Female Prisoners

Women and Equality – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 22nd February 2007.

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Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North 10:30 am, 22nd February 2007

What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues in the Home Office on reducing the number of women in prison.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Women and Equality)

I will be speaking to Baroness Scotland next week to discuss women offenders and the female prison population.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that she is aware that there is no women's prison in Wales, and that women offenders are placed outside Wales, with terrible consequences for them and their families, and especially their children. Would she support the development in south Wales of a centre like the Asha centre or the 218 programme, which address the punishment of women offenders for the crimes that they committed, but which also consider the factors related to women's offending, including domestic abuse, mental illness and drug and alcohol misuse?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Women and Equality)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Women tend to be imprisoned further from home than men because there are fewer women's prisons, and maintenance of important family links is therefore much more difficult. As she will be aware, Baroness Scotland announced in March last year that Baroness Corston had agreed to undertake a review of women in the criminal justice system with particular vulnerabilities. We are looking forward to the production of that report in the near future, when there will be an opportunity to address the issues that my hon. Friend raises, and many others.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

Given that 70 per cent. of women in prison suffer from two or more mental disorders, and 37 per cent. of them attempted suicide before going to prison, will the Minister consider introducing a system of court diversion, whereby women are assessed for mental health treatment before they are sent to prison, and not afterwards, as exposure to the prison environment is likely to make their condition much worse?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Women and Equality)

The hon. Lady again raises an important issue. We know that 55 per cent. of all self-harm incidents in prison are committed by women, even though they comprise only about 6 per cent. of the total prison population, and the fact that there are underlying mental health issues for many women in prison is enormously important. As I said, the review that Baroness Corston has undertaken has looked into a range of issues, and I look forward to having more detailed discussions on the subject when we have the findings of that review.