MPs have called on the government to ‘finally put the money where its mouth is’ after revealing that it had spent just £9.5m on community services for women over the last four years despite promising £200m to provide 500 new prison places for women. The Public Accounts Committee said that it was ‘clear to us’ that implementing the female offender strategy has been ‘a relatively low priority’ for the Ministry of Justice. The MoJ published its strategy in 2018 after years of concern about the experience of women in the criminal justice system, as set out in the 2007 Corston Report, and committed to cut the number of women in prison and increase support in the community. However the Public Accounts Committee reports the strategy was not designed in a way ‘which would allow [the MoJ] to be held to account’.
The MPs argue that the MoJ’s recent funding settlement specifically included £550m over the next three years to reduce reoffending by men and women which provided ‘a clear opportunity’ to ‘spend to save’ by investing in community services for women.
‘Once again we see a situation where government is unwilling or unable to prioritise the investment needed to reduce the ruinous financial, social and human costs of our creaking criminal justice system,’ commented Dame Meg Hillier MP, PAC’s chair. ’Imprisoning a vulnerable woman who perhaps has children – who may then also fall between the cracks – is the very picture of the cost-shunting that became the hallmark of our criminal justice system long before the massive new challenges of the pandemic. The result of this gap between rhetoric and reality is an unacceptable human and economic toll. Government must finally put the money where its mouth is on criminal offending and ‘spend to save’ for the benefit to all society, families and individuals.’
Dr Kate Paradine, chief executive of the campaign group Women in Prison, welcomed ‘another vital report’ showing the Government was ‘failing to be transparent, accountable and uphold its promises’. ‘Its own strategy commits to reducing the number of women in custody as it acknowledges that most women in prison should not be there,’ Dr Paradine said. ‘More money for more prison places won’t stop women being swept up into crime. What will is investing in local services.’
Paradine called on ministers to ‘immediately stop its plans to build 500 prison places and fund community organisations such as Women’s Centres that tackle the root causes of crime including domestic abuse, mental ill health and poverty’.