It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Ryan, and I thank my hon. Friend Kate Green for securing this important debate on the first anniversary of the Government’s female offender strategy. She and other members of the all-party group for women in the penal system do excellent work in this field. They are tireless campaigners for a better, fairer, justice system, and I pay tribute to them.
I suspect that my neighbour, Philip Davies, will disagree with a lot of my speech, but as Joanna Cherry pointed out, numerous reports and studies recognise that female offenders face several additional complex challenges that are separate to those faced by men and that act as drivers of offending and reoffending. Those drivers are key to understanding how we can deliver a criminal justice system that is fair and just and that acts in the best interests of society.
As Members have said, both today and in the past, a woman in prison is more likely to have experienced domestic abuse or to be homeless before entering custody and after leaving. She is more likely to suffer from substance misuse and to experience mental health issues. She is also more likely to have committed a non-violent offence—most probably an offence due to poverty, where meeting a need rather than material gain was the objective—and to be serving a short sentence. The vast majority of those women are not dangerous. They are deeply troubled, and it is clear that, for many, prison is not the best place to address their needs and challenges or the drivers of offending. That is particularly clear considering the high level of reoffending by women released from prison compared with those serving sentences in the community.