CJA Chief Officers - Women's Penal Policy

Women offenders: ‘From where I stand…’

This blog is part of a series considering developments two years on from the publication of the report by the Commission on Women Offenders. Justina Murray, Chief Officer of South West Community Justice Authority, and Tom Jackson, Chief Officer of Glasgow Community Justice Authority, offer their perspective:

Can it be two years since we all crowded into the Collins Suite at the University of Strathclyde to hear Dame Elish Angiolini and colleagues launch their report into women offenders?

As Community Justice Authorities (CJAs) we played an active role, through formal submissions and involvement in focus groups to ‘sense check’ proposals. Of the 37 recommendations, most reflected our own views (community justice re-design aside – that’s for another day) – we believe that women in the justice system have complex needs and are often also victims of crime and coercion; that more holistic and consistent support is needed; and that a Whole Systems Approach is required.

There is scope for cautious optimism when we reflect on the past two years. The prison population has fallen for men and women in Scotland, with the number of women in custody falling at a far faster rate (comparing 28 March 2012 and 5 March 2014, the female prison population fell by 14.1% compared to a reduction for males of 6.4%). We now have the Shine women’s mentoring service running across Scotland, delivering high quality, person-centred support, ending the postcode lottery of through care for women leaving prison or at risk of reoffending (www.shinementoring.org). We have Women’s Justice Centres opening or expanding, alongside other new preventative approaches supported through initial Scottish Government investment. HMPYOI Cornton Vale has been refurbished and plans are underway for a ground-breaking new women’s prison, HMP Inverclyde.

CJAs have been actively involved in supporting (sometimes living and breathing) all of these developments, and we warmly welcome new investment and opportunities for joint working, and the political priority now attached to women in the justice system.

But... over 400 women remained in custody on any day in March this year. Very few of them would need to be in prison for public protection. Women continue to spiral through the justice system too fast, too often, and in too big a number. We worry about the short-term nature of funding for some new initiatives and the fact that planning for women within the prison estate is designed for growth, not a fall in numbers.

We need to ask, was the Commission ambitious enough? Have recommendations been watered down when faced with the tricky business of implementation?

Two years on, does the justice system feel any different for women still trapped within? Are we any better at getting women out and keeping them out of the system? Are we seeing Christie’s ‘decisive shift to prevention’ or is too much money still tangled in ‘failure demand’? Are we now seeing ‘the woman’ not ‘the offender’? Two years on, we are heading in the right direction, but that step-change we need still feels just beyond our reach.

http://www.swscja.org.uk/ and http://www.glasgowcja.org.uk/

Thinking about women's penal policy

Thinking about women's penal policy

Thinking about women's penal policy

Thinking about women's penal policy








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