of killing her husband. The woman thought that the judge was asking whether she had made a mistake, because there is a word, “gulti”, that means “mistake” in her mother tongue, and she said yes. The judge thought she had pleaded guilty and put her in prison for a long time for murder. In the prison, some white inmates were very friendly and asked her what had happened and why she had killed her husband. She was able to explain that her husband had continually beaten her for the smallest error, or came home fully drunk and assaulted her. She suffered this over a long period until, one day, she could take this violence no more and, while her husband was sleeping, she murdered him. The women in the prison persuaded her and her solicitors to go to court to reopen the case, because she had not pleaded guilty and because she had been provoked to end his life by years of being beaten up. The Court of Appeal finally released her.
In the subcontinent, a woman’s position is still considered inferior. While I was a trustee of Oxfam, many years ago, I was given a very moving report and a letter from a social worker in India, Dr Jha, a lady with a great understanding of a woman’s position in an Indian family. I would be happy to give the full report to any noble Lord who would like to read it. It was a story of a family with a son and a daughter. The mother said that whenever she or her daughter fell sick, the local village quack was called in, but if the husband or the son fell ill, the trained doctor had to be called and they were hospitalised in the best hospitals. During mealtimes, the son and the husband ate first, and if there was meat, most of it was eaten by the husband and the son. The statement that the mother and the daughter made was, “Do you see why we look so frail and thin?”
The women are second-class citizens in many families. There is a belief in some families that the girl will one day be married, therefore there is no need for her to be sent to a good school for education. We hear of many cases in which rich or middle-class families are able to determine the sex of the unborn child and, if it is a girl, they get the mother to abort the child. In Pakistan, where, because of sharia, Muslim families have to give part of the family estate to the girls and the boys, many rich families do not get their daughters married but keep them at home until they die. I emphasise that such practices have considerably lessened because of new laws put in place by Governments in the subcontinent.
One last thing that needs to be said is that, despite the inequalities for women I have mentioned, there have been women Prime Ministers such as Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto and Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh. In the UK, however, inequality and violence against all BME communities continues, resulting in deaths and divorces, and women escaping from home to shelters provided by the Government and by the work done by the Seven Sisters. In addition, husbands bring in brides from the subcontinent to become baby machines. They are expected by the family to cook and do housework, and are rarely allowed to go out.
In past years, I was involved in a project funded by the Government, through which female staff were able to train women to learn English and revive their skills of dressmaking, cooking, working as beauticians and using their henna painting skills. The result was that these women were able to speak English and communicate with their children. They learned to use computers and were able to read newspapers and reports from their countries of origin. They had their own income and did not have to ask for money from their husbands, and were able to provide more and more facilities for their children.
In the name of equality for women, I firmly believe that the Government should ensure that women’s rights are protected and that special training should be given to judges and lawyers when women appear in the courts.
“Healthy, supportive relationships are not just a ‘nice to have’ for every woman in the criminal justice system. They are utterly indispensable”.
Those are the opening words from my noble friend Lord Farmer’s report. With over half of women in custody having dependent children, estimated at 17,000 children per year, and three in five women offenders having dependent children, this report challenges present practices and is indeed welcome.
Of the many recommendations, I welcome the call for a written pre-sentence report to be made mandatory for all women before—I stress, before—a custodial sentence is passed, and that once sentenced to custody, women should be asked if they need to make telephone contact with dependants or organise childcare, and be allowed to do so before being put into transport. The final recommendation, on page 108, is that the in-cell telephony that other noble Lords have already spoken of,
“be rolled out in all women’s prisons as part of the next wave of installation given the higher proportion of women … who are primary carers”.
There are practical suggestions in this report that could and should improve the chances of families staying together.
The opportunities that women’s centres offer cannot be overestimated. At their core they work with women in a holistic way, supporting them to maintain and develop relationships with their families. One of the briefings stated that,
“the Government needed to go further to overcome long-standing cross-departmental issues with funding for women’s centres … if they were to improve outcomes for women”.
In addition to the existing women’s centres, as we have heard, the Government are to set up five specialist women’s centres, which my noble friend Lady Sater referred to. These must be given time and continuing finance, so that a proper evaluation can be made at the end of this project, if we are to address the problems of reoffending.
Surely one of the most important tasks is to reduce the number of women being sent to prison, especially those who are serving short sentences. As we have heard, short sentences have a devasting effect on dependent children. Why is it that 15% of females in prison are serving sentences of less than six months, compared to 6% of males; or that 22% of females are serving sentences of less than 12 months, compared to 9% of males? I do not understand it; perhaps the Minister can enlighten me.
Women prisoners have often experienced emotional, physical and domestic abuse. In 2018, higher proportions of female prisoners had an alcohol problem before entering prison—24% compared, to 18% of males—and 39% had a drug problem, compared to 28% of males. Surely there is more that can be done to break this cycle before a woman turns to crime in the first place. This report addresses reoffending and looks at ways to reduce intergenerational crime, which I welcome, but I fear that much more could be done to prevent offending in the first place.
Turning to release days, I understand that prisoners on release are given £46. They may have nowhere go and if they are lucky, they are given a tent, or if they are not, a sleeping bag. I am grateful to Nacro for its briefing, which highlights resettlement as one of its biggest challenges. Its evidence shows that having stable accommodation can reduce the risk of offending by 20%. It also estimates that 60% of women offenders do not have homes to go to on release, and on leaving may well risk returning to abusive relationships.
