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It’s about time the Corston review was revisited.
Baroness Corston was commissioned in 2006 by the then Home Office Minister Patricia Scotland, to examine the issue of vulnerable women within the criminal justice system (Ministry of Justice, 2007 p. 2). This was not the first time that the Government had sought to assess the specific needs of women.
In 2004, the ‘Women’s Offending Reduction programme’ was launched; this project was for three years to deal with women’s offending rates and to help reduce the number of women in prison. Also in 2005 the ‘Together Women Programme’ of many diverse agencies came together to look into the various needs of women offenders. This was launched with a government funding of £9.15 million (Government Equalities Office, 2008 p.44).
The Corston Review was conducted as a result of 6 deaths of women prisoners in HMP Styal between August 2002 and August 2003. The classification for all these deaths was self-inflicted. The cause of death for 4 prisoners was hanging and for the remaining 2 was overdose. The youngest was Sarah Campbell aged 18 who had drug problems and overdosed on prescription tablets the day after she had been sentenced and returned to HMP Styal.
These deaths highlighted the problem of vulnerable women with a history of mental health problems, drug misuse or violent and sexual abuse within the criminal justice system and the risk of self-harm. In the case of Sarah Campbell, the coroner at the inquest Nicholas Rheinberg issued recommendations to ensure that similar situations would not occur again. This included a review of the use of segregation units within prisons and training in suicide and self-harm should be available to all prison staff.
According to INQUEST, a non-governmental organisation in England and Wales working directly with the families of those who die in custody, in 2003 there were 14 self-inflicting deaths of women in prison and 13 in 2004. This showed that the system in some way had failed these offenders (INQUEST, 2005)
Deaths of Women in HMP Styal August 2002-August 2003
|Name||Classification||Establishment||Ethnicity||Age||Status||Cause||Date of Death|
|Julie Walsh||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||39||Convicted||Overdose||12/08/2003|
|Hayley Williams||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||41||Convicted||Hanging||04/06/2003
|Jolene Willis||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||25||Convicted||Hanging||20/04/03|
|Sarah Campbell||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||18||Convicted||Overdose||18/01/03|
|Anna Baker||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK black||29||Remanded||Hanging||26/11/2002|
|Nissa Smith||Self-inflicted||HMP Styal||UK white||20||Remanded||Hanging||10/08/2002|
Source: INQUEST Casework and Monitoring
The report was welcomed by Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust who saw it as a blueprint for reform and stated “The Corston Review gives government the chance at long last to join up its social policy with its criminal justice policy” (Prison Reform Trust, 2007).
Baroness Corston examined each stage of the criminal justice system from arrest to sentencing to resettlement in order to ‘address the multiple and complex needs of women’ over a time scale of 9 months. The subsequent report was published on 13th March 2007 (Ministry of Justice, 2007 p.4).
The recommendations were divided into 5 areas, Governance, Sentencing, Community provision, Prison and Health which the Government pledged its commitment.
Fast forward now to what has arisen since the May 2010 election. A commitment was made in March 2012 to set out strategic priorities for women in the penal system but as of January 2013 no such document had materialised. In written evidence to the Justice Select Committee in September 2012 the Ministry of Justice pledged this document would be published in the New Year.
In September’s government reshuffle Helen Grant MP was appointed Minister with particular responsibility for women in the justice system. This was short lived after yet another reshuffle in the summer of 2013.
In January 2013 Chris Grayling, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice said in a written Ministerial statement:
“I am conscious that women offenders have particular needs and that the custodial female estate should be organised as effectively as possible to meet gender specific requirements whilst also delivering best value for the public. I have therefore asked officials to undertake a review of custodial arrangements for women. I expect this review to be completed by the summer.”
An All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on women in the penal system was set up in July 2009 with Baroness Corston as the chair and with administrative support from the Howard League for Penal Reform. Its purpose was to publicise issues around women in the penal system and push for implementation of the Corston Reforms. In March this year there was a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System entitled “Community interventions for women: lessons from the frontline” (All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, 2013).
Let’s go to the present day what do we know about the Government’s attitude to women prisoners, what has Chris Grayling got lined up for them?
It has been announced that Mother and baby units are to close. Separation of infants from their mothers is cruel and is likely to cause bonding problems later. When you have a baby why should a man in Whitehall insist that your baby is taken from you just because you are in prison? I’m sure there are plenty of other ideas we could give Mr Grayling on how to save money!
I recommend you read Frances Crook’s blog; its enlightening nothing seems to be as it first appears.
…“Holloway prison’s mother and baby unit is to close. This means that London women prisoners or those from the South East who have babies will be faced with a choice: go hundreds of miles to Cheshire or the Welsh borders to a mother and baby unit, or, separate from your baby so that you can stay in a London prison so you can be near your other children. Askham Grange was the only open prison that had a mother and baby unit and that is to close down. With the closure of two mother and baby units there are now only five units.” (Frances Crook, 2013)
A child should not have to pay for a woman’s crime; a woman should pay for her crime! Moreover, if you speak to people like Frances Crook, the woman should never have been put in prison in the first place, especially if she is a teenage mother.
But let’s not forget “Gender appears to be the single most crucial variable associated with criminality. Put more bluntly, most crime is committed by men; relatively little crime is committed by women” (Heidensohn, 1987 in Carlen and Worrell, 2004 p. 119).
All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (2013) ‘Community interventions for women: lessons from the frontline’, Minutes of committee meeting 6 March 2013, All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, Committee Room 4, House of Lords.
Carlen, P. and Worrall, A. (2004) Analysing Women’s Imprisonment. Cullompton, Willan Publishing.
Frances Crook (2013) Don’t be fooled by the government’s deceit over women’s prisons, Frances Crook’s blog, 1 November. Available at: <http://www.howardleague.org/francescrookblog/> [accessed 3 November 2013]
Great Britain. Government Equalities Office (2008) Women’s Changing Lives Priorities for the Ministers for Women One Year On Progress Report. London, The Stationery Office [Online]. Available at <http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm74/7455/7455.pdf> [accessed 10 November 2009].
Great Britain. Ministry of Justice (2007) The Government’s Response to the Report by Baroness Corston of a Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System. London, The Stationery Office [Online]. Available at <http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm72/7261/7261.pdf> [accessed 10 November].
INQUEST (2005) Verdict in Sarah Campbell inquest – 18-year-old woman who died in HMP Styal. [Online] at <http://inquest.gn.apc.org/pdf/2005/Sarah%20Campbell%20Inquest%20verdict%202005.pdf> [accessed 11November 2009].
Prison Reform Trust (2007) Women’s Imprisonment: Corston review provides blueprint for reform. [Online] at <http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/subscription.asp?id=866> [accessed 9 November 2009].