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Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Jail 'no solution' for female offenders
women's prison generic
The government plans to build two new women's prisons
Sending female offenders to jail does them more harm than good, a leading crime reduction charity has claimed.

Nacro is urging the government to radically re-think the way courts deal with female offenders, recommending a wider range of community punishments instead.

The vast majority of women offenders do not represent a risk to the public

Prison Reform Trust
A report by the charity also said the government should build smaller "community prisons" to replace jails such as Holloway in north London.

The number of women in jail has risen by 145% in the last eight years, yet most women are jailed for non-violent crimes and pose little risk to the public, the study said.

The report, entitled Women Behind Bars, recommended the setting-up of a network of supervision, rehabilitation and support centres to guide women serving community sentences and those released from jail.

Four out of 10 women prisoners expect to be homeless on release because their lives and relationships are so seriously damaged by the experience, said Nacro.

Rehabilitation network

The charity's chief executive Helen Edwards said: "Most women in prison receive little help and support and face an uphill struggle to find work, housing and rebuild family relationships on release.

"It is little wonder that nearly half of women released from prison commit another crime within two years.

"This is not only costly for the women concerned but for society as well."

The Prison Reform Trust published a report on women's prisons a year ago.

Its Wedderburn Committee also called for a reduction in the use of prison, but the government had yet to make a formal response to their findings, said a spokeswoman.
prison officer locking gate
Community penalties are better than a life behind bars, says Nacro
"If this government is serious in its determination to end social exclusion and to prevent offending, it must now press ahead with creating small local units for those women who do need to be in custody," said trust director Juliet Lyon.

She also advocated greater use of community penalties "for the vast majority of women offenders who do not represent a risk to the public".

The government is due to award contracts to build the new women's prisons at Peterborough and Ashford in Middlesex this July.

In February this year there were 3,440 women in prison, 145% more than in 1993.

The male prison population rose by 47% over the same period.

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