Farah Damji is an ex offender who started Kazuri Properties in 2010, after her own experiences post prison. Former It Girl and high profile journalist, she now campaigns for equality and women’s rights. Here she takes a critical look at the MoJ’s reforms for women offenders published on 25 October 2013.
The Justice Committee and Corston
Earlier this year the Justice Committee reported on the state of the female prison estate , five years after the Corston Report. In a scathing report it states :
“ We urge NOMS to consider gender as a matter of course, rather than seeking to reduce any detrimental impact on women of their general approach after the event. The most striking incidence of this is the likely impact of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms which have clearly been designed with male offenders in mind.”
The first recommendation of the Corston Report was that “[e]very agency within the criminal justice system must prioritise and accelerate preparations to implement the gender equality duty and radically transform the way they deliver services for women
Over 110 pages of recycled rhetoric, but no implementation strategy and no clear leadership.
Every women’s prison will now become a resettlement prison, but no description is given as to how this will happen.
The only two women’s open prisons are to be re-roled , with mention of HMP Styal becoming a resettlement “hub”.
Full responsibility is put on the new untested Community Rehabilitation Companies to ensure smooth transition and re-entry.
The reality is there is a surplus of space in the female estate so rather than take this opportunity to incentivise the market to come up with innovative alternative to custody models, they will pass the risk and the responsibility for rehabilitation to outsourced providers.
Only the usual suspect prime providers have the financial resilience for contracts up to £15m in value. The promise that small VSOs will play a part in TR is a sop. “Capacity building” by paying 3SC, ACEVO and others vast amounts for upscaling , spin outs and social enterprise is pointless. The only way this will happen is by becoming part of a supply chain. No bank or social investor will underwrite the risk for a new CRC or a spinout.
The stock take admits that women’s hubs and one stop shops have been successful in reducing reoffending but their funding is to be cut from 2014.
We will lose the women’s champions in probation trusts, the women’s one stop shops and the alternatives to custody pioneered by the third sector.
Can you see Serco paying premiums for crèches and trauma informed, gendered provision?
Offender Rehabilitation Bill
The Offender Rehabilitation Bill potentially places the responsibility for supervision of all medium and low risk women who go to prison on custodial sentences of 12 months or less in the hands of providers such as GEO ( who run Guantanamo Bay) G4S ( The Olympics ad infinitum omnishambolic company) and Serco, (being investigated for allegations of wholesale fraud in their tagging and prison escort contracts). These multinational oligopolies have no experience in the rehabilitation of women ex offenders.
What they are good at is delivering maximum profit to their shareholders by implementing zero or fractional contracts, revoking and restricting workers’ rights and inflicting terror in excluded communities who are unfortunate enough to become their “service users.”
Women who commit crime, do so for entirely different reasons than men. The incidence of domestic violence perpetrated against women in HMP East wood Park is 87%, this prison suffers the worst reoffending rate in women sentenced to less than a year at 67%, the national figure is 62%. Much needs to be done at an earlier stage to prevent victims of DV becoming perpetrators of crime.
The battleground to retain hardwon good practise is alight with immoveable ideology and rhetoric around austerity.
There is no practical need to dismantle a probation trust, founded on ethical, charitable principles over a 100 years ago. It is frequently rated outstanding.
Money could be diverted to women’s services in the community and to probation itself if Mr Grayling wants to achieve reductions in reoffending in the short sentenced cohort of offenders.
However, he has admitted in evidence given to the Justice Committee that TR is based on ideological thrusting, not evidenced policy.
After a long legal tussle in the House of Lords in July, during which Lord David Ramsbotham showed his spirit as a former soldier, the government acquiesced and allowed an amendment to the face of the bill but it orders no legal compulsion.
“Arrangements under subsection (5) shall make provision for the delivery of services for female offenders which take into account the particular needs of female offenders.” [i]
Where next for women offenders?
Recent advances such as the working group have lead to little or nothing.
Members of the group, a rare example of inter departmental dialogue and working across cross cutting themes, say the next meeting has been postponed.
It was announced on Friday that Lord McNally will be chairing it. He is not known for his concern in dealing with the problems of women offenders.
Do we trust the most vulnerable and damaged women in our society in the hands of this government and its friends in the private sector without there being proper legislation and leadership in place compelling them to help women rebuild shattered lives and find sustainable pathways out of crime?