#Human Rights
Rt Hon. Ken Clarke, Justice Secretary
United Kingdom

Jonathan Aitken (ex-Cabinet Minister, Ex-MP, Ex-Prisoner) chaired an event this week in London, hosted by the Women’s Resource Centre and Garden Court Chambers that featured short contributions from the principal speakers including Imran Khan, Mark Johnson and Eoin McLennan Murray. This opened up to a Question and Answer session from the audience, featuring questions sent in from women serving prison sentences.

At the end of the evening a motion was put to vote by a show of hands.

“We ask the Government to give higher priority to and address the specific resettlement, rehabilitation and re-offending issues which women face within the Criminal Justice System.”

This motion was passed unanimously and we now call upon the Justice Secretary to act upon this motion as a matter of urgency and whilst the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) is being debated in Parliament.

On December 20 2011, this Bill is back before the House of Lords for Report Stage. Baroness Gould of Potternewton and other cross party peers will propose an amendment to LASPO asking for the establishment of a time limited Women's Justice Commission. The purpose of this is to produce a literature review of evidenced best practice in services for women and build a gender framed perspective from which to address female reoffending and commission services within the prison estate and in the community forthwith.

We, the undersigned, call on Ken Clarke, Justice Secretary to address the gender based issues of females re offending as a matter of urgency, in the passage of Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill 2011 including:

To address the mental health needs of female defendants, for diversion into community based services to deal with lifelong trauma, discrimination and victimisation. 67% of women in prison have at least one identifiable mental disorder. Diversion was promised as a joint initiative with the Department of Health in April 2011, not enough has been done to effect change or policy.

To provide safe bail accommodation.
Over half of women entering custody each year do so on remand. These women spend an average of four to six weeks in prison and nearly 60% do not go on to receive a custodial sentence. We call on the Justice Secretary to deliver funding , the need for which has been identified by the Women’s Justice Task Force and the Magistrates’ Association, to provide alternatives to remand for Magistrates when considering defendants’ Bail Applications.

To put an end to disproportionately punitive sentencing for female defendants.
In the last decade the women’s prison population has gone up by 33%. In 1995 the mid-year female prison population was 1,979. In 2000 it stood at 3,355 and in 2007 it was 4,283. Today it is 4,800. Most women serve very short sentences. In 2009 61% were sentenced to custody for six months or less. 27% of women in prison had no previous convictions – more than double the figure for men

To stop punishing children of low level female offenders. 66% of women prisoners are mothers, and each year it is estimated that more than 17,700 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment. 37% of women lose all their possessions and their homes whilst they are in prison, they are more likely to be locked up for low level, non violent crimes than men. Prison should be the last resort.

To consider the economic impact of incarcerating women.
The cost of keeping a woman in custody is in excess of £56 000 per year. The average cost of a community sentence is £750 - £1000. Community Sentences have consistently delivered better outcomes in reducing reoffending in women. The long term cost to society of a woman with a one year prison sentence is over £10 million over ten years.

To stop putting women in prison for breach and adding punitive fines and sentences in the case of breach. For breach of a rehabilitation order they can currently be fined a maximum £1,000. Clause 56 of the LASPO increases the maximum fine to £2,500.

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The Reform how Women are treated in the Criminal Justice System petition to Rt Hon. Ken Clarke, Justice Secretary was written by Farah Damji and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition.