Approximately 15% of people arrested by police are women with many of them being drawn into the criminal justice system unnecessarily, according to a cross-party group of MPs and peers who this week launched an inquiry into what can be done to reduce the arrest rates of women.
The inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system (APPG) will look into how women can be better served by services such as women’s centres, before arrest. The APPG aims to encourage and enable police forces to prevent this by focusing on more community based and holistic solutions, with prison being reserved for the most violent and serious of offenders.
Victoria Prentis MP, co-chair of the APPG, said: ‘Our inquiry will investigate how women with complex needs can be diverted to other services, such as women’s centres, which we know are effective, instead of being dragged further into the criminal justice system.’
Previously, a 10-month investigation by the APPG into the sentencing of women found that many women were being imprisoned unnecessarily, despite better options being available to the court. The evidence showed that prison often made matters worse for them. This new inquiry follows on from that investigation.
The APPG is also working to push for full implementation of the recommendations outlined in the Corston Report. Recommendations from this report included opening multi-functional and geographically dispersed custodial centres; reducing the number of strip-searches in women’s prisons to an absolute minimum; improving hygiene conditions; and making sure the probable impact on children is considered before sending mothers or primary carers to prison. The report called for community solutions for non-violent women offenders to be the norm.
The Howard League for Penal Reform is providing administrative support to the APPG during this inquiry. Alongside the inquiry, the Howard League is also conducting a three-year programme to reduce the arrests of women by promoting good practice by the police and other relevant agencies.