11/03/2004

Scheme launched to reduce population of women in custody

A three-year government programme has been unveiled today which has been designed to tackle women's offending and reduce the number of women in prison.

The Women's Offending Reduction Programme will co-ordinate work across departments and agencies to ensure that policies, services, and other interventions respond more appropriately to the particular needs and characteristics of women offenders and address the wide range of factors which can affect why women offend.

The need for the programme was underlined by Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System (2003), published today by the Home Office. The statistics show that while women account for only a small proportion of the prison population, the numbers were increasing.

Women prisoners make up just over 6% of the prison population. In 2002 there were, on average, 4,299 women in prison. However, the annual average population of women in custody has risen by 173% since 1992, compared to a 50% increase for men, according to Home Office statistics released today. And 55% of women in prison have at least one child under 16. Eight thousand children a year have their living arrangements disrupted by their mother going into prison.

The majority of women in prison are serving sentences of less than 12 months, more than half have at least one child under 16, and women prisoners are more likely than men to have mental health and/or drug problems.

Prisons Minister Paul Goggins said: "While women make up only a small proportion of offenders, the figures we are publishing today highlight the need for a distinct and co-ordinated approach to tackling women's offending. The issues involved are complex and can include mental health problems, substance misuse, housing and childcare issues, histories of abuse, poverty, education, training and employment.

"The Women's Offending Reduction Programme has been developed to deliver a cross-government response, drawing together strands of work and best practice from across departments, the public and voluntary sectors."

(gmcg)

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