The Ministry of Justice has highlighted that the majority of female offenders commit non-violent, low-level offences. Instead of sending non-violent, low-level female offenders to prison, I firmly believe investment should instead go towards initiatives focused on rehabilitation and preventing crime and reoffending.
I believe community sentencing works far more effectively to prevent reoffending and protect communities. Indeed, in 2015, the Government published analysis of a study which concluded that there was a real difference in the reoffending rate for female offenders who received support from women’s centres. Women’s centres play a crucial role, and their work needs to be expanded.
In June 2018, the Government committed to developing residential women’s centres in at least five sites across England and Wales. Disappointingly, in February 2021, it said it has not yet identified sites for the four centres in England.
We must focus on the root causes of women’s offending and intervene early to prevent crime. As at June 2018, almost 60% of female offenders had experienced domestic abuse. Additionally, 56% of women in prison during the period 1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020 said they had experienced feeling depressed before being imprisoned, and 38% said they had experienced drug or alcohol problems.
By providing support and treatment to women who commit non-violent, low-level offences, instead of a short prison sentence, we can focus on the causes of offending, rehabilitate them, and break the cycle of reoffending. Short prison sentences are generally ineffective as there is not enough time to provide appropriate support to prevent reoffending. They also lead to broken family ties, lost jobs, and lost homes.
I believe a better way is possible. With the right policies, more women with drug or alcohol problems could get the treatment they need. More women experiencing domestic abuse could be supported. More women can be held accountable for their actions but in a way that empowers them to turn their lives around.