Women Prisoners’ Justice Group (WPJG)

In February 2018, PAS, alongside representatives from organisations with legal expertise, Centre for Criminal Appeals, Centre for Women’s Justice, The Howard League for Penal Reform and Rights of Women, and from voluntary organisations, Prison Reform Trust, Women in Prison and The Fawcett Society, established a Women Prisoners’ Justice Group (WPJG).

These individuals and organisations came together in order to improve the predicament of women prisoners, to develop their knowledge of the law, to ensure that their legal and human rights are safeguarded and respected and, overall – in the longer-term – to influence the treatment and trajectory of all women prisoners in and through the UK Criminal Justice System.  Ultimately, it is hoped that the vast majority of women who commit an offence will not be sent to prison at all. Unsurprisingly, research shows that women released from prison are more likely to reoffend, and to reoffend sooner, than those serving community sentences (Hedderman & Jolliffe, The Impact of Prison for Women on the Edge, 2015).

WPJG intends to achieve these objectives by advocating collectively for a more comprehensive response to the complex needs of women prisoners.  Where appropriate, it will do so through the process of strategic litigation – taking cases in order to establish legal precedents.  WPJG meetings offer the ideal opportunity to share information from different perspectives, to focus on specific cases, to achieve consensus and to bridge any gaps in service provision.  Equally, the pulling of initiatives and resources avoids duplication of projects and services. 

The female prison estate is very different to that of male prisoners.  Women are largely incarcerated for a much shorter time and for far less violent offences. However, short sentences of three to six months for minor offences like shoplifting or Council Tax avoidance can, nevertheless, be catastrophic for women, causing them to lose homes and jobs, and, worse still, their children to care or even permanent adoption. 

Pregnant mothers have been left to give birth in their prison cells without proper healthcare services or the presence of a midwife (Sarah Boseley, The Guardian, 2018).  Of the 66% of women in prison who have a dependent child, the vast majority remain unaware that they can continue to play an active role in their child’s life while incarcerated, thereby improving the mental health of both and increasing the chances of the mother’s rehabilitation.  65% of all women prisoners report having a mental illness, while 50% have suffered domestic violence and experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during childhood and beyond.  Since 2012, sexual assaults inside women’s prisons have trebled. 

Upcoming activities of the WPJG will include a round-table event later in 2019 and a published report on the event and its conclusions.  Details will be posted here as soon as they are available. For more information about PAS’ work with women prisoners, please see our work with women page here.