Lastly, I turn to the opportunities within the prison system to work with offenders, enabling them to gain basic skills which could lead to worthwhile employment on release. Only recently, while attending an event in the City, I was moved by an offender who spoke of her experience, having been helped by an organisation called Working Chance, the charity founded by Jocelyn Hillman back in 2009. Jocelyn recognised then that many women would remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and crime unless they were helped. She identified the talents and potential of women offenders and set up bespoke rehabilitation and employment for the charity’s candidates. It aims to prepare and help women to gain jobs, but it also works to educate employers to change their hiring practices and help them create social value. The person who gained work experience with Working Chance then became an ambassador and a mentor for future candidates.
There are many other organisations, individuals and charities that offer encouragement and support to women offenders, but there is still much more to do. As Working Chance recognises, with one in three offenders having been in care, and facing limited job opportunities after institutionalised living and employer prejudice, women offenders have little choice but to fall back into the toxic cycle of poverty and crime.
Some 50 years ago, I worked with the Women’s Voluntary Service. We worked with the Crown Court and prisons, providing tea and refreshments to families within the criminal justice system. I and other volunteers in that team knew how important it was to give some form of support to families who were at a very low ebb. My views have not changed over the years, and I thank my noble friend Lord Farmer for his work and for the practical recommendations made, which must make a difference for our future generations.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on obtaining this important debate and on his introduction to it. I salute him for his two reports on families which have raised the profile of this most important ingredient in the successful rehabilitation of offenders. I also thank Sarah Tudor for her excellent Library briefing.
My interest in the issue of the needs of women in the criminal justice system goes back to my first inspection as Chief Inspector of Prisons of HMP Holloway in December 1995, which I suspended because there was so much wrong with the treatment of and conditions for women prisoners. Immediately after leaving the prison, I went to the Prison Service headquarters to introduce myself to the director-general and tell him why I had not felt able to complete my inspection.
Having been in the Army, chaired an NHS hospital, been director of international affairs in a private security company and governor of a school, I expected that the Prison Service would have a similar hierarchical governance structure. I therefore asked to see the director of women’s prisons—and was amazed to be told that there was not one. When I asked who was responsible for overseeing the conditions for and treatment of women in every prison in the country, I was told that there was a civil servant in the policy branch. When I asked to whom a governor of a women’s prison could turn to for advice, I was told, “Their area manager”. I said that I thought that area managers dealt only with budgets and asked how many of them had worked in a women’s prison. The director-general admitted that he did not know. I subsequently learned that only one had—as a junior governor.
No other organisation—business, hospital or school—operates without having named people responsible and accountable for particular function. Why should the Prison Service be any different? In addition to a director of women’s prisons, I recommended the appointment of families contact development officers in every prison, as in Scotland—but neither recommendation was implemented. Since then I have lost count of the bewildering number of Ministers or officials, under different titles, who have been made responsible for meeting the needs of women in the criminal justice system. Ministers may have overall responsibility, but they cannot exercise 24/7 oversight of the treatment of and conditions for women—hence the need for a subordinate official.
The history of women’s prisons is littered with examples of good practice developed by a good governor somewhere but never turned into common practice everywhere because nobody was responsible for doing so. If Ministers for Prisons asked why standards in individual prisons zig-zagged so wildly, they would discover that incoming governors are not told what to do, leaving how they do it up to them, but are told how to do things in minute detail, enmeshed in myriad targets and performance indicators. This is the cult of managerialism gone mad. Over the years I have lost count of the number of recommendations for improvement made by knowledgeable people or organisations—such as the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, the Inspectorate of Prisons, the Prison Reform Trust, the Centre for Social Justice and the Fawcett Society—only to have them ignored by Ministers and officials in the Ministry of Justice.
In June 2018 the Government published their long-awaited Female Offender Strategy, which emphasised the need for specialist gender-informed services to assist in supporting women to lead fulfilling lives. Unfortunately, an inability to meet the needs of women in prisons is matched by the absence of services designed to respond to women’s needs in the community. Transforming Rehabilitation, while disastrous for men, was even more disastrous for women because, as the Chief Inspector pointed out in a thematic review of the supply chain, too many small, specialist organisations were squeezed out, as they have been under the so-called dynamic purchase system—introduced, ironically, by the Ministry of Justice after the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, published his first report. Awarding contracts to large organisation has resulted in women’s and family services in particular being lost. I therefore urge the Minister to instruct officials in the Ministry of Justice to review whether the DPS has contributed to this loss.
Female offenders are rightly suspicious of allegedly gender-free services, too many of which turn out to be male-orientated. In addition to being responsible for children, many women offenders have backgrounds of mental ill health and addiction or experience of domestic and sexual abuse, which are best dealt with by services designed for women. Females turn to alcohol or drug abuse for different reasons to males, often seeking solace following domestic abuse. They then face considerable disadvantage because there is too little provision of specialist women’s services, which have a proven track record of providing effective therapeutic and practical help.
As the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, says in his reports, many of the solutions to reducing women’s reoffending lie outside the criminal justice system, which should be adapted to respond to this need. Cross-departmental leadership, stronger co-operation between central and local government and ring-fenced funding of certain gender-specific programmes are essential to the delivery of effective community support for women. The Cabinet Office-led Reducing Reoffending Board might satisfy this requirement, provided that its direction is binding on individual ministries.
