According to the Prisoner’s Reform Trust, the female prison population in England and Wales more than doubled between 1995 and 2010, from 1,979 to 4,267. More recently the numbers have declined by 10% – from 4,279 women in April 2012 to 3,841 in April 2015. Across the UK, more than 13,500 women are imprisoned each year, while the Howard League for Penal Reform estimated that 17,000 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment.

In response to tackling the issues faced by female offenders, the Government has recently reinforced the importance of the Advisory Board on Female Offenders, which was established to deliver the Government’s Strategic Objectives for Female Offenders in 2013. In addition, the closure of Holloway Prison over the summer suggested that the Government was aware of the importance of rehabilitation of female offenders and the necessity of providing a suitable environment. This move was generally welcomed, although the Prisoner Governors Association raised concerns over capacity for women prisoners. 

Given that women constitute a small minority in the criminal justice system, are often primary carers of children and principally commit non-violent offences (theft was the main indictable offence in 2013), most of the solutions to women’s offending come in providing treatment for addictions and mental health problems, protection from domestic violence and coercive relationships, secure housing, debt management, education, skills development and employment. Community sentences enable women to take control of their lives, care for their children and address the causes of their offending.

Following the closure of Holloway Prison in July, this timely symposium offers local authorities, criminal justice and legal practitioners, police and probation services, and welfare services the opportunity to examine the main challenges and 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 to prevent offending and increase successful rehabilitation.

For more information, please visit the website of the event.

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