Women’s prisons are broken

Author: Campbell Robb Published:

Nacro analysis of data released on the 27th of July shows the major failings in the women’s estate.

What does the data show?

  • 52% increase in self-harm in female establishments; self-harm in the female estate is at its highest ever recorded level. 4% of the prison population are held in women’s prisons, yet they account for around 10% of all hospitalisations after incidents of self-harm in 2023.
  • Women’s prison HMP Bronzefield is the worst performing prison in England and Wales.
  • Women’s prison HMP Eastwood Park saw self-harm almost double in comparison to last year.
  • 545 women were released into homelessness or rough sleeping; that’s 11.3% of total women released.
  • Many women in prison have been victims of much more serious offences than those they are accused of committing. Over half of women in prison report having suffered domestic violence with 53% of women reporting having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.

Campbell Robb, Nacro chief executive, said: “This shocking data shows that the women’s prison system is broken. More women in prison are self-harming, hundreds are being released homeless. Most women are sent to prison on short sentences for non-violent offences. This just doesn’t work, with women often being removed from their families, their children, and those that support them. The Government must act immediately to fix this before even more women and their families suffer.”

Why does it matter?

It’s estimated that around 17,000 children are separated from their mothers when those mothers go to prison. Only 5% of children will remain in their own home. Whether moving to live with a family member, or entering the care system, this often means children end up moving school, disrupting their education and moving them away from peer support groups. The impact is devastating.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Nobody should be sentenced to custody unless absolutely necessary, community sentences are shown to be more effective at reducing reoffending, and particularly when support such as housing, mental health services, addiction and substance misuse programs, employment, and positive community links are in place. This is particularly true of women.

What is happening with the women’s estate?

The Government’s response to the crisis in women’s prisons has been to create a further 500 places. Not only is this in contradiction to their Female Offender Strategy, the money would be far better spent on women’s centres and diversion and support services. This would give women better access to the care and support they need, and a place where they can tackle the issues that swept them into crime in the first place, like trauma, domestic abuse, and poverty.