Across the UK, more than 13,500 women are imprisoned each year. Yet women remain a minority group within the criminal justice system and require a gender-specific approach from Government.
Many women who offend are themselves victims of domestic and sexual violence, with 53 per cent reporting childhood abuse. They are also nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression as men in prison (65% versus 37%), and more than three times as likely as women in the general population (19%).
Moreover, two thirds of women sent to prison are parents, and it is estimated that over 17,000 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment every year, making them more likely to experience homelessness, disruption to family and home lives, problems at school and local authority care.
However, most women in prison serve short sentences for non-violent offences and pose little risk to public safety. There is growing awareness that imprisonment is frequently an ineffective response for female offenders, encouraging a shift towards more community based solutions – including services provided at women’s centres – which are often cheaper, more effective at reducing reoffending rates, and less damaging for children and families than custodial sentences.
In 2013 the Government set out its Strategic Objectives for Female Offenders to ensure that there are robust and effective sentencing options in the community to address the specific needs of female offenders; that the women’s custodial estate is tailored to their needs, and that the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms support better life management to reduce women’s reoffending. The Government then reinforced it’s commitment to further improving outcomes for female offenders and reduce the number of women in custody in its response to the Justice Select Committee's report, Women offenders: follow-up(March 2015).
While there is evidence that the approach to women’s corrections in the UK has improved since the publication of The Corston Report in March 2007, there is still a long to go to ensure that the needs female offenders are adequately addressed both within prison and the community.
With a new Government now in place, this special symposium provides an invaluable opportunity for local authorities, criminal justice and legal practitioners, police and probation services, and welfare services to review and evaluate past reforms and explore how future policy in tackling female reoffending can be shaped. The symposium will also allow delegates to discuss the needs of women and girls in the penal system, address the underlying issues including neglect, abuse, mental health issues and poverty, and assess the importance of gender-specific services in every community to prevent offending.
- Evaluate the progress made in delivering the Government’s strategic objectives and consider future priorities for implementing a gender-responsive strategy for female offenders
- Assess what more needs to be done to improve outcomes for female offenders and their families both within prison and community settings
- Examine the use of community-based alternatives to custody for women and their effect on rehabilitation and reoffending rates
- Explore how to enhance community provision for female offenders and implement effective local interventions and rehabilitation programmes
- Discuss the future of local partnership working and share best practice on supporting female offenders in the local community
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