WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
May 21 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Pause announced in plans to build more prison spaces for women

Pause announced in plans to build more prison spaces for women

HMP/YOI Portland. Pic: Andrew Aitchison

The prison watchdog has told MPs they are putting plans on hold to build more prison spaces for women. This decision is reportedly due to ‘fiscal challenges’ arising from ‘high levels of inflation,’ which means taking the ‘responsible approach’ to pausing plans to build whilst considering the impact of these pressures.

The plans had sought to increase prison space by developing Gender-Specific and Trauma-Informed (GSTI) prison accommodation for women.

In the letter, the HM Prison and Probation Service assures of a continued commitment to rolling out the GSTI programme. It details progress made so far in securing planning approval for three of the five planned sites, and expresses hope this will stand them in ‘good stead’ to recommence the building of such accommodation in future.

In discussing the decision, the letter also references the wider goal in the Female Offender Strategy and Delivery Plan to make use of ‘robust community sentences’ as an alternative to custody and to ensure that less women are sent to prison to serve short sentences of 12-months or less.

Campaigners who have long called for the government to rethink its approach to the imprisonment of female offenders may hope this signals a positive change in approach towards dealing with women’s offending.

However, in responding to the announcement, commentator Rob Allen suggests this ‘looks like a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason,’ pointing to the letter’s commitment to ‘exploring solutions’ that will ‘deliver better outcomes for the taxpayer.’

This latest announcement comes in the context of several recent controversies surrounding the imprisonment of women and girls. In October last year, the Justice Gap reported on research from the Prison Reform Trust, which showed that over half the women who were given custodial sentences in 2022 were given ‘pointless short sentences’ of less than six months.

Concern was also raised in November of last year that there had been a ‘stark increase’ in self-harm among young female prisoners as revealed by research from the Agenda Alliance and the Alliance for Youth Justice.

More recently, the Justice Gap reported the findings of an inspection into HMYOI Wetherby, which found  not only high levels of self-harm amongst the female prison population, but also detailed an incident where a female prisoner had been forcibly strip-searched by male officers.