The Prison Reform Trust has released the findings of a new study, which gathered the perspectives of 24 women who had been recalled to prison. They found that:
- Almost one-third reported needing help with a combination of mental health needs, drug misuse and domestic violence.
- 19 women identified housing as the most important thing prisons must do to prepare people for release.
- 22 women disclosed being at risk while at liberty, including homelessness, domestic abuse, and assault.
- Nearly half said they had been recalled for failing to keep in touch with their probation officer.
The women said that their responsible (probation) officers were unable to support them in dealing with the social challenges they faced on release, particularly regarding housing. Breakdowns in communication and trust were often reported as contributing to their recall. The report states that the sharp increase in women being recalled to prison is an outcome of the combination of the government's Transforming Rehabilitation programme and the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, which, together, have delivered a more coercive response to women serving short sentences.
The report recommends that the government should:
- Establish a national network of women-specific community services, including multi-agency outreach services, to deliver the Female Offender Strategy and provide the practical support women need.
- Repeal the provisions in the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 which extended recall to people serving sentences less than 12 months. The primary duty of probation services should be to protect the public by enabling offenders to live crime-free lives in the community, helping them to find practical solutions to the challenges they face after leaving custody.
- Set as a policy objective a drastic reduction in the number of women recalled to custody. Decisions to recall should be understood as a failure to support the woman's resettlement, rather than an enforcement success.