The use of new community orders and suspended sentences has failed to reduce the number of women being sent to prison, according to a Centre for Crime and Justice Studies report.
The report from the London-based body also criticised the use of the orders and related treatment-based programmes as ineffective.
The orders were created by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to simplify community sentences and came into operation three years ago. Both the community order and suspended sentence can impose one or more of 12 requirements, such as supervision, unpaid work or treatment for an addictive condition. Latest figures show that 16,641 women started a community order in 2006.
However, despite the large number of women in the criminal justice system suffering from mental ill-health it was found that less than 1% of the requirements imposed by the orders were for mental health treatment.
Deputy director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Enver Solomon said that community sentences were vital in reducing prison overcrowding. He added: “Our research has found that these sentences are currently not being used as effectively as they could be for women with multiple needs who enter the criminal justice system.”