Plans for new community prisons for women shelved

  • Video report by ITV News political correspondent Libby Wiener

Plans for five new community prisons for women have been shelved.

The Government's strategy for dealing with female offenders was published on Wednesday, having been re-written reportedly due to budget constraints.

Justice Secretary David Gauke pledged instead to set up at least five residential centres for women in a pilot scheme - for low level offenders.

The move is part of plans to try to reduce the number of female offenders serving short jail terms.

In the residential centres the women are not locked up, and are given access to training and therapy.

Becky O'Neill, who spent time in a remand prison as well as in a community centre, says the centres have been a big help in addressing underlying issues that may have contributed to her offending.

"You feel safe enough to do therapy...that will help you work through all the things that you need to work," she said, adding she now has qualifications she never thought she would get.

Becky O'Neill thinks the centres can help address underlying issues offenders are dealing with Credit: ITV News

"Using the amount of time that you have, keeping busy, is a massive thing.

"I don't think being sat in a prison cell on lock down for 23 hours a day helps you in any way deal with anything that you need to," she added.

A resident takes part in a metalwork lesson Credit: ITV News

In the foreword to the strategy, Gauke said: "There is persuasive evidence that short custodial sentences are less effective in reducing re-offending than community orders. Short sentences generate churn which is a major driver of instability in our prisons and they do not provide sufficient time for rehabilitative activity.

"The impact on women, many of whom are sentenced for non-violent, low-level but persistent offences, often for short periods of time, is particularly significant. The prevalence of anxiety and self-harm incidents is greater than for male prisoners.

Justice Secretary David Gauke Credit: ITV News

"As more female offenders are primary carers than their male counterparts, these sentences lead to a disproportionate impact on children and families and a failure to halt the intergenerational cycle of offending."

It is estimated that female offenders cost £1.7 billion in 2015/16, of which around £1 billion were incurred by the police.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, welcomed the strategy, saying it "recognises that many women are victims of more serious crimes than those they are accused of, and contains many positive promises of change".

He added though that it "has not provided the resource to deliver that change, and no timetable to drive it."