Page last updated at 06:17 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 07:17 UK

Female inmates 'need innovation'

Handcuffs

The question of how best to deal with female prisoners in Northern Ireland is being discussed by criminal justice experts in a four-day conference.

It is part of an ongoing government study of ways to reduce offending and come up with alternatives to custody.

Security Minister Paul Goggins said he would encourage delegates to find "imaginative and innovative" solutions to the complex issues being faced.

Female inmates are currently housed at Hydebank Wood young offenders' centre.

Mr Goggins said he was "very conscious of the particular vulnerabilities of women offenders".

Among the issues to be discussed are mental health, alcohol and substance misuse, access to accommodation, child care, education and employment, he said.

The minister singled out the findings of a Home Office survey of female prisoners in England and Wales, carried out last year by Labour peer Baroness Corston.

This report suggested women's prisons should be shut down and replaced with small secure units.

It also recommended a significant cut in the overall number of women who are sent to jail, with greater use of community punishments instead.

Speaking ahead of the conference, Mr Goggins said lessons could be learned from Baroness Corston's survey.


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