Campaigners are calling for a cut in ‘destructive’ short-term custodial sentences for Gypsy, Roma, and Irish Traveller women to tackle a massive over-representation in prisons. The report by the Traveller Movement reveals GRT women are overrepresented comprising 6% of the prison population but only 0.1% of the general population.
That overrepresentation is far higher in some prisons and so approximately one in 10 women at Foston Hall, Bronzefield (both 9%) and Peterborough (10%) self-identified as ‘Gypsy/Irish Traveller’ as part of HM Prison inspectorate surveys. The data does not include Roma women who are not included in ethnic monitoring.
According to the Traveller Movement report: ‘GRT women are impacted by the destructive pattern of reoffending that short-term sentences create, and the experience of short-term sentences are disruptive, traumatising and have poor outcomes for these women.’ Despite being over-policed, the report states that GRT women’s ‘distinct needs’ are ‘poorly understood and overlooked’.
As an alternative to short term-custodial sentences, the group is calling for community programs run by Women’s centres together with the prison service to ‘become the norm not the exception’ and be better funded.
According to a 2019/2020 survey by the prison inspectorate, more than six out of 10 travellers (62%) reported feeling unsafe compared to less than half of non-travellers (47%). A Traveller Movement report from 2016 showed that more than nine out of 10 GRT people surveyed had experienced discrimination due to their ethnicity (91%) and in 2019 an inquiry by the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee found that ‘successive governments had comprehensively failed’ the community.
The group point out that Traveller women face significant challenges in finding housing and describes the failure of ‘local authorities to provide Traveller specific accommodation’. A domestic abuse worker described how Irish Traveller women have been ‘stuck in cycles of reoffending due to being released into precarious housing’.
Issues of self-harm and suicide have been flagged as an issue disproportionately impacting Traveller people in prisons. Traveller women are five times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. The report calls for greater sensitivity in differentiating between the ethnic groups and for example Roma people are not included in current prison data on Gypsy/Irish Travellers. ‘Roma’ will be introduced to the Census in 2021 but ‘more work needs to be done to ensure meaningful participation’.