A new report has criticised the prison system for the way it deals with female prisoners, calling for the need for radical reforms. The report, published by the charity Inquest, examines the circumstances surrounding the deaths of women in prison and highlights how many underlying problems remain, despite being highlighted some six years ago in the Corston Review, the scathing report on the treatment of vulnerable women in custody by Baroness Corston.

Deaths of women in prison throw the issues faced by women in the criminal justice system into sharp relief.  Being the most extreme outcome of a system that has failed them in every way there have been 100 deaths of women in prison since 2002.

The report suggests that women’s prisons in the UK are ‘unable’ to meet women’s needs and that this disadvantaged, ‘invisible’ section of women in society is consistently overlooked by the government. According to www.womeninprison.org.uk , half of women prisoners have dependent children; a quarter of all women prisoners have been in care; half have suffered domestic violence; their mental and physical health is poor and 60% are drug or alcohol dependent. Often, deaths of females in custody are due to neglect, suicide and self-harm. This most certainly raises serious questions about the appropriateness of the prison setting as a place for rehabilitation.

Inquest’s research identifies the inappropriate use of imprisonment as a punishment as one prevailing factor. Other areas of criticism include the inability of the prison system to meet women’s complex needs, along with poor medical care and limited access to therapeutic services in prison, leaving women feeling isolated and alone within the prison system.

The report also suggests concerns that the recession in the UK is impacting disproportionately on women and raises concerns that as further cuts are made to crucial front line social and welfare services, more women will be criminalised because of poverty and social inequality. It is worrying that the limited positive changes that have occurred regarding the care of disadvantaged women in the community, such as the setting up of diversion schemes and funding for women’s centres, are now under threat because of a lack of sustainable funding.

The sad fact remains this is not new knowledge. Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST commented on the report: “A body of evidence already exists that shows that prison is an ineffective, expensive and inhumane response to women’s offending. It harms vulnerable women and does not address the underlying causes of their re-offending.  This government’s policies in prison, probation and legal aid cuts will we fear lead to more women being imprisoned in institutions ill-equipped and ill-resourced to deal with their complex needs, increasing the risk of deaths and self injury’.

Here at Farleys we have a team of inquest solicitors and represent many families whose loved ones have sadly died whilst in the custody of the state.  For more information about obtaining legal representation at an inquest, please don’t hesitate to contact us.