To conclude, as I began, with governance, I have long recommended the establishment of a women’s justice board, which is in the gift of the Secretary of State for Justice. Its chairman should sit alongside the recently restored directors-general of the Prison and Probation Services and the chairman of the Youth Justice Board on a Minister-chaired executive board which, at a stroke, would inject responsibility and accountability and consistent oversight of the needs of women in the criminal justice system. A women’s justice board could mirror two of the great successes of the Youth Justice Board: the reduction of the number of offenders in prison, and the establishment of a number of highly effective offending teams around the country.
In paying tribute to David Gauke, the departed Secretary of State, for all that he has done during his tenure, perhaps I may recommend the establishment of a women’s justice board to his successor through the Minister. I also ask the Minister why this introduction has been resisted for so long.
My Lords, I add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in calling for a just and humane criminal justice system. It is privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
The House will be aware that I have not spoken before in debates on women in the criminal justice system but, as I am an advocate on women’s issues, a number of women—those inside the system and those currently free—have contacted me recently, so I feel compelled to raise a number of issues. I will restrict my comments to drawing attention to issues of the mental health and well-being of women and their recall to prison.
A number of women I have spoken to recently say that they do not have sufficient access to solicitors and that they experience prolonged waits for oral parole board hearings, which is the only recourse they have to challenge their recall to prison. I should make clear that it is not my intention to refer to any criminal case proceedings or sentences but to highlight one woman’s experience as an example.
Farah is currently imprisoned in Downview, a women’s facility reopened in 2015 which houses 230 women. I have taken these concerns to, and written to, Ministers and shadow Ministers of Justice. I have known Farah for more than a decade while she was developing Kazuri, a wonderful holistic programme for providing services for ex-offenders in Tower Hamlets, including the housing, counselling support and mentoring for young women. Farah is intelligent and committed to caring for others, even if it is to the detriment of her safety and security. During the period of developing services, she engaged with a wide range of stakeholders, local and national government, community organisations, police and places of worship, including the church. Her kindness meant that everyone—including ex-offenders —was willing to assist in her projects, even in the most challenging circumstances. I have participated in a number of seminars with ex-offenders at her request.
I had not heard from her since late 2015 until last year, when I found out that she had been released on parole. A few days into her time out she disappeared, and I learned a week or two later that she had been recalled. It is no surprise to me that, even in Downview, she began assisting others who, as she said, were in greater need than her. She has gathered women and produced an incredible magazine, The View, using her own artistic and creative talents and those of other inmates.
In the magazine she describes her experience of being recalled and of the system since. I will read part of her comments. She says:
“I have been recalled because I dared to tweet about how appalling NPSL Hammersmith were. I am horrified by the chaotic, inefficient way OMU deal with recalled women—Parole process is a mess and feels interminable and my mental health has deteriorated. I have felt suicidal and have wanted to harm myself—and it has taken a toll on my children”.
The Prison Reform Trust says that the number of women recalled to custody while under supervision after their release has doubled since 2014 and that 1,762 women—a 13% increase—were recalled in the year to June 2018. Since Chris Grayling’s report of 2015, Transforming Rehabilitation, which led in part to the privatisation of probation, 22% of men were recalled in that period. There are 4,000 women in the prison system. Will the Minister say how many women were recalled in 2018 and 2019? What reasons were primarily given for recall? How were those decisions to recall monitored to ensure they were compliant with legal framework, good practice and Transforming Rehabilitation? Will the Government undertake an urgent review of services in Downview to ensure that they are adequate and compliant, given the high rates of suicide, self-harm and violent incidents?
Many of the women I have spoken to are completely unaware of their legal rights and have little or no access to legal services. How many women are granted an oral hearing and how long is the wait for that hearing? What process exists for access to their legal rights?
I welcome the Government’s intention to dismantle the failed policy of private, unaccountable prisons and probation but, as other noble Lords have pointed out, resources, external services, such as women’s centres, and other pathway provisions have declined, so if and when women have managed to navigate what appear unfair and unjust hurdles—parole board hearings and inadequate mental health support—that seems to compromise their dignity and human rights contrary to the Social Care Act 2014. Even when women are out, their chance of integration seems almost doomed to fail, as other noble Lords eloquently said.
I believe Downview has £3 million of the total budget of £600 million available for mental health services in the prison system. Will the Minister ask his department and the Justice Minister: who is monitoring mental health services in Downview, in light of the fact that four women have committed suicide in the past two years, the high level of self-harm and 60 women still waiting for a parole board hearing? In fact, will he consider speaking to his department about a judge-led inquiry into the current experiences of women, in view of the evidently poor management and practices in Downview?
In the light of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman stating that the National Probation Service’s complaint process is not fit for purpose, what assessment has been made of whether the complaint process is credible and sufficiently independent?
Time and again, we cry out that ours is a civilised society. On that basis, we demand greater justice and better treatment for people in prisons elsewhere in the world. Given that under international and national laws we are signed up to human rights for all, it is only right that we put our house in order. There has been impressive reporting on women’s experience in prison by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, and the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and there is the new policy framework. It is time to act and to be accountable and transparent for just provision for women in the criminal justice system.
My thanks go to Sarah Tudor, the Prison Reform Trust, Sarah Watson, Aina Khan and Farah Dan for their insightful briefings.
My Lords, as we all know, the needs of women in our criminal justice system are diverse and complex. I therefore commend this Government’s female offender strategy, which built on the very welcome report of the Centre for Social Justice, which called for a woman-centred approach to women in the criminal justice system and the formal recognition that this Government have given to the distinct needs of these women. I commend my noble friend Lord Farmer for his recently published landmark review into strengthening family relationships to reduce female offending.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to the plight of Muslim women in Britain who have been in prison. There has recently been research into the experiences of Bradford Muslim women in this situation. The report found that the Muslim community shuns women but forgives convicted men, who are given liberal and sympathetic treatment whatever their crime. Honour plays a disproportionate role in British Muslim life. Defamation of the family name can be the ultimate calamity for the good name, status and social standing of the family. The Muslim Women in Prison project, based in Bradford, focuses on rehabilitation programmes and the specific cultural needs of Muslim women, many of whom do not have contact with friends or family.
I was pleased to see the recommendation of my noble friend Lord Farmer that the manual of guidance forms be amended to capture information about offenders’ dependants. This is something that the Centre for Social Justice championed in its recent report Control, Order, Hope as key to identifying and safeguarding the children of those facing imprisonment.
The evidence is clear: maintaining strong family relationships is key to female desistance. Around half of the women in our prisons say that getting support from their family would help them to stop offending. However, our current system does not adequately take the needs of women and their families into account. The Government’s decision to shelve plans for building five new women’s prisons has been a welcome step in the right direction—towards a women-centred approach to rehabilitation. However, the money saved by this decision has not been directly reinvested in the necessary community-based support for female offenders.
Last year, the Centre for Social Justice calculated that the Government could save up to £50 million by suspending plans for the five new women’s prisons. It argued that this money should be reinvested in a criminal justice transformation fund to support the development of capacity and infrastructure for female offenders in the community. However, the Government have instead pledged one-10th of this amount—just £5 million—to be spent on community provision for women. There is no doubt that even this limited funding will be invested in life-changing support for women.
One of the projects supported by the funding is the new Women’s Wellness Centre commissioned by North Yorkshire’s excellent PCC, Julia Mulligan. It will offer family-friendly services to women at risk of reoffending, mental health problems and homelessness. However, this funding does not go far enough. Had the full amount been reinvested in community provision for female offenders, we would be looking at a substantially more comprehensive offer of support for women in the criminal justice system.
There is a clear desire among some of our best police and crime commissioners to be given the responsibility and the necessary resources to create community-based programmes for female offenders that are both trauma-informed and responsive to their local needs. According to a poll commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice, three-quarters of police and crime commissioners believe that they should be given greater ownership of the female offender cohort and that they could commission better services for female offenders.
The funding situation faced by women’s centres across the country is precarious, to say the least. I have heard about the apparent failure of the Ministry of Justice Estates Directorate to take policy into account when making significant decisions about property. I am particularly concerned about the sale of Eden House in Bristol. It is a women’s centre with a crèche and refurbished residential accommodation, and many families benefit from its services. This was the only such resource owned by the MoJ and the decision seemed particularly at odds with the direction of travel of the MoJ’s female offender strategy. It is not difficult to find the details of the sale on the internet. The property was apparently sold for £622,000 in May 2017. Although that was 12 months before the formal publication of the new women’s strategy, the strategy was in draft. It recognised the valuable role of women’s centres and the need for residential services to support women as an alternative to custody, as well as for women leaving custody.
Can my noble friend the Minister explain why this sale was made, given the emphasis on supporting women in the community whenever possible as an alternative to custody? Can he also confirm whether the Ministry of Justice Estates Directorate applied the family test before making the sale? We need a clear and long-term commitment to sustaining and building on what works with women in prison, women in the criminal justice system and women at risk of offending. The cost of failing to make the commitments required should not be tolerated. Failing to provide some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable women with the support and interventions they need, and that we know can work, is wasteful, not only for the individuals concerned but to society at large.
My Lords, it is an absolute pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and I echo many of her comments.
I start by adding my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for securing this debate and for all the tremendously hard work he has done. I agree with the comments of many noble Lords, including those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester that families lie at the root of so much of our behaviour. It seems there is, very often, a repeating cycle of abuse, addiction and crime. According to the Centre for Social Justice, over half of all female prisoners report having experienced some form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child. Nearly half have attempted suicide at some time in their lives, and half have been identified as suffering from both anxiety and depression. The CSJ also found that 39% of women arrive in prison with a drug problem and a large number are there because of acquisitive crime to fund their own or someone else’s addiction. Two-thirds of female offenders say that they commit offences to get money to buy drugs and almost half say it is to fund someone else’s drug use.
We know that imprisoning addicts does not work, and that the money would be better spent rehabilitating them in the community. The question is: are we doing enough? I welcome the female offender strategy, focusing as it does on earlier interventions in the community, reducing the number of short sentences and having better community rehabilitation services. But there is a way to go: we have roughly twice the number of women in prison today as 20 years ago, although the causes of offending remain essentially the same.
There are threads that some organisations still think need picking up and weaving into the national strategy for women in the criminal justice system. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, says that,
“many women have experienced domestic abuse and this and other forms of toxic relationships may have been a contributor to or prime factor in their offending behaviour”.
