Byline: JAMES SLACK
ONLY the most dangerous female criminals should be kept behind bars, a controversial Government report said yesterday.
Thousands of women currently sentenced to two years or less would escape jail.
And those who are such a threat to the public that they must be sentenced to custody would no longer go to one of the country's 15 women's prisons - which would all close.
Instead, killers such as Rose West - serving life for the murder of ten young women and girls - would be sent to 'homely' local custody units.
There they would be allowed to live as a 'family unit' with between 20 and 30 other women prisoners, organising their own shopping, budgets and cooking.
The units would also allow them to stay close to their families.
The radical proposals are made by Labour peer Baroness Corston, in a report commissioned by the Home Office.
She said there are far too many vulnerable women in jail, many serving short sentences.
Instead of being imprisoned, the vast majority of the 4,300 behind bars would be ordered to attend new community centres during the day.
They would be given help to kick any addictions they have, and to stop committing crimes such as shoplifting, before returning home at night.
All the women's jails would shut within the next decade, and could instead be converted into prisons for men.
John Reid is facing chronic overcrowding in men's prisons, forcing him to take the drastic step of begging the courts to jail only the worst offenders.
Closing the women's jails would help the Home Secretary to hit his target of finding 10,000 extra prisons places over the next five years, which is expected to cost [pounds sterling]1.5billion.
But allowing thousands of women criminals to walk free would also be politically awkward for Mr Reid, who is desperate not to appear 'soft' on crime. …