Women represent less than 5% of the total prison population. They are often sentenced to custody for non-violent, low-level but persistent offences, and are more likely than men to be sentenced for short periods of time. Female offenders are often the most vulnerable in society and have varied and complex needs. Many have experienced mental health problems, substance misuse, homelessness, abuse and trauma in their lives. The Ministry of Justice recognised these challenges in its 2018 Female Offender Strategy, which set out its strategic priorities to see fewer women coming into the criminal justice system; fewer women in custody (especially on short sentences); and a greater proportion of women managed in the community successfully, with better conditions for those in custody. This Report assesses its performance to date against those priorities.
Whilst the Female Offender Strategy represented a welcome step forward in the Government’s recognition that a specific approach was needed to achieve outcomes for women in the criminal justice system, our Report raises concerns about the lack of progress the Government has made to date against the aims and objectives set out in the Strategy. For example, the MoJ now predicts an increase in the female population of more than a third over present levels in the next three years. There is anecdotal evidence that sentencer confidence in community sentences has declined. And progress has been slow on the MoJ’s commitment to develop five women’s residential centres. Our Report makes recommendations across a range of areas, which we hope will help re-energise the MoJ’s ambition for delivery of its Strategy as the criminal justice system slowly begins to recover from the pandemic.