New law will send women to jail needlessly, peers warn
originally by: The Independent
15th January 2012
Thousands of women will be sent to jail needlessly if new criminal justice legislation is allowed into law in its current form, a group of cross-party peers warn this weekend ahead of a vote in the House of Lords.
A new Ministry of Justice bill on sentencing must be changed radically to take account of women, they say, if the Government is to reduce the growing number of women being given custodial sentences. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing Offenders Bill (LASPO), which currently contains no reference to women offenders in the entire document, will shepherd more women into a prison system designed for men, critics claim.
More than four thousand women, or five per cent of the prison population, are currently held behind bars – a number which has increased by nearly a third in the last decade. But the Government’s ‘gender blind’ approach to offenders mean women are being sent into a justice system that is failing them, according to the group of peers, who stress that most of them should not be going to prison at all.
At least two new clauses to the bill will be tabled in the House of Lords tomorrow [Monday], aimed at improving leadership and accountability for women in the justice system. They will include a proposal to establish a Women’s Justice Commission and a plan to set up a national cross-departmental strategy on women offenders, which would produce an annual report to Parliament.
The Scottish Executive agreed to set up a Commission with a view to reduce women offenders last year, when it emerged that the female prison population north of the border had doubled in the last decade.