09:29, June 27 59 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-27 09:29:09
UK plan for female prisoners 'underfunded by £15m'

The government’s advisers on dealing with female offenders have written a joint letter to the justice secretary branding a new strategy for women in prison a missed opportunity that is underfunded by at least £15m.

The Ministry of Justice revealed on Wednesday it had scrapped plans to build five new community prisons for women as part of the strategy, which would also include a trial of “residential women’s centres” in a bid to reduce the number of women in custody.

The department said it would invest £5m over two years in community provision for women as part of the plan, including an initial £3.5m grant to be put to tender.

But members of the advisory board on female offenders, set up by the government to advise on community sentences for women, women’s prisons and probation, have said that at least £20m is required for community provision in a letter to David Gauke, the justice secretary.

And they question why an estimated £50m earmarked for the new community prisons has not been reinvested in the strategy.

The letter reads: “While we welcome the general direction of the strategy and its emphasis on community support, we are concerned that without adequate investment it represents a missed opportunity.”

It adds the funding allocated is “simply not sufficient to achieve its ambitions”.

The members estimate the MoJ has handed £50m back to the Treasury by scrapping the five community prisons and adds “failure to reinvest any of that money in this strategy is hard to comprehend and has grave consequences for its implementation and for the women it is designed to support”.

Members who have signed off the letter include Katharine Sacks-Jones, director of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, Anne Fox, chief executive of prisons charity Clinks, Lord Bradley, a Labour peer who wrote a landmark report on treatment of mentally ill offenders and Lady Edwina Grosvenor, a prison reform campaigner.

As of 15 June, the women’s prison population was 3,867, accounting for 4.7% of the prison population. Female prisoners are more than twice as likely as male prisoners to report needing help for mental health problems. The reoffending rate for women released from a custodial sentence of fewer than 12 months in April-June 2016 was 71%.

On Tuesday, Rory Stewart, the minister for prisons, told MPs it was time to stop hoping the prison population would fall, adding that he would plead with the Treasury in next year’s spending review for more money to build and sustain prisons in England and Wales.

Stewart told the committee that a publicly funded prison in Wellingborough and a privately financed jail at Glen Parva in Leicestershire were to go ahead, with work starting in Wellingborough at the end of the year. The two prisons together will provide 4,000 places and should be part of a programme of six new prisons designed to provide space for a further 10,000 people.

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