It is well documented that women in the criminal justice system have different and more severe needs than men. Women are in the minority in the criminal justice system, approximately 5% of the prison population and 15% of those serving a community sentence. Women are often neglected in a system designed for the majority. Over 53% of women in the criminal justice system experienced abuse as children, compared to 27% of men. Far more women than men are primary carers for children, with significant consequences for the children of those who go to prison, as well as the mothers. 49% of women in prison suffer from both anxiety and depression, as compared to 23% of men. Some are engaged in street sex work and significant numbers have chronic substance misuse problems.
The Corston Report called for a radical change in the way that women at risk of offending are treated across the whole of the criminal justice system. Corston advocated a women-centred approach through the extension of women’s community centres; reservation of custodial sentences for only the most serious and violent offenders posing a risk to the public; and geographically dispersed, small, multi-functional custodial centres for women. Since publication of the report in 2007, many of the damaging effects identified by Corston – for example, the disproportionately harmful impact of prison on women and their children and the futility of short custodial sentences – remain. However, the Ministry of Justice’s 2018 Female Offender Strategy recognises the ineffectiveness of short sentences and seeks to reduce their use. Scotland introduced a presumption against sentences of less than three months in 2011. This was extended to 12 months in 2017.
Our members provide a wide variety of gender specific services for women, including the one-stop-shop approach that delivers a woman-centred, holistic package of support in a safe and women only environment. Evidence from the Ministry of Justice datalab demonstrates that these women-centred holistic services work. Following the reunification of probation, most of the contracts to provided commissioned rehabilitative services for women were awarded to women-specific organisations.
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Advising the Ministry of Justice
Clinks represents voluntary organisations working with women in the criminal justice system. We offer intelligence to senior civil servants and successive ministers on key issues for the sector to ensure policy and decision making is informed and up-to-date.
Our representative work with the government and other stakeholders includes representation on the Ministry of Justice’s Advisory Board for Female Offenders (ABFO). The Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3), the advisory group to the Ministry of Justice includes a representative from the women’s sector. If you would like to raise an issue with either of these groups, please email ABFO rep Jess Mullen or RR3 rep LisaDando@womenscentre.org.uk