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Corston Report - More Needs to be Done

The Justice Select Committee has released a report Women offenders: after the Corston report looking at the progress made since the 2006 report by Baroness Corston which looked at what could be done to avoid women with particular vulnerabilities ending up in prison.

The Corston Report made 43 recommendations including improved governance and cross-departmental working on women offenders; the reservation of custodial sentences for the most serious and violent offenders; improvements to prison conditions and a reduction of strip-searching in women’s prisons; the use of community sentences as the norm; and the development of a network of one-stop-shop community provision for women at risk of offending.

Upon publishing the latest report, Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have clearly been designed with male offenders in mind. This is unfortunately symptomatic of an approach within the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service that tends to deal with women offenders as an afterthought."

The Committee raises concerns that efforts to implement Baroness Corston’s recommendations have stalled and the Government is failing to deliver the joined-up approach needed to support women at risk and help women offenders lead a law-abiding life. It further states that the Government’s strategic priorities for women offenders lack substance and must take a broader approach to supporting women at risk of reoffending and addressing the inter-generational nature of crime.

The Committee welcomes the Government's extension of through the gate statutory support to prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months, likely to benefit many women offenders. However, the report cautions that potential providers of rehabilitative services need to recognise that levels of risk posed by women may not reflect the level of support they require. 

Although progress has been made in the overall treatment of—and provision for—women offenders since the Corston recommendations, a number of concerns remain:
  • The women’s prison population has not fallen sufficiently fast
  • Over half of women offenders continue to receive ineffective short-custodial sentences
  • Mental health and substance misuse treatment which could reduce use of custody remains unavailable to Courts in sufficient volume

Maintaining a network of women’s centres and using residential alternatives to custody are likely to be more effective and cheaper in the long run that short custodial sentences. The Committee argues that more emphasis must be be placed on ensuring courts are provided with robust alternatives to custody specifically appropriate to women.

Click here to read the full report.

17 July 2013

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