Deputies concerned about the number of women arrested

MPs criticized the government’s lack of progress in reducing the number of women in prisons, amid fears that could increase by more than a third over the next three years.

The Commons Justice Committee said there had yet been “significant” changes in addressing issues of keeping women behind bars and that not enough money had been invested to bring about improvements.

Earlier, the government had promised to reduce the number of women in custody.

In a report published on Tuesday, the committee said: “The 2018 Strategy for Women Offenders represented a welcome step in the government’s recognition that a specific approach was needed to achieve results for women.

Woman with handcuffs on her wrists

Previously, the government committed to reducing the number of women in custody (Alamy/PA)

“We are, however, concerned about the lack of progress that the Government has made towards the goals and objectives set out in the strategy and note that the women offenders program does not have the necessary investment to make the objectives of the strategy achievable.

“One of the strategic goals of the strategy is to see fewer women in custody. While there has been a decline since February 2017 from 3,958 to 3,219 in July 2022, this has largely been a result of decreased crime and reduced court activity during the pandemic.

“Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) itself now forecasts an increase in the female population by more than a third from current levels over the next three years.”

The findings also raised concerns that the “rate of violent incidents across female property has increased during the pandemic”.

Prison officer Colin Roberston locks a separation cell in the Dumyat Wing during a visit to HMP&YOI Cornton Vale in Stirling

Ministry of Justice predicts increase in female prison population by more than a third in the next three years (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The lawmakers added: “While we recognize that the pandemic may have contributed to the increase, the MoJ and Her Majesty’s Prisons and Parole Service (HMPPS) must define the work being done to address the level of aggression across the country. female property and to prevent it from growing any further”.

The committee found that there had been slow progress in creating a pilot of five residential centers for women. While the first center was announced in Swansea, the committee asked the MoJ to provide a timeline for when the next four will be developed.

The report also called for more clarity on how the 500 new female prison slots will be used.

Committee Chair Sir Bob Neill said: “It is welcome that the government has understood that there are specific challenges around sending women to prison that need to be addressed, but it is disappointing that there are still no significant tangible changes.

General view of HMP Downview, a closed category women's prison located on the outskirts of Banstead in Surrey

General view of HMP Downview, a closed category women’s prison located on the outskirts of Banstead in Surrey (Beverley Rouse/PA)

“The 2018 Women Offenders Strategy marked an important step in recognizing the needs of women in the criminal justice system, but more needs to be done to understand whether it is targeting the right areas and having a significant impact.

“Women entering the prison system often have challenging needs and must be supported from the day they arrive to the day they leave and beyond.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Custody is used as a last resort for women, and since we launched our Female Delinquency Strategy in 2018, the number of people entering prison has dropped by almost a third.

“The new prisons we are building, along with our broader reforms, will improve access to education, healthcare and work so that female offenders can change their lives.”

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