Indeed, in Transforming Rehabilitation the MoJ found that 57% of women offenders were victims of domestic violence. To quote Dame Vera Baird:
“Domestic abuse can leave long-term and widespread effects on some women who may have endured years of being repeatedly assaulted, threatened, ridiculed, starved of money and isolated from their friends—all done by someone they thought loved them ... Putting them in prison seems like a double failure since we didn’t tackle the abuse and blame them for its consequences”.
The sad case of Sally Challen illustrates this.
We know that almost 60% of women in community supervision or custody who have had an assessment have experienced domestic abuse. There’s the rub: how many women get that assessment? The Prison Reform Trust recommends routine inquiry into women’s histories of domestic abuse at each stage of the criminal justice process to ensure informed decision-making. As Donna Covey of Against Violence & Abuse said:
“For far too many survivors of domestic abuse, their journey ends in a prison cell rather than a refuge bedroom”.
The Prison Reform Trust is lobbying for a new statutory defence for those whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse. I certainly support that and wish the trust well in it.
We know that when a women is incarcerated she is not the only one who suffers. We do not know how many children have mothers in the criminal justice system; 17,000 is the estimate but there is underreporting because mothers fear that their children will be taken from them. The suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, of a personal circumstances file, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, seems an eminently sensible suggestion. Could the Minister comment on whether the Government are considering this?
In its 2018 report the Centre for Social Justice found that nearly three in five incarcerated women reported having dependent children living with them before custody. Following imprisonment, only one in four—compared with 94% of men—reported that their children were now living with a partner. What happens to those children is hugely important, not just for the children—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, spoke movingly about the effect on them—but for the women themselves.
When the Government launched their female offender strategy, they announced a new programme of work to support it. They set out eight commitments, two of which we know have come to pass, including the new policy framework and the excellent report by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, which we have been discussing today. What are the other six? They include £5 million for community support and a pilot for women’s residential centres in at least five areas of England, which was spoken about by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I hope the Minister has come to this debate armed with some progress on these. Can he tell us how they are going?
In the female offender strategy the Government say that custodial sentences of less than 12 months are less effective in reducing reoffending than community sentences. So why are we still doing this? The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, gave good examples from his practical experience as a magistrate of why the 12-month sentence should be abolished altogether. Does the Minister have any evidence of that trend being reversed? Can he say how that is going?
Lastly, are the Government going to review the licence rules for prisoners serving less than 12 months, introduced under the Offender Rehabilitation Act? What use can it serve when, for example, an offender is sentenced to two months, serves one and then has to spend 11 under licence? Is the probation service not stretched enough? This has weighed particularly heavily on women prisoners, who typically serve shorter sentences. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, also spoke about recall and questioned its value. The Prison Reform Trust is calling for the supervision of those given a prison sentence of less than 12 months to be made voluntary. When are the Government intending to look at recall again?
Many other contributors spoke on issues that I have not raised in my remarks today. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, who talked about BAME women and the importance of their sensitive treatment in the courts. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, spoke about Muslim women and the honour culture and asked where the £50 million from not building women’s prisons has gone to. Could we have it back, please? That question is from me, not necessarily from her.
Several noble Lords talked about accommodation, such as the noble Baronesses, Lady Redfern and Lady Byford. Just because I have not mentioned this in my remarks does not mean I do not think it is vital. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked about Holloway prison and his experiences there. I had a lot of experiences there too, 20 years or so before he was there, and I am sad to know that it does not seem to have particularly changed. I join him in calling for a women’s justice board. Surely we can do better. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, not just for all his work and his two incredibly impressive reports but for bringing this important debate to your Lordships’ House. I also thank all noble Lords who stayed; I hope they found their reward in the temperate climate in the Chamber, both literal and metaphorical, compared to the climate elsewhere.
In recent months, we have discussed many times the crisis in our criminal justice system and our prisons. It is a crisis of attitude, history and, fundamentally, funding. Women are its greatest victims, whether they are victims in the sense that people normally understand—victims of crime—or whether they are prisoners who are victims, as so many noble Lords suggested so eloquently in this debate. Human beings do not come in hermetically sealed categories of good and bad or perpetrator and victim. Many women who find themselves in prison, if not the majority, are victims of all kinds of abuse as well.
As I listened carefully to some wonderful speeches today, I was consistently reminded of the principle of non-discrimination which, for the most part, finds its place in our law as a result of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I was particularly reminded of a now famous case from 2000 against the state of Greece, called Thlimmenos v Greece, if anyone is interested or particularly wonkish about these things. It explains that discrimination does not always mean treating like cases differently; sometimes, it is equally discriminatory not to treat people who have different circumstances and lives differently. It is discriminatory not to recognise the different journey, circumstances, incapacities or problems of a category of people. Too many people, including sometimes very clever people in our public life, think that if there is no sign up saying, “You’re not welcome”, or if you got the vote, then it is all done. It is not. Discrimination in our world, even in 21st-century Britain, is much deeper, subtler and more endemic than that.
I felt that this understanding was very much present in so many of your Lordships’ speeches, including those from my noble friends Lord Parekh and Lady Uddin, the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and, predictably, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, brought his unrivalled experience in these matters, and the remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, addressed the additional intersectional problems of BAME women.
