Women’s prisons should be scrapped and replaced with small local units, a government-commissioned report recommended today.
Baroness Jean Corston called for “radical change” in the treatment of women offenders and those at risk of offending.
Her report described the high levels of abuse, self-harm, mental illness and addiction suffered by women in the criminal justice system and said these issues must be addressed.
As women are a minority in the criminal justice system their needs are “invariably overlooked”, the Labour peer claimed.
She urged the government to implement its stated policy that prison was not the right place for women offenders who posed no risk to the public.
Corston called for the setting up of a cross-departmental ministerial group for female offenders and those at risk of offending, and a new commission to champion women and set service specifications for this group.
The report urged far greater use of community sentences and an extension of the work done by women’s community centres with vulnerable women.
Other recommendations included an end to routine strip-searching in women’s prisons and improved sanitation.
The report highlighted the importance of the new duty on public bodies to promote gender equality, in transforming services for women. This comes into force on 6 April.
The review was commissioned by the Home Office after six deaths at Styal prison in Cheshire between 2002 and 2003.
Criminal justice minister Baroness Scotland today promised that Corston’s recommendations will be “carefully explored”. The government “will develop a detailed response and set out an agreed way forward,” she said.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, welcomed the report.
She said: “The Corston review gives government the chance at long last to join up its social policy with its criminal justice policy.
Most women in prison have committed petty offences. Very many have been victims of serious crime and sustained abuse. A new commission for women, with a sensible blueprint for reform across government departments, will largely do away with big prisons that operate as social dustbins for vulnerable women and introduce instead a network of small units and effective local services coupled with proper supervision and support.
Many women who offend will have their first real opportunity to beat drugs, drink, mental illness and crime and to take responsibility for their lives, and those of their children, and most will take it.”
Women in prison: special report