New report from HM Inspectorate of Probation calls for renewed action to support women in the criminal justice system.

Almost two decades on from the Corston Report, which called for a radical change to the way we treat women in the criminal justice system, HM Inspectorate of Probation has published a criminal justice joint inspection with HM Inspectorate of Prisons: ‘The quality of work undertaken with women’.

The Corston Report (2007 (PDF, 16 kB)) showed a woman-centred approach was needed, which recognised and responded to the range of complex needs that drive women’s offending. However, this new joint inspection shows, that disappointingly, there is still more to be done to support women on probation and pre-release, and makes a set of recommendations that, if followed, should make a material difference to the quality of services provided for women.

Chief Inspector of Probation, Martin Jones, said: 17 years on from the Corston report, which criticised the treatment of women in the CJS, our joint inspection with HMI Prisons has found that progress has been far too slow. Too often, services for women fall far short of the gender-informed approaches that were envisioned, meaning safe spaces where women can be offered support and rehabilitation are not available to those who need them.”

The inspection found that, in prisons, there were too many barriers to good resettlement support, the provision of services was disjointed and too complicated, and support to address practical needs, such as access to bank accounts or national insurance numbers has deteriorated rather than improved.

In particular, suitable accommodation was often not found until very close to women’s release dates, creating uncertainty and preventing other necessary services, such as mental health treatment or medication, from being arranged reliably. There are also not enough staff in prison teams, leading to delays in addressing women’s needs, and reducing the chance of any meaningful support being provided during their sentence.

Inspectors also found little evidence that progress is being made in addressing the reasons why women offend and, while evidence-based interventions designed to address women’s needs are available, few women are given the opportunity to benefit from them.

The report shows some strong examples of best practice – offering hope that positive changes can be made when the Probation Service works closely with local authorities and partners to develop a whole-system approach – however unfortunately, these are rare, and the quality of supervision and support varies significantly across England and Wales.

Mr Jones added: Prisons and probation service regions need to be held to account to ensure they are delivering services that meet women’s needs. Our report calls for renewed action on the ground to help meet the needs of vulnerable women who will often have experienced trauma and abuse that may underpin their offending.”


Notes to editor:

Headline findings from this inspection. Of the cases we inspected, we found:

  • 47 per cent of assessments provided a gender-informed picture of the risks and needs of the woman.
  • 37 per cent of planning sufficiently addressed the risks and needs of the woman.
  • 42 per cent of sentence delivery was gender-informed and effectively supported the needs of women and addressed their offending behaviour.
  • 42 per cent of reviewing practices demonstrated a gender-informed approach to considering the needs of the woman and addressed their offending behaviour.

14 recommendations were made in the report, including:

An Effective Practice Guide, based on the report has been produced.

  • This guide highlights where we have seen our standards delivered well for women being managed by the Probation Service.
  • It is designed to help commissioners and providers improve their work with women being released from custodial sentences or serving community sentences.
  • Effective Practice Guide: Working with Women is available here.

Fieldwork included

HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth justice and probation services across England and Wales.

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