Keeping women prisoners closer to home and giving them the skills to find employment so they turn their backs on crime for good are at the heart of significant reforms announced today by the new minister for female offenders Lord McNally.
The new model will see us provide genuine employment opportunities for lower risk offenders, with staff forging close links with local employers and providing practical training so offenders are able to join the workforce on release.
All women’s prisons will also become resettlement prisons so offenders serve their sentence as close to home as possible, allowing them to maintain crucial family relationships, especially with children.
These changes sit alongside the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms that will see every offender leaving prison given tailored support for at least 12 months, providing targeted access to programmes that help cut reoffending.
The reforms will help build on a falling female prison population, down by 10 per cent since 2010, alongside falling crime rates.
Justice Minister Lord McNally said:
“When a female offender walks out of the prison gates, I want to make sure she never returns.
“Keeping female prisoners as close as possible to their homes, and importantly their children, is vital if we are to help them break the pernicious cycle of re-offending.
“And providing at least a year of support in the community, alongside the means to find employment on release, will give them the best possible chance to live productive, law abiding lives.”
Next year we will be testing a pioneering new open unit at HMP Styal focused on helping women into jobs on release. We are also considering options for opening a commercial-run business at the prison that could provide training and employment for offenders. This follows the success of other projects, including those at HMP High Down and HMP Cardiff.
The new approach to tackling female offending is set out in a number of reports published today which recognise the needs of female offenders are different to those of males. We know many women who offend are themselves victims of domestic and sexual violence, with 53 per cent reporting childhood abuse; and many struggle with mental health issues with 49 per cent reporting to suffer from anxiety and depression.
The Government’s response to the Justice Select Committee report on Women Offenders: After the Corston Report and the NOMS Women’s Custodial Estate Review set out the challenges and how we will improve our approach.
- keeping women closer to home;
- setting up new community employment regimes aimed at getting the majority of female prisoners into work on release;
- improving prison capacity near some urban areas;
- establishing and testing an open prison unit at HMP Styal; and
- assigning responsibility for the delivery of through-the-gate support in all women’s prisons to the new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC).
We are also working with the NHS to create four new personality disorder treatment services for female offenders and will be introducing specialist services at HMP Peterborough to deal with female offenders expected to be deported.
The fall in population means we are in a position to make significant changes to the women’s estate making it a more efficient service that meets the needs of offenders.
On 4 September, we announced HMP Downview in Surrey will be changed to hold male prisoners. The re-role will be completed by Spring 2014.
The development of community employment regimes across the women’s custodial estate means there will no longer be a requirement for dedicated women’s open prisons. We will therefore look to close the two open prisons, HMP Askham Grange in Yorkshire and HMP East Sutton Park in Kent, in due course.
The Mother and Baby Unit at HMP Holloway will also be closed due to under-occupancy. Any demand will be met by the nearby modern, purpose built unit at HMP Bronzefield.
We remain committed to ensuring there are enough prison places for those female offenders sent by the courts, which is why we are refurbishing existing provision at HMP Eastwood Park and HMP Foston Hall and modifying available buildings at HMP Drake Hall.
Under the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms private and voluntary sector organisations will work together to run 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies to ensure better continuity between custody and the community.
As part of their contract, they will be required to identify and provide services tailored to the needs of female offenders, supporting them through the gate. They will only be paid in full if they are successful at cutting reoffending.