To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to their announcement of 23 January of up to 500 new places for women in prisons, (1) what was the evidence base for this decision, (2) how much each cell will cost, (3) what is their estimate for the additional running costs for these places for each of the next 20 years, (4) what alternative uses these places will be put to in the event they are not needed, and (5) what evaluation they made regarding the effectiveness of this decision compared to investing in women's community groups designed to prevent crime.
Our prison population projections published in November 2020 show that the female prison population is projected to rise by around two-fifths by 2026 (1,300 women) with most of that rise coming in the next two years. Our projections took in to consideration the impact of the planned recruitment of a further 23,400 police officers – the impact of which cannot be ignored. Doing nothing is not an option. It is our responsibility to ensure that those women who need to be in custody are held in appropriate, decent and safe accommodation. The design of the new accommodation is being developed to be trauma-informed and gender-specific with improved outcomes for women. Our design principles include requirements around ensuring suitable visiting spaces are provided, greater in-cell communication options informed by what we have learned from the COVID pandemic, and in open designs the potential inclusion of rooms to support overnight visits for mothers and their children (currently already delivered in two prisons within the women’s estate).
We are currently unable to confirm how much each cell will cost or provide an estimate for additional running costs for the next 20 years. This is in large part as the cells will be a mixture of both open and closed places – and the inevitable variation in ancillaries costs which would need to be taken in to account.
In the event these additional cells are no longer needed, this new accommodation will enable us to close old, poorer quality capacity in parts of the women’s estate. This is also an established aim of the custodial element of our Female Offender Strategy.
We are not investing in these prison places at the expense of women's community services - this is not an 'either/or’ approach. As well as investing in prison places to meet projected demand we are investing approximately £80m in community drug treatment, £70m in accommodation services, and a further £2m to support 38 grassroots organisations doing incredible work steering women away from the criminal justice system. In addition to this, we are developing new Residential Centres for women in the community which is being initially piloted in Wales.