The Corston Independent Funders Coalition (CIFC) welcomes the publication today of the MoJ’s strategy for female offenders. CIFC is a collaboration of grant-making trusts and foundations brought together to press for the full implementation of Baroness Corston’s recommendations in her 2007 report on women in the criminal justice system. Baroness Corston found that too many women are imprisoned, often for short periods and the majority for non-violent crimes. In the strategy the Secretary of State has expressed his desire to see “fewer women in prison for short sentences” and that the “way forward is through shifting our focus from custody to community”.
The Coalition welcomes the strategy which commits the MoJ to developing residential women’s centres providing holistic services to address the issues linked to their offending such as domestic abuse, substance use, mental health issues and housing. The Secretary of State says “there is a higher prevalence of need amongst female offenders, such as mental health problems, and self-harm. Many experience chaotic lifestyles which are often the product of a life of abuse and trauma; almost 60% of female offenders have experienced domestic abuse”.
The Female Offenders Strategy reinforces Baroness Corston’s recommendations. Women and girls are too often given short, ineffectual, custodial sentences and face lower thresholds of custody when sentenced thanmen. The Coalition is encouraged that:
- the strategy recognises the particular vulnerabilities experienced by Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women in the criminal justice system and identifies the need to understand and address these issues.
- The strategy recognises the beneficial impact of diversion from the CJS for vulnerable women and girls
However, the Coalition is concerned that only limited funding is available for the delivery of the strategy. We are disappointed that the opportunity was missed to channel resources into services for female offenders with the sale of the Holloway Prison site. CIFC recommends that the next spending review should be used by the MoJ as an opportunity to secure the urgently needed resources to deliver the strategy in full.
Finally, the Coalition welcomes recognition from the MoJ of the additional value independent trusts and foundations bring to the critical work of women’s centres – work that is critical to the delivery of this strategy. The Coalition looks forward to the opportunity to discuss how we can continue our involvement by developing new approaches with the goal of facilitating transformative change for the most vulnerable women and girls.
The government should use the opportunity presented by the launch of the strategy to consult with women and girls who have been affected by the Criminal Justice System on the implementation of the strategy. The cross-government Ministerial group on Reducing Re-Offending will provide a forum for this work to be monitored, but it is essential that the MoJ can measure success by demonstrating the numbers diverted, increase in investment, and increased use of community orders and outcomes.