50% of female inmates should not be in prison – UK justice minister

(Reuters / Jorge Dan Lopez)
Many women in British prisons should not be incarcerated at all, according to Justice Minister Simon Hughes. He suggests the number of women imprisoned in Britain should be reduced by 50 percent.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5, Hughes said many female offenders are a “special case” because they have been victims of crimes themselves. He claims the women require different treatment from many male offenders.

The fact that many women have more care responsibilities than men should also be considered, said Hughes.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark told the BBC he recently encountered a woman in her 20s who had mental health issues, and “clearly ought to be sectioned.”

“Her problem is a health problem, not a criminality one. Prisons shouldn't have to cope with that,” he said.

England and Wales’ female prison population more than doubled between 1995 and 2010, and is currently estimated to be 3,800.

Almost 50 percent of all women offenders who are released from prison are reconvicted within 12 months, according to official figures.

Experts warn swift measures are desperately needed to address this destructive cycle of imprisonment and reoffending.

Government plans to reform the manner in which the state handles females offenders in Britain are in development. The government hopes to involve a wide spectrum of agencies in these reforms.

A pilot scheme in Greater Manchester, involving police, women’s centers, prisons and magistrates, is currently up and running.

These agencies collectively intervene when women are arrested or sentenced to propose alternatives to imprisonment. They also ensure women have adequate support when they are released from custody.

Those involved in the program say it is helping reduce reoffending rates, the BBC reports. Britain’s Justice Minister said he would like to see this model emulated in other English towns and cities.

Hughes stressed some women in Britain commit very serious crimes and deserve to be “locked up for a very long time.” But he argued a large proportion of female prisoners in the UK do not pose a danger to society.

He said he was concerned for women who are not a danger to others, but have become trapped in a criminal justice system that does nothing to help them out of it.

Hughes’ comments came as the government is expected to announce an extension of the Manchester pilot scheme to six other districts in England.