European & International News

Women in prison

(Brussels 25 April 2013) Reviewing the treatment of women prisoners in the UK.

Some quick facts

  • 5% of prisoners in the UK are women
  • 1 out of 5 self-harming prisoners in the UK is a woman
  • 50% of women in prison report having experienced violence at home (compared with 25% of men)
  • 33% of women in prison have suffered sexual abuse (compared with 10% of men)
  • 40% of young women in prison are mothers

imagegalleryhandlerFive years after the the Corston report on women’s treatment in the criminal justice system in the UK and two years after the Bangkok Rules which set standards for the treatment of female prisoners, the time has come to evaluate the efforts done by national governments to fulfill the commitments made and to change women’s imprisonment and custody living conditions. Women in Prison, UK-based organization aiming at reducing the number of women in prison and preventing the damage done to women by imprisonment, has recently published a report on “The State of the Estate” which provides accessible data on all 15 women’s prison in the UK and is intended to serve as a useful tool for researchers, policy makers and criminal justice practitioners alike.

In 2010, United Nations approved a set of rules named the “Bangkok Rules”, setting human rights standards required when dealing with female offenders and constitute an addition to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR) and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures. Two years ago, UK ministers signed a document binding the UK’s authorities to comply with rules concerning the basic issues such as personal hygiene, health care services and the contact with the outside world - including contact with children. According to the “Bangkok Rules”, specific measures should be taken in order to provide adequate mental health care services with regards to preventative health care services in terms of suicide and self-harm prevention.

Despite the binding commitment, "There are still too many women unnecessarily imprisoned, too many women hurting themselves in prison and too many women re-offending on release" says Rachel Halford, director of the campaign group Women in Prison. The majority of self-harm cases among female prisoners results from inadequate mental health care. Human rights of children affected by their mothers’ imprisonment seem also to be ignored by the officials. "The government is committed to addressing women’s offending and providing services for their specific needs, making sure they are rehabilitated whether they serve sentences in prison or the community” stated Helen Grant, UK minister of Justice. We are looking forward the publication of a government review of women’s prisons that will be completed by the summer.

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