Why aren’t there enough women’s prisons?Posted: February 18, 2015
As the prison population grows, women are being pushed further into the corners of the ever-expanding system.
Last week we did a post on women in prison explaining who they are and how they got there. This week we find out where they go.
There are 124 prisons in England and Wales. Thirteen of these are women’s prisons and only two are open women’s prisons. Because there is such a small number and they are so widely spread, women are on average sent 60 miles away from their home.
Here is a map of all the women’s prisons in England & Wales.
Why are women sent so far to prison?
The rapidly increasing male prison population and the pressure to find places for them means women are displaced and suffer disproportionately.
Since Brockhill prison closed in 2011 to make room for male prisoners, there is now no women’s local prison serving the country’s second largest city, the West Midlands area and Wales, where there is no women’s prison at all.
What is the effect of being so far away from home?
Baroness Corston described the re-rolling of a woman’s prison and the resulting displacement as “calamitous”. Here’s why:
- They are further away from home.
- It disrupts participation in programmes and education.
- It makes visiting more onerous for their friends and families.
- It means longer journeys to and from courts; it dislocates staff teams.
- It risks the loss of locally run initiatives.
- It increases their risk of suicide.
Sending women to prisons so far away does not just affect the offender. Children suffer disproportionately from the distance especially when the prisoner is the primary carer.
Leaving prison when far from home
Releasing prisoners into their home areas should be a first principle of every resettlement strategy of every region.
But with only two open prisons, one in Yorkshire and one in Kent and with some regions having no women’s prison at all, it is purely an aspiration for women to be released back into their home.
The Justice Select Committee said in July 2013 that the system had been designed with “male offenders in mind” and treated women as “an afterthought”.
The Prison Reform trust argues that the answer is to impose custodial sentences on fewer women, many of whom serve only a very short time in jail.
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