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Both government and third sector organisations have argued that women’s needs in the criminal justice system (CJS) are often complex and distinct from those of men. This briefing summarises Baroness Corston’s 2007 report, which argued that the underlying reasons for men and women to offend differed, as did their responses to interventions and rehabilitation. Baroness Corston argued for a radically different approach. Several of the report’s recommendations were implemented. These included the introduction of community women’s centres and an end to routine strip searches. Additionally, recognition was given in government policy of the need to take a woman-centred approach when with dealing with female offenders. However, the House of Commons Justice Committee has expressed concerns about the impact of several separate reforms made to the CJS including:

  • The size of the female prison population and in particular the number of “ineffective short custodial sentences” given to women.
  • The increase in the rate of women being recalled to prison under the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014.
  • The impact of reforms introduced under the Coalition Government’s rehabilitation transformation strategy on the funding of women’s centres and their ability to provide community support.

This briefing provides an overview of these three issues.

In 2018, the current Conservative Government published a female offender strategy. The strategy aims to “break the cycle” of reoffending by addressing the vulnerability of female offenders and by providing tailored support. The Government made commitments to:

  • Reduce the number of women entering the system by intervening earlier with support in the community.
  • Reduce the number of women serving short custodial sentences.
  • Improve the conditions for women in custody, including improving and maintaining family ties and providing better community rehabilitation support.

The Government commissioned Lord Farmer to follow up his report of 2017 into the importance of family ties in improving outcomes for offenders. He was asked to undertake a further review focused on the needs of female offenders. Lord Farmer found that “healthy, supportive” relationships were “utterly indispensable” for every woman in the CJS.

The final section in this briefing summarises the strategy. It looks at progress made by the Government to implement its commitments and the findings of Lord Farmer’s review.


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