More than 20 independent charitable foundations have today thrown their weight behind calls to stop jailing non-violent women.
The UK’s largest grant makers have sent an open letter to the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw urging him to carry out the recommendations of the government-commissioned Corston review on women in prison.
Figures including former web entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox, who runs the Antigone charitable foundation, and the head of the Princess Diana Memorial Fund argue there is “compelling” evidence to show jail is having a detrimental effect on vulnerable women.
The foundations have asked Straw to ring-fence sufficient money and set up an independent commission to implement the Corston reforms. The grant makers, which collectively put around £36m into the criminal justice sector in the UK every year, also offered to work with the government.
The move comes amid frustrations over the government’s slow progress on the review by Baroness Corston, which followed the deaths of six women in Styal Prison. The report, published in March last year, recommended a drastic reduction in the use of imprisonment for female offenders and the introduction of alternatives such as local supervision and support centres. Ministers accepted 40 of the 43 recommendations and in May published a national service framework for women offenders.
Teresa Elwes of the Bromley Trust, one of the foundations involved, said: “It is rare for charitable foundations to speak out together in this way but we want to encourage the government to seize the unique opportunity offered by the Corston review and bring about real root and branch reform to the justice system for women.”
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, welcomed the “unprecedented” move, adding: “Together with all the research evidence, powerful economic argument, compelling public opinion polling and cross-party support already in place, this must surely tip the balance at last for the government to implement its long-promised reforms to the justice system for women.”
The number of women in jail hit a record high of 4,505 last week.