We have to understand that the system is already in crisis for everyone, but the problem is multiplied and exacerbated for women and they require particular attention and help. As so many people have described so forensically, women in prison are more likely to have experienced abuse as children, or domestic abuse, even to the point of coercion leading to the offence that leads to incarceration. They are more likely to be homeless before custody and to suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues. Tragically, of course, so many leave custody to go straight on to the street once more. There were so many helpful recommendations from the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, but the point about addressing homelessness immediately on release seems such phenomenal good sense. It is an acute issue, and surely the Minister and his colleagues will look at it with some urgency.
Crucially, as came out in so many of noble Lords’ speeches, a woman in prison is more likely to have committed a non-violent offence driven by poverty and for material gain, and to be serving probably a pointless short sentence. Your Lordships also pointed out the disastrous effect of incarceration on these women and their children—because so many of them have children. It leads to intergenerational problems including criminality, but also to problems in wider society, because these women are not rehabilitated under these short sentences in particular, so the effects are even worse.
What is to be done? Your Lordships have been very gracious in the way they have conducted the debate, but your Lordships’ House has been addressing these matters with that degree of care and temperance for many years. I look around this Chamber at so many experts who have been so gracious about making these observations again and again to Governments of both persuasions, it has to be said, but those arguments fall on deaf ears.
Of course we need more resources, not just in the system but before it, because the criminal justice system has been treated as a dustbin for humanity. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, who coined the idea of needing more social workers, not just more prison officers. Why leave everything until it is almost too late when it comes to intervening in the most vulnerable people’s chaotic lives?
We need a probation service and probation disposals that truly inspire the confidence of the electorate and wider society, so that it is possible to make these disposals and not have to resort to ridiculous short-term sentences that clearly are not working. I thought that there was much in the suggestion that there should be mandatory pre-sentence reports before any woman is sent to prison, but perhaps we ought to go further. I took on board my noble friend Lord Ponsonby’s point that there has to be an ultimate sanction for non-compliance with probation and so on. However, it is high time for consultation and a Green Paper on a legislative presumption against these short sentences. That is what my honourable friend the shadow Justice Secretary has indeed promised.
We need to change the culture of prison itself. Again, that takes funding, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Parekh. Prisons are very masculine environments. They have been modelled on very traditional lines. That applies even to women’s prisons. We need to look at the different suggestions for keeping women’s family ties, even if they have to be in prison for more serious sentences. I was attracted to the suggestion of a women’s justice board to take these issues forward. In the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, I will certainly take that back to my colleagues.
There should be more women judges all the way through the system, including up at the top in the senior judiciary. I personally think that if that is not happening quickly enough, it is time to look at affirmative action in the judiciary. It is a question of not just expertise and life experience but legitimacy in the wider population, at a time when the judiciary is often under attack, as is the rule of law itself.
This is the last day of the last term. I wish all noble Lords well for a peaceful and well-earned break, though one which I suspect will not be without certain anxieties. We approach this recess with a new Foreign Secretary who has repeatedly suggested that feminism is bigotry. We have a new Home Secretary who has spoken in support of the death penalty. However, I believe in rehabilitation. That rehabilitation requires hard work and good counsel. I hope that the Minister, with all our support, is able to provide more of that in the autumn.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing it. I also pay tribute to him for his recent report on the importance of family ties for female offenders in the criminal justice system. We welcomed the publication of this excellent review in June, and his earlier report on male offenders in August 2017. That first report was rightly described as a landmark publication, and his more recent work reinforces such acclaim. I thank him again for the considerable efforts that he has made here.
Turning to the needs of women in the criminal justice system, women are a small proportion of those supervised in the community—about 15%—and an even smaller proportion of the prison population, at about 5%. On average, women commit less serious offences than men. In 2018, 35% of immediate custodial sentences for women were for shoplifting offences. Most custodial sentences for women are short, as has already been observed. In 2018, 77% of custodial sentences for women were for less than 12 months. That compares with 62% in respect of male offenders. Given these distinctions in the interaction of men and women with the criminal justice system, and the body of evidence amassed in the last few years on this cohort, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, he is right to move that this House should take note of their needs, which, I emphasise, are often complex.
Female prisoners are more likely to have been taken into care, to have experienced abuse and to have witnessed violence in the home as a child. It is estimated that 60% of female offenders have experienced domestic abuse. These factors and others often underlie their offending and must be successfully addressed if they are to be rehabilitated.
Women’s circumstances when they enter custody, and their experiences there, differ from those of men, and some of their outcomes are worse. Women in custody have a higher prevalence of needs than men with regard to relationships, accommodation, drugs, alcohol and, as was mentioned, post-incarceration employability. Female prisoners are more than twice as likely as male prisoners to report needing help for mental health problems, and the rate of self-harm in female prisoners is almost five times higher than in male prisoners. The complexity of these needs, the necessity of a gender-specific response and the overlap between offender and victim have all been central to the Government’s response to the needs of women in the criminal justice system. Last year we published the Female Offender Strategy. This set out our vision to reduce the number of women coming into contact with the criminal justice system, as well as the proportion of those in custody, particularly on short sentences, and the need to improve conditions for those in custody.
We know that for many vulnerable women, with the right support at the right time, there are opportunities to prevent them from entering the criminal justice system at all. That is why we are working to increase early intervention, identifying and supporting women before they become involved in the criminal justice system. That requires a partnership approach, as some have already observed, involving local agencies and other women’s services. To support that at national level, we have provided guidance to the police about working with vulnerable women and diverting them out of the justice system into a support area, where there is a need for this and it can be achieved.
