Women in Prison

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2015 National Women's Conference
15 October 2014

At the 2009 National Women’s Conference in Southport UNISON women welcomed the Labour Government commissioned Corston Report and its recommendations in respect of women in prisons in the UK.

In particular conference welcomed the proposal for small, multifunctional non-custodial centres, which the report recommended be widely dispersed across the country.

Conference is disappointed therefore that the current coalition government has failed to implement many of the recommendations of the Corston report. Conference is also concerned that under this ConDem administration a significant proportion of women convicted of non-violent crimes and who pose no risk to society are still being incarcerated.

According to Psychologist Stephanie Covington women in custody are five times more likely to have a mental health problem compared with women in the general population, and almost eight in 10 exhibit some level of psychological disturbance on admission. One in three have suffered sexual abuse, and more than one in two have suffered domestic violence; half have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. “And going into prison retraumatises them – so basically, we are amplifying or compounding their problems,” she says.

Statistics on the Women in Prison campaign group’s website reveal that that for 85% of mothers in prison, prison was the first time they had been separated from their children for any significant length of period, and that imprisoning mothers for non-violent offences has a damaging impact on children and carries a cost to the state of more than £17 million over a ten year period.

Conference reiterates its belief that for all these reasons and more, prison is a cruel and unjust punishment for the vast majority of women affected by the criminal justice system, and that imprisonment should be used only in cases where women pose a threat to public safety: the majority of women should be dealt with in the community, in programmes specifically designed to meet their needs.

Conference therefore calls on the National Women’s Committee to:

1)Liaise with the NEC and other appropriate UNISON bodies to urge the Government to fulfil the recommendations of the Corston Report.

2) Consider inviting a speaker from Women in Prison to address the 2016 National Women’s Conference.

3) Work with Women in Prison to raise awareness of the need for more community focused, non-custodial sentences for women affected by the criminal justice system.