Yup, a woman wrote it if you look at things. Sher is also the director of the Howard League for Penal Reform so not exactly an unbiased source. I have to admit she is improving though. Compared to her 2006 article stating that all female prisons shoudl be closed and women just given community programs instead without any lock-up.http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/aug/02/closedownwomensprisons
The Howard League for Penal Reform, of which I am director, today launches a new Prison Information Bulletin (pdf) on women and girls in the penal system, calling on the government to start a programme of closures of women's prisons, and a transfer of resources to community programmes and treatment facilities that tackle women's needs and reduce re-offending.
We are not arguing that men and women should be treated differently as a matter of principle; rather, it is a pragmatic suggestion. The door is already ajar, with the Home Office at least recognising that too many of the women currently in prison should not be there. Women prisoners represent a discrete and relatively small group compared to men, and so real change can be made quickly.
Two thirds of women received into prison are on remand and most will either be found not guilty or receive a community sentence; this begs the question: why were they were sent to prison in the first place? Very few women are sentenced for serious and violent offences, out of 12,500 women sent to prison fewer than 500 were sentenced to more than four years and only 20 for life. This means that the overwhelming majority of women today should simply not be in prison.
56 women have taken their own lives in prison in the last five years and every day hundreds cut themselves or otherwise self-harm. The Howard League for Penal Reform's legal team is acting for a young girl who was held in virtual solitary confinement for weeks on end in prison and self-injured so badly she had to go to hospital for blood transfusions. We eventually forced a move to a mental hospital where she has been getting the psychiatric treatment she so badly needed and her self-harming has reduced dramatically.
Eight out of ten women in prison suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem and most are drug and/or alcohol dependent. Prisons are not the places to solve these wider social challenges.
Women prisoners suffer from the vicissitudes of penal policy. Following the public furore, male foreign national prisoners were transferred out of open prisons and women had to be moved out of closed prisons to make room for them. Hundreds of women were shunted round the country and crammed into prisons that are now struggling to cope.
The prison system is failing women and failing local communities.
We are not suggesting that all women's prisons be closed forthwith. We are asking the government to consult staff, sentencers and the public and start a planned programme of closures and at the same time a reallocation of resources into community sentences for women.
Everybody wins from this. The reoffending rate of women released from prison is far higher than for women completing community sentences, so a shift from one to the other will result in less crime. There would be fewer victims, who, in addition, can directly benefit from high quality community sentences based on restitution. The community benefits from unpaid work. The taxpayer benefits because prison is always the most expensive option. Their children benefit from not being separated from mum. And the women themselves benefit, as their often-chaotic lives are not devastated by prison.