When Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) was launched, its proponents heralded it as a justice revolution. What has borne out instead is an initiative riddled with problems; including more women than ever before trapped in the revolving door of the prison system.
MPs debating the issue back in October 2017 noted this “perverse consequence” of TR. Since 2014, the number of women recalled to custody has increased by a staggering 68%. In the first quarter of 2015, just 15 women were recalled after serving a sentence of less than 12 months. Two years later, the figure for the same period stands at 220.
Given that women are less likely to commit serious offences, why has the number recalled to prison after release increased so dramatically. A report published by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) has identified the two discrete phases that has caused the women’s recall population to grow.
The 2014 justice reforms saw post-release supervision expanded to include anyone that had served 12 months or less in prison, with the possibility of recall if their conditions of release had been breached. Since more that 80% of convictions of women are for non-violent crimes carrying a sentence of less than 12 months, women have of course been disproportionately affected by government policy.
Napo along with other organisations voiced serious concerns about how this new supervision regime had the potential to affect low risk individuals, but warnings fell on death ears.
The PRT’s data also shows that most women are being recalled because of administrative reasons. Analysing information recorded for recall, “failure to keep in touch” was found to be the most common reason followed by “poor behaviour – non-compliance.” In fact, less than a fifth of recalls were as a result of a “further charge”.
CRCs around the country have varying rates of recalls, perhaps highlighting how different operational policies and interpretations of the Offender Rehabilitation Act (2014) can negatively impact the lives of more than 4,000 women each year. DLNR CRC has a recall rate that stands at 10% in contrast to a large CRC like Staffordshire & West Midlands which has rates close to 5%.
With just 12 prisons in England and Scotland to house the 4,000 women prisoners, reducing the number of women behind bars has to be a priority – particularly when the ripple effect of female incarceration is properly considered.
It is estimated that more than 17,000 children are separated from their mothers because of imprisonment; only 10% of those end up in the care of their fathers, meaning the others are placed into an already over-stretched and over-burdened social care system.
Six out of 10 women have no home to go to upon release, which in itself can be an obstacle to desistence. The probation inspectorate has branded Through the Gate services useless which could explain why less than 1 in 10 women are able to secure employment after serving a sentence of less than 12 months.
As numbers of women in the justice system continue to grow, but the services tailored specifically to supporting them start to diminish, questions about the MoJ’s ability to ensure women are supervised and rehabilitated will need answering. Hopefully sooner rather than later.