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Transforming Lives – Reducing women’s imprisonment

Soroptimists highlight lack of community provision for women in trouble in a report to be presented to Justice Minister the Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP.

Too many women in the UK are still being sent to prison instead of receiving community sanctions and targeted support to address the causes of their offending, says a leading women¹s voluntary organisation.
The women¹s prison population doubled between 1995 and 2010. Most women in prison serve short prison sentences for non-violent offences and many have themselves been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. In 2011 the Soroptimist International UK Programme Action Committee resolved to work with the Prison Reform Trust to reduce women¹s imprisonment.
Soroptimists in the North West of England found the following provision available for women:
  • The Women¹s Intervention to Support Empowerment and Rehabilitation (WISER) is delivered by probation staff in conjunction with local women¹s centres and is available for women across Cheshire & Greater Manchester;
  • Women¹s Community Matters, a newly established women¹s centre in Barrow in Furness;
  • The AVERT pilot, a diversion scheme part-funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner and working in conjunction with Lancashire Women¹s Centres;
  • Lancashire Police¹s women-specific conditional cautions in Blackburn, delivered in partnership with a local women¹s centre
The report¹s key findings include a need for sustained political leadership, the importance of stable funding for women¹s community services, the scope for more effective information sharing, and the opportunity to share learning about ³what works² across the UK. 
Recommendations in the Report included improved training, protocols and guidance for those working in the criminal justice agencies to ensure appropriate responses to women offenders, greater regard to the needs of children, piloting of problem-solving courts for women, the production of directories of local women’s services for use by probation and court services, and a roll-out of co-ordinated local multi-agency interventions.

Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Very few women in prison have committed serious or violent crimes. Without any risk to the public, the women¹s prison population could be reduced by at least half. Through concerted action and sustained leadership, the number of young people aged under 18 entering prison has successfully reduced by 60% in the last few years. This detailed report by the Soroptimists provides the information and inspiration needed to reform women¹s justice across the UK.”
(Work done in 2014 and continuing across regions.)