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Criminal Justice

Ditching plans to build 500 women’s prison places is welcome  news for women in contact with the CJS

As a member of the Corston Independent Funders Coalition (CIFC) and a long-time advocate of progressive criminal justice policies for women, Barrow Cadbury Trust welcomes the announcement that the Government has paused its plans, announced by the Ministry of Justice in January 2021, to build 500 women’s prison places.  

Those 500 new prison places in existing prisons were estimated to cost £150 million – pulling funding away from badly needed and proven community approaches.  These cuts appear to be driven by the Government pulling in its belt rather than acknowledging what campaigners have long argued – that community-based interventions have better outcomes for women and their families.   

In Feb 2023 Barrow Cadbury Trust asked Doctor Kate Paradine to comment on the Female Offender Strategy Delivery Plan.  She expressed disappointment that it had taken 5 years to put together a delivery plan for the 2018 Government Strategy on Women’s Offending, despite prompts in January 2022 from a National Audit Office report criticising “disappointing” progress in implementing the strategy, and in April 2022 a Public Accounts Committee report calling for the Ministry of Justice to get a grip on delivery with a clear plan, funding and measures of progress. 

Despite so many setbacks and delays there is still collective energy and commitment from campaigners to push for implementation of the MoJ’s Female Offender Strategy.  In line with Baroness Corston’s vision set out in the Corston Report from 2007, the CIFC seeks to enable systemic change in how women experience the justice system supporting women-centred, holistic, and trauma-responsive approaches to divert them away from crime. Chloe Geoghegan, Chair of CIFC said:  

“The recent announcement that plans to build 500 new women’s prison places have been paused is much welcomed. The new prison places always flew in the face of the Government’s own Female Offender Strategy, which sought to reduce the number of women in contact with the justice system and increase the number of women managed in the community. 

If the Government is serious about its commitments, the £150 million earmarked for these prison places urgently needs to be reallocated to community services engaged in prevention, early intervention, and rehabilitation work with women. Central to these objectives are  continued, increased, and long-term commitments to funding women’s centres, a vital lifeline for women facing multiple disadvantages. 

The women who access these centres have experienced extreme trauma, deprivation, and social exclusion and are all too often, unjustly, swept into the revolving door of criminalisation as a result. With this £150 million, the Government has a unique opportunity to secure the long-term sustainability of services that interrupt cycles of harm and crime and, in doing so, could leave a legacy of helping to transform the lives and futures of thousands of women and their families.” 

The announcement gave no indication that the money earmarked would be spent on women in the community and we fear that, if not clawed back, it will be used to expand the male prison estate.  But the Trust working with CIFC will keep up the pressure to ensure the needs of women in contact with the criminal justice system do not continue to take a back seat in spending and policy priorities. 

Laurie Hunte, Criminal Justice Programme Manager