NHS England is currently rolling out a liaison and diversion service that supports our efforts to intervene early on vulnerable women. Full rollout of the NHS liaison and diversion service is expected by 2020-21 and all its sites will have a basic female pathway and nominated female lead. We hope that these changes will lead to more women being diverted away from being charged with an offence and ending up with a custodial sentence. We will also continue to promote the use of out-of-court disposals with conditions attached, which can serve as an opportunity for early intervention and, again, for successful rehabilitation.
We know that for many women, spending short periods of time in custody creates plenty of disruption but does not necessarily offer sufficient time for them to engage in successful rehabilitative activity. This is particularly true for those female offenders with dependent children. Moreover, evidence suggests that community sentences, in certain circumstances, are more effective in reducing reoffending—again, noble Lords touched on that point.
We accept that women-specific services are crucial to our vision to manage more women in the community by helping them at the point of need. We want to see women’s services and centres embedded as an integral part of the delivery of public services to female offenders, making better use of their potential as places where quality support and interventions can be delivered. I am well aware of the challenges that women’s services face in securing stable funding and of the impact this can have on local availability. Currently, women’s services receive funding from a range of sources and it is imperative that they continue to do so. As was mentioned, we have invested £5 million in multiyear funding for community provision for female offenders. That is already being used to sustain and enhance services, and to provide new specialist services. We remain committed to ensuring that there is sufficient funding for female offenders, and will continue to look at the scope to increase sustainability as we take that strategy forward.
As was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, we are also developing a residential women’s centre pilot in five sites across England and Wales. I should say “at least” five sites; that is the minimum. We are working to refine the design and delivery of the pilot. Our intention is to share our conclusions on the next steps after the summer—so we are, I hope, making progress. I cannot be more specific about that progress, but we will report further on that matter after the summer.
Critical to the successful management of all offenders who have been in custody, but perhaps particularly women, is the probation service. In May, we set out plans for a new model for probation from 2021: a unified model that will see the National Probation Service take on responsibility for supervising all offenders, ending the current split in offender management. A range of private and voluntary sector organisations will be contracted to deliver interventions to support rehabilitation and source unpaid work placements. The reforms will be accompanied by measures to strengthen the probation workforce, including through better training to manage vulnerable offenders. The new model presents opportunities to improve support for women offenders in the probation system. We are considering carefully how to ensure that the supervision and interventions on offer meet the specific needs of women offenders.
For some women, it is necessary that they be detained in custody—the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made this point clearly, drawing on his own experience. Yet we are clear that the custodial environment should not continue to merit the criticisms that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, levelled at it in 2007 in her seminal report, when she said that it was,
“a system largely designed by men for men”.
To this effect, in December 2018 we published the new Women’s Policy Framework and accompanying Guidance on Working with Women in Custody and the Community.
With thanks to the aforementioned work of my noble friend Lord Farmer, we are clear too on the value of strengthening the ties individuals have with their families and friends while in custody. In January this year, we published a new family policy framework to support governors and standardise the quality of services provided across all prisons. We will be looking closely at the findings and recommendations of my noble friend Lord Farmer’s review to see how we can best give effect to them in both the short and longer term.
The matter of domestic abuse features repeatedly in this context. Let us be clear it is a very real and challenging problem. I notice that, on 16 July this year, we introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill, and we believe this is a step in the right direction. It has been, and I have no doubt will be, the subject of considerable consultation and consideration, and of further amendment. I cite that as a step in the right direction.
I will touch on one or two points that were raised by noble Lords in the debate. I note those made by my noble friend Lord Farmer and appreciate those on personal circumstances files and how they might be utilised. I can say no more at that stage, other than that I have noticed and will look at that.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, disclosed his knowledge of the background statistics and situation of women offenders, and referred to their specific needs. He also mentioned the idea of gender-specific laws. I cannot accept that as an appropriate way forward. He cited the drug-smuggling example. I note that, in such a circumstance, the law allows for the defence of duress. That fact-specific defence might well have been utilised in the circumstances to which he alluded. I will not say how far it goes but, where you have circumstances such as those he identified, there are potential remedies within the present laws without needing to develop gender-specific criminal law.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester touched on accommodation and security of accommodation on release. That is critically important. At present, the CRCs and the National Probation Service are required to facilitate access to accommodation and work with other partners to do that when offenders are released. Over and above that, I mention in passing that the Government introduced our Rough Sleeping Strategy in August last year, which again we hope will alleviate those demands.
The noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, alluded to the availability of universal credit. We are determined to ensure that access to universal credit is just as easily available to those who will potentially be released from custody as it is for others in the community. She also mentioned family contact and travel. That is an issue that we address, and we have provision to make grants to assist with travel. In the last year for which I have figures, a sum in excess of £1.2 million was provided to assist with travel to visit those in custody.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, also touched on the location of female prisons. That is an issue, given the limited number of female prisons in England and Wales; I accept that. On average, the distance a family has to travel to visit a female offender is 48 miles, but that masks the fact that, in some instances, it can be more than 100 miles, which is why we make some provision for travel grants. There are specialist units for female offenders, which are a considerable distance from their normal residence and have to be utilised—for example, mother and baby units, where places are limited. I think there are 64 throughout the female prison regime. That is a challenge, but one we step up to.
