PAS’ Work with Women Prisoners
Between 1993 and 2005, the number of women in prison trebled. 8,562 women were sent to prison in the year to June 2016. Women require specialist attention in prison because around two thirds have dependent children and many have, themselves, been the victims of crime and abuse. Women are also subject to short custodial sentences for minor crimes such as Council Tax evasion or shoplifting. These can, nevertheless, cause women to lose their jobs – or have children taken into care. In addition, with so few women’s prisons in England and Wales, women are often incarcerated hundreds of miles from home and family.
In 2016-17, 11% of all calls to PAS’ Advice Line were from women, who constitute only 5% of the prison population as a whole. Often the Article 8 rights (of the European Convention on Human Rights) of the women and their children to a “private and family life” are ignored. Furthermore, women with children over the age of 16 are frequently denied Childcare Resettlement Leave, despite the fact that only persons over 18 are permitted to attend prison visits.
The desired outcome of our work with women is that, even though they are imprisoned, mothers are able to assert their legal rights in relation to their children and engage effectively in Family Law proceedings. We aim to reduce the separation of children permanently or temporarily from their families and to help mothers to secure better long-term living arrangements for their children during their imprisonment. This in turn will enable them to maintain as active a role as possible in their children’s lives, enhancing mental health. We also ensure that, where possible, mothers being released from prison are housed with their children.
Over the course of 2016-17, PAS’ Women Prisoners Caseworker delivered 30 Outreach Clinics in six women’s prisons: HMPs Downview, Send and Bronzefield (all in Surrey), New Hall (in West Yorkshire), Styal (in Cheshire) and – for older female prisoners – Eastwood Park (in Gloucestershire). A further 18 clinics were delivered to female prisoners by Peer Advisers who had been trained by us. Overall, we helped 433 women prisoners in the past year through Outreach Clinics alone. For women prisoners making use of PAS’ Prison and Family Law advice, there is a better chance of maintaining good mental health and of lowering delinquency and truancy rates amongst their children.