Insights Is prison the right place for female offenders?
24 September 2018

Is prison the right place for female offenders?

Changing our approach to female offenders

To reduce the number of women in prison, it’s important we understand many are victims too – the focus of Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company’s strategy writes Suki Binning their Chief Executive.

Take Sue, she turned to alcohol and drugs after recovering memories of childhood sexual abuse as well as spending years in mentally and physically abusive relationships.

Sue got into a fight with a local drug dealer when he started making threats to her son. Years earlier, she committed arson as a reaction to the sexual abuse she had suffered in an intimate relationship.

Because of this destructive pattern, Sue’s children were without their mother for almost seven years – a vicious cycle of abusive relationships, drugs, alcohol and an array of short prison sentences.

Unfortunately, the prison population is full of people like Sue. Many experience chaotic lifestyles often as a by-product of a life of abuse and trauma; almost 60% of female offenders have experienced domestic violence.

Treating trauma can reduce reoffending

With so many women committing crime in response to their trauma and abuse, locking them up isn’t the answer, either for them or society.

Short custodial sentences are ineffective at reducing reoffending - 70.7% reoffend within a year of release. They do not provide sufficient time for rehabilitative activity. Instead, they make it harder to turn away from crime, with many women losing their job, their home and seeing their family broken up.

To reduce crime and make a difference to our society, addressing the underlying causes of women’s offending through early interventions, community programmes and intensive support is critical. Criminal justice agencies and the third sector, such as women’s centres, need to work together to deliver a holistic approach to women in the community.

A trauma-informed approach

Helping women who have been abused to have the confidence to understand the causes of their offending, identify their strengths and provide a path out of criminality is especially important.

Thankfully, Sue was able to address the causes of her offending. Following counselling, she successfully completed an alcohol and drug programme. She stopped taking drugs and drinking excessively and then managed to secure a paid job.

Sending women to prison can do more harm than good and society often suffers as a result too. Most women need help to turn their lives around rather than being locked up.

*photo is a stock image posed by a model