Farmer Review on Women publish report

The MA responds to the publication of the Farmer Review on Women

19 June 2019
Farmer Review on Women publish report

Lord Farmer has published his review on women, which looks at the value of supporting positive family relationships for women in prison, especially when it comes to preventing women from reoffending. The MA welcomed the opportunity to contribute to this important review and we support its recommendations. We note the evidence presented in the report which shows that supporting positive relationships is even more important for female offenders than the male cohort; as well as the likely increased impact on children if women are caught up in the criminal justice system.

The review highlights issues around the availability of information to courts when making sentencing and bail decisions involving women. A relevant pre-sentence report (PSR) is vital in ensuring sentencers have the most recent information about the background and individual circumstances of women as well as any dependants. To improve the availability of this information, the MA would welcome a Personal Circumstances File to ensure that sentencing and bail decisions are appropriately informed by the particular circumstances of the individual offender. Sentencers rely on information from the National Probation Service on available sentencing options including community options, which may be more appropriate and proportionate than custody in cases where a woman is a primary carer. In order to restrict the use of short prison sentences, it is important for sentencers to have sufficient information about the individual, as well as having robust and effective community alternatives that will support rehabilitation. Service availability is therefore vital, and the MA also supports the recommendation for more sustainable funding to be made available to increase the availability of appropriate community alternatives to custody.

The MA supports the report's recommendations which would improve communication between women in custody and their families and thus provide a better foundation for re-engagement and support upon their release. Women in custody should also be supported to participate in family court proceedings, and any measures which improve their understanding and engagement in such cases are to be welcomed. This includes the need for onsite social workers who can help liaise with family courts and any processes making decisions about care arrangements for children. They could also provide additional support in helping women access vital services upon release.

John Bache, National Chair of the MA, said: "The MA was very appreciative of the opportunity to contribute to this vital review. The recommendations around the importance of pre-sentence reports reflect our members' views that they need the most recent and relevant information about female offenders in order to sentence appropriately. This is especially relevant if the women have vulnerabilities or childcare responsibilities that may mean custody would be a disproportionate option in either sentencing or bail decisions. We also welcome the reference to women in prison needing to be able to access family court proceedings, and that they may need support to do this".

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