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The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill-will this lead to less women going to prison?

18 Dec 2023 - 16:47 by josephine.mcmeeking

By Anna Tate 

The current Conservative Government has introduced changes to current sentencing guidelines as part of the new Criminal Justice Bill 2023. The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was introduced to parliament in November 2023 and states that there is a presumption that sentences of less 12 months, received for low level offence would be suspended for some offenders meaning that those convicted would serve all of their sentences within the community. Whilst the majority of the bill is overwhelmingly punitive and makes the point of being tougher on crime, there is also the acknowledgement that many people in the criminal justice are victims and are trapped in a cycle of offending behaviour. Women offenders are statistically proven to receive shorter custodial sentences as the majority of women convicted commit lower level nonviolent offences. National government data from 2021 demonstrate that theft and fraud were the offences committed by the majority of female offenders, with TV license evasion being the top offence. When women with children are sent to prison, this can have a devastating impact on the family. The children can often be separated and lose any sense of stability, which can significantly affect their mental health, their school outcomes and chances of employment and increase the chances of developing alcohol or drug addiction or end up in prison themselves. Whilst more community sentences for women offenders are generally welcomed, there is major concern from prison campaigners and women’s charities that the bill is not transparent enough on how it will implement these changes. The lack of consultation with the VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) groups and organisation is alarming as this was an opportunity to use relevant evidence to inform decision-making that directly impact women involved in the criminal justice system.

Evidence shows that community sentences are better at reducing re-offending rates, have less impact on mental health of the offenders and their families. This also means employment can be retained and housing arrangements can stay in place. The national Charity, Women in Prison, state that community sentences allow those convicted to understand the causes of why they committed offences and help to address these to stop the cycle of offending. Women prisoners have often been victims of serious offences themselves, with over half of female prisoners reporting having suffered domestic violence in their life and 53% reported physical, emotional or sexual abuse as a child (Prison Reform Trust, 2023).The new sentencing Bill is a direct response to a need to ease prison overcrowding, which often leads to violence and ill health of our prisoner population. Our prisons are currently at maximum capacity, and as re-offending rates are at an all-time high.  Prisons do clearly not seem to be deterrent. If we want less crime, we must adopt a different approach and start addressing the root causes of crime. This can only be achieved when we listen to those who support people with lived experience of the criminal justice system to identify what are realistic solutions that make a difference.

Clicks are hosting a quarterly Women’s Network forum, which is an opportunity meet and share information with those working in organisations, which support women involved in the criminal justice system. The next meeting is on Tuesday 19th December 10-11am. For more information follow this link: https://www.clinks.org/event/556

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