The Ministry of Justice has published a new Women's Policy Framework. The framework sets out the duties, rules and general guidance for prison and probation staff who work with female offenders, and replaces Prison Service Order 4800: Women Prisoners. The framework sets out the Ministry of Justice's expectations for the delivery of services for working with women in custody and the community. This enables staff to be aware of the gender specific issues that affect women, and respond appropriately to ensure that their different needs are constantly met. The framework provides the treatment requirements and expected outcomes for women in the settings of court, custody/community, custody and cross-cutting. The court requirements stated for women include that:
- Sentencing practice in England and Wales recognises that dependent children are a relevant factor in sentencing.
- The criminal court should be informed where the family life of others will be affected and that this will need to be balanced with the legitimate aims that sentencing serves.
- For offenders on the cusp of custody, consideration should be given to the fact that in such cases the interference with the family life of one or more entirely innocent children can sometimes tip the scales and mean that a custodial sentence otherwise proportionate may become disproportionate.
- Where custody cannot proportionately be avoided, the effect on children or other family members might afford grounds for mitigating the length of sentence, but it may not do so.
- Pre-sentence reports should therefore assess primary care responsibilities and the impact of a custodial sentence on dependents, including children.
The framework recognises that coming into contact with the criminal justice system, and particularly custody, can undermine the ability of women to address the issues that have caused their offending. It also recognises that short custodial sentences do not deliver the best results for female offenders, and custodial sentences of less than 12 months are less effective in reducing reoffending than community penalties.