What’s the Issue?
Women represent around 5% of the overall UK prison population numbering just below 4000 and with around 9000 a year receiving custodial sentences. 80% of these women are serving a prison sentence for a non-violent crime and over half have sentences of six months or less. Crimes are primarily theft and handling of stolen goods. Around 19% of women in prison are estimated to have one or more dependent children.
26% of women had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody with a high level of psychosis. 46% reported attempting suicide at some point in their lives (6% in general population). Women account for 28% of self-harm incidents despite being 5% of total population.
Around one third of women lose their homes and often their possessions while in prison.
Children: Over 17,000 children were separated from their mothers by imprisonment in 2010. The average distance between mothers and children is 60 miles so visiting mothers is difficult and costly. Parental imprisonment approximately trebles the risk for antisocial or delinquent behaviour by their children.
The Costs: There is more prolific offending in the north-east than other areas of the UK. A year in prison costs around £43,000. A community order costs around £2800 a year or £1360 per woman. The estimated cost of their children’s later mental health problems and offending is around £17million over a decade.
NCRN Management Group member, Jenny Firth-Cozens felt this was an issue that needed to be talked about in the North East. She organised a conference on 15th February 2017 to bring people together from various strands of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) to discuss the issues involved;
- To explore what the situation is for women in the CJS, and for their children;
- To recognize the areas where we could do better;
- To begin to agree what is needed to address these areas.
The day was attended by over 30 people. Representatives of the police (including the Durham Police & Crime Commissioner), the judiciary, lawyers, academics, politicians, CPS, prisons, social services, probation and others all came to share their views.