Improving outcomes for women in the criminal justice system – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Improving outcomes for women in the criminal justice system

Date Published: 28 April 2022

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The aims of the Ministry of Justice’s (the Ministry’s) 2018 Female Offender Strategy are widely supported but actual progress delivering the strategy since then has been disappointing. It is clear to us that implementing the strategy has been a relatively low priority for the Ministry and was so even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We welcome the Ministry’s renewed commitment to the strategy, but it needs to make substantial changes to its approach if it is to turn its aims into reality.

The Ministry’s strategy emphasised the importance of maintaining and expanding community services for women, to tackle the causes of offending and so reduce the need for courts and prisons. Despite this emphasis, it has spent just £9.5 million on community services for women over four years. In comparison it has committed to spending £200 million on 500 additional prison places for women. The Ministry’s recent funding settlement included £550 million over the next three years to reduce reoffending (by men and women). This money provides the Ministry with a clear opportunity to ‘spend to save’ in community services for women.

We are concerned that the Ministry did not design its female offender programme in a way which would allow it to be held to account. It has not set out how much change it is seeking to achieve or reported its progress clearly. In addition, its governance arrangements have been weak. We welcome that the Ministry is working to rectify some of these issues. However, currently it is still difficult for the Ministry to demonstrate the value of its work on female offenders as it does not yet have the data it needs and has not set out a monitoring and evaluation plan.

The successful implementation of the strategy relies on many organisations (such as the police, courts, probation, local authorities, voluntary organisations and the health service) working together to address the underlying causes of women’s offending. In a few areas, local leadership, for example from police and crime commissioners, has led to effective co-operation between organisations to provide support and oversight to help women turn their lives around. This is, however, far from universal and the Ministry is not doing nearly enough to support the adoption of good practice more generally.