‘Momentum on female offenders lost since Corston review’

The momentum to improve services for female offenders created by last year’s landmark Corston review has been lost, a leading campaigner has said.

Women in Prison director Suzanne Sibillin said the government was neither providing enough resources nor sufficient incentives for agencies to slash the use of custody, reshape custodial settings and improve support in the community for female offenders.

The government accepted 40 out of the 43 recommendations of Baroness Corston’s March 2007 review into vulnerable women in the criminal justice system, which was widely acclaimed by campaign groups working in the field.

Too many women in prison

Corston, who was commissioned by the Home Office to carry out the review, said too many vulnerable women were in prison, often on remand, for short-term sentences or for breach of release conditions, and their needs were not served by prisons designed for men. Among her more radical recommendations was the replacement of existing women’s prisons by small custodial centres for the relatively few violent female offenders who needed incarceration.

Last week, the Ministry of Justice published a national service framework on improving services for women offenders, which outlined how the government intended to deliver on its commitment to improve outcomes for female offenders.

However, Sibillin said: “I don’t see that this is actually going to effect any changes in the services that women are receiving.”

Plans to reduce custody

The NSF lays out how the MoJ would reduce the numbers of women entering the criminal justice system, in custody and on remand, reduce self-harm and re-offending and ensure custodial settings are appropriate to women’s needs.

It calls on National Offender Management Service (NOMS) commissioners to assess existing prison and probation services on how they meet women’s needs and change provision accordingly.

But Sibillin said that without ring-fenced funding and performance indicators, regional offender managers will not commission services specifically for women, with overcrowding in the male prisons estate taking priority.

She added: “What concerns me is that this is going to be held up as the government actually doing something yet I don’t believe this is the government actually doing anything. Unless you are mandating regional managers to change services you change nothing.”

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Special report on Corston review

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More information

Government response to the Corston report

Women in Prison

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