PRT and Women in Prison: Slow progress on female offenders

Campaigners have criticised the government for being slow to improve services for female offenders since the landmark Corston review.

Ministers accepted 40 of 43 recommendations in Baroness Corston’s Home Office-commissioned review, which in March 2007 found criminal justice agencies failed to consider the needs of women and their families and too many vulnerable women were jailed.

Last week, the Ministry of Justice published a national service framework on improving services for female offenders, outlining how it would reduce the number of women prosecuted, sentenced to custody or on remand and ensure custodial settings suited women’s needs.

But the heads of the Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison said progress had been inadequate and the NSF had no mechanisms to deliver change.

PRT director Juliet Lyon, who served on Corston’s reference group, said the NSF set out no timeframe for delivery, had no resources attached to it and contained no mandatory requirements for services.

She said: “Without these this could disappear into being the lowest of low profiles.”

Lyon cited Corston’s recommendation that the government immediately set up a cross-departmental commission to direct the commissioning of services for female offenders to ensure their needs are met.

The government accepted this “in principle”, promising to create a cross-departmental criminal justice women’s unit in the MoJ.

Lyon said: “We don’t have a commissioning body of sufficient authority, independence and budget to take this forward.”

Women in Prison director Suzanne Sibillin said without ring-fenced funding and performance indicators, regional commissioners would not fund services specifically for women, as they make up just 6% of the prison population. She added: “The momentum has been lost since Corston.”

Sibillin said Women in Prison was planning to launch a campaign on the issue in October.

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