Time to Break the Cycle of Crime for Female Welsh Prisoners

2007 Mawrth 13 5:26 PM

Commenting on today's report from Baroness Corston on Women in the Criminal Justice System, Jenny Willott, Welsh Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central, said:

"The recommendations in Baroness Corston's report would make a real difference to the welfare of Welsh female prisoners and their chances of moving away from a life of crime.

"Over the last 15 years, the number of women behind bars has nearly trebled and the everyday reality of women's prisons is shocking. Up to 80% of women prisoners have mental health problems and around half of all incidents of prisoner self-harm are in female prisons, despite women making up just 5% of the prison population.

"But for Welsh female prisons, the reality is even more difficult. Wales has no facilities for female prisoners. This means that Welsh female prisoners are currently held in England hundreds of miles away from their homes and children. In addition, over half have a child under the age of 16.

"Keeping families so far apart is very damaging for the welfare of the family and is likely to increase the chances of offending behaviour amongst the children of female prisoners, and decrease the mother's chances of successful rehabilitation.

"I have been pushing the Government to consider establishing female prison facilities in Wales closer to home, where women can get the care and support they need from their families and their communities to which they will return on release from prison. I am glad that to see Baroness Corston is today making similar recommendations and I sincerely hope that the Government takes this on board."

HM prison Service Website gives details of the state of female prison facilities in the UK (see http://www.hmprisonservice.gov.uk/adviceandsupport/prison_life/femaleprisoners/):

• The last ten years or so have seen a dramatic rise in the numbers of women in prison from an average of 1560 in 1993 to around 4248 in January 2006. An all time high of 4672 was reached in May 2004. Despite this rise in numbers, Women in prison represent a very small amount of the total prison population at about 5.6% of a total of 75,030 in England and Wales.

• Women tend to have a different type of drug use from men with higher levels of hard drug use.

• Women are normally the Primary Carers for elderly relatives and children. Around 55% of women in prison have a child under 16, 33% a child under 5 and 20% are lone parents.

• Because of the relatively small number of women's prisons, and due to their geographical location, women tend to serve their sentences further from their homes than male prisoners. This can place additional pressure on important links with family.

• Up to 80% of women in prison have diagnosable mental health problems, with 66% having symptoms of neurotic disorders (anxiety, poor sleeping). The comparable figure in the community is less than 20%.

• Up to 50% of women in prison report having experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

• The incidence of self-injury among women in prison is significantly high, given that they make up roughly 6% of the prison population. Since 2003, approximately 30% of female prisoners self-injured each year (compared to 6% of males). These prisoners make up roughly one quarter of all prisoners who self-injure and contributed approximately half of all incidents. These proportions are higher for young offenders.

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