Short term prison sentences for women don’t work

The Government’s analysis shows that they lead to higher rates of reoffending than community sentences. The President of the Prison Governors Association has described them as “pointless”. They need to end for both men and women.

But we also need to recognise that prison is especially damaging for women.

Most women in prison are vulnerable people. The majority experienced abuse as a child, and many are survivors of domestic abuse as adults.

Self-harm rates in women’s prisons are almost five times the rate in men’s prisons and rising

Self-harm rates in women’s prisons are almost five times the rate in men’s prisons and rising. Eight women died in prison last year; five of them by suicide.

We need reform to prevent more of these tragedies.

Not only that, but two-thirds of women in prison are mothers of dependent children. More often than not their children are moved out of their home when their mother goes to prison. That’s a huge disruption to their wellbeing.

The current system is punishing children for their parents’ crimes and putting even more pressure on our public services. The best interests of children need to be taken into account when making decisions about whether to send their mothers to prison.

Having a parent in prison is a traumatic experience. It can have serious effects throughout a child’s life. They’re more at risk of physical and mental health problems, from liver disease to depression and alcoholism. Their performance at school will suffer and they’re more likely to be involved in violence.

There’s precedent for saying we should do something about it. Baroness Corston’s review for the Labour government in 2007 recommended that “custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public”. She also called for women’s prisons to be replaced with smaller, multifunctional community centres.

The Government accepted the suggestions in principle, then did nothing about it.

Then, in 2018, the Conservatives published a “Female Offenders Strategy.” It committed them, too, to sending less women to prison for short sentences. There’s a cross-party consensus for this – so I’m taking action.

We’re liberals, which means we believe in rehabilitation first

My Sentencing (Women) Bill would ensure women are only sent to prison when they’ve committed serious crimes or are a danger to the public. If not, we’ll impose tough community sentences instead. The priority of our legal system should be to prevent reoffending – and this will help these women turn their lives around.

Nobody benefits from locking women up in prison when it isn’t absolutely necessary. We’re liberals, which means we believe in rehabilitation first. Here’s hoping other parties get behind us and help us make a justice system that works for women.