Double punishment – September 2013
A recent inspection report on HMP Bronzefield has highlighted the challenges that women’s prisons face managing women who are considered high risk. The report was largely. However, what hit the headlines was the length of time a woman had been in segregation because the prison found it difficult to manage her on a wing and the problems that restricted status (category A) women are experiencing.
A recent inspection report on HMP Bronzefield has highlighted the challenges that women’s prisons face managing women who are considered high risk. The report was largely positive and said the prison had been doing a lot of good work. However, what hit the headlines was the length of time a woman had been in segregation (over five years) because the prison found it difficult to manage her on a wing and the problems that restricted status (category A) women are experiencing.
Many of the women who are currently in prison could be more effectively supported in the community, without being a significant risk to the public. Of course, there are some women that do need to be held in prison. The figures from Oasys reports show that around 3.5% of women in prison are considered high risk or very high risk to other people. This is around 130 women and even within this category, many of these women are likely to be lower risk than men with an equivalent categorisation.
The options are limited – or sometimes even nonexistent for women who have committed serious crimes and are serving indeterminate sentences. We know that opportunities for sentence progression for lifers and IPPs can be inadequate in male prisons – unfortunately in women’s prisons they are even worse. There are around 130 women serving an IPP sentence and around 260 lifers. These women are spread over 13 prisons. Although most women’s prisons take lifers and IPPs, they do not always have the right interventions for individual women and they can often only take women at certain stages in the sentence. All of this, alongside considerations about being close to home makes it incredibly difficult for women to make progress. The relatively small numbers of women in this situation also makes it hard for the prison service to plan, resource and deliver offending behaviour work. Many of these women would benefit from targeted one to one work but this is more expensive. We also hear anecdotally that prisons have no specific resources to enable women on indefinite sentence to progress.
NOMS is carrying out a review of the women’s estate at the moment. We hope that the review will look at realistically assessing women’s security level. We are concerned that at the moment, women end up fitting into already established systems. The policy says that all prisoners should be held in the lowest possible security category. However, if spaces in prisons are not organised to make this possible, it will not always happen.
With just two open prisons, one of which has dorms, women are not always motivated to move where they will be further from home. Some women choose not to move to an open prison because this would increase their distance from home. Some may not feel comfortable living in a dorm – particularly older women or women who have been in prison for a long time.
We are very concerned that certain groups of women are doubly disadvantaged because of the lack of resources for their sentence planning work. We hope that the review of the women’s estate will result in changes that will support women more and enable sentence progression. We expect to hear more about the review in autumn.
from insidetime issue September 2013