My noble friend Lady Sater, drawing on her experience as a magistrate, acknowledged that we are developing five residential pilots. I have already mentioned that. She also raised mandatory reports for female offenders. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out that the opportunity to seek reports is always available to the Bench. In many instances, particularly with regard to female offenders, who may be subject to short custodial sentences causing family disruption, it is my understanding that they are often ordered. However, I take on board my noble friend’s suggestion that there could be scope for some mandatory reporting.
I mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede—I apologise if I did not pronounce “Shulbrede” properly. With his experience as a magistrate, he pointed out that, although we had alluded to the strong case for the abolition of short sentences—albeit with exceptions—one had to bear in mind that there were often compelling reasons why short custodial sentences had to imposed. One obvious example was where an offender simply refused to obtemper the requirements of a community order and there was no option but to try to ensure that some penalty could be imposed in respect of a crime and in order to assist.
The noble Lord asked whether each of the proposed 11 probation areas would have a specialist women’s centre. I am not in a position to answer that at the present time, but I shall look at it.
The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, raised a number of points and touched on the idea of women-only judges and women lawyers for cases involving women offenders. I would respectfully take exception to that. It appears to me that our judiciary right across the board are gender-inspecific, well-trained and sensitive to the needs of the various people whom they come across, be they BAME, male or female. To suggest that one should identify a particular gender or background of judge or lawyer to deal with a case would not be appropriate.
My noble friend Lady Byford suggested that when female offenders came out of prison they had nowhere to go, but I take exception to that. If they have been in custody, they are subject to a probation order. The probation service is required to facilitate access to accommodation. That is not to say that all are found suitable accommodation, but they are not left in a situation of simply having nowhere to go.
My noble friend also asked why more women appear to be subject to short sentences than men. There are a number of reasons for this. Generally speaking, it may be because women are inclined to non-violent offences, where there are shorter sentences; it may be that they are inclined to minor but repeated offences that lead to a custodial sentence. Therefore, it is not an easy issue to dispose of.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, drew on his considerable experience in this field, going back to his inspection of Holloway prison in 1995—the site, I understand, has now been sold to Peabody for further development. He raised the question of a women’s justice board. I shall take that away for consideration.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, alluded to a particular set of cases. She spoke of the number of women recalled and the reasons for it. For the year to 30 September 2018, the only figure that I have is that the number of recalls of men and women was 6,638. Normally, there is more than one reason for recall, but the most common is a breach of conditions, in particular a failure to keep in touch with a supervising officer. I hope that goes some way to responding to the noble Baroness’s question.
My noble friend Lady Eaton raised the case of Eden House in Bristol. I have no details available to me about its sale, but I shall take steps to investigate it and will write to her and place a copy in the Library once I have an explanation.
I have already referred to some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. On licensing and licence rules, it is appropriate that even those under short sentences should be under licence because conditions are then attached. The whole point of those conditions is to assist the offender. It is therefore appropriate that they should be subject to licensing so they can be aided in efforts to rehabilitation. I see it as a positive, not a negative, in those circumstances.
The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, referred to short sentences as “pointless” and “ridiculous”, but she qualified her own comments by acknowledging the force of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. There is a very real reason why, in some circumstances, it is simply unavoidable for the court to impose a custodial sentence—even a short one—on female offenders, just as it does on male ones. The call for more women judges will, no doubt, be heard beyond these walls. However, I notice that the outgoing President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court is a Lady—albeit that her successor is a male, to try and restore some balance in these circumstances.
I am truly obliged to my noble friend Lord Farmer for his contribution to this debate and for the contribution of all noble Lords.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. It is clear that the female offenders’ estate is not the same as the male one and needs specific, bespoke attention. One benefit of a debate such as this is that it keeps this on the radar screen and makes our direction of travel a bit more hopeful than with past reviews, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. One point of my reviews of the male and female estates was that there should be implementation meetings. I have already had a meeting, in the last week, with MoJ officials about the female review. I hesitate to use the expression “keep our feet on their necks”, but we intend to keep driving forward these recommendations to change the culture. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke with great experience about reviews being done and then there is a change of Secretary of State or a change of Government and before you know where you are you are back to where you started and all the research has come to nothing.
I thank all noble Lords for their thoughtfulness, hard work and excellent contributions today. I am sure these will help the Ministers and Secretary of State to push things forward.
It just leaves me to say, since, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said, this is the last debate on the last day of term before the Recess, and since I see the Chief Whip in his place, that I also pay tribute to him and thank him for the way he has looked after newcomers such as me—I have been here for five years. His gracious and gentle initiation and encouragement throughout the years have been extremely helpful; coming into this place can be quite intimidating for people who do not know it, so I add my thanks and appreciation to those of everybody else to the Chief Whip and wish him the best in his retirement. At the same time, I take the opportunity to thank all noble Lords. They have all worked very hard this term and I hope that their holidays are fun and they can have good family time. I hope they are rehabilitative, so that when we come back we are all refreshed and energised to keep pressing on.
Motion to Adjourn
My Lords, before I put the Question, I too wish your Lordships, especially the Government Chief Whip, and all our staff a very happy Summer Recess. I take this opportunity to wish Mr Evans a very happy retirement as well.
House adjourned at 5.20 pm.