Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 20th March 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 20th March 2012

My Lords, may I first put on record my thanks to the Minister, my noble friend Lord McNally, for a number of changes that he introduced to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act? I will do so because it has some relevance to the amendment that we are debating, which will assist many women to break the revolving-door syndrome of reoffending. There has been a near-100 per cent increase in the women's prison population in the past 20 years. The Government will find that the single initiative on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will help reduce the women's prison population.

I am attracted to at least one element of the proposal contained in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston: namely, the importance of the Government publishing a strategy to improve the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. When we debated this in Committee, my noble friend Lord McNally said that the Government's strategy had been set out by our honourable friend Crispin Blunt in a speech on 20 January. That was a good start, and I certainly welcomed that speech.

My noble friend the Minister then set out a series of measures that the Government were taking to improve the position of women in the criminal justice system. The measures included the provision of resources for diversion schemes for mentally disordered offenders; piloting drug recovery wings in women's prisons; giving women prisoners access to the work programme on release; developing intensive alternatives to custody for women; improving access to the private rented sector for women offenders; and developing support for female offenders who have suffered domestic abuse. No one in their right mind could object to these important and welcome developments.

The occasional speech needs to be crystallised. The published strategy document would start by setting out the Government's overall objectives: for example, to reduce women's offending-here I mention the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act; to reduce the unnecessary imprisonment of women; to ensure that every probation area and youth offending team has programmes geared to the special needs of women offenders; to place mentally ill women in appropriate treatment settings; and to increase opportunities for contact between women prisoners and their children.

Since we are all interested in outcomes, the strategy document would then set out the measures that the Government are taking to achieve each objective. Annual reviews would be published, assessing progress against each objective of the strategy. This would enable all concerned with the treatment of women to see that the Government had a thought-out, comprehensive strategy to improve the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. It would also enable the Government to be held to account for progress on each objective of the strategy. Very importantly, it would enable this to be done on the basis of accurate information about the measures that the Government were taking to improve the position.

Far from making life more difficult for the Government, this would help increase appreciation for the range of excellent work that is under way to tackle the injustices suffered by women in the criminal justice system. I therefore hope that the Minister will respond positively to the amendment, and in particular that he will agree to the publication of a strategy on women's offending, followed by annual updates on the progress being made towards meeting each objective of the strategy.