Call for Closure of Prisons Rebuffed; Campaigners Want Women Kept out of Jail

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Glover

CALLS for women's prisons, including one in the North East, to be closed have been criticised by the prison officer's union.

Low Newton prison in Durham is one of 14 jails in England housing female prisoners.

Last night, campaigners said the institutions should be closed with more emphasis and funding put into rehabilitation and community sentences. A report by the Women's Justice Taskforce, set up last year by the Prison Reform Trust, said Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's plans to cut the number of jail terms under 12 months provided "a timely opportunity to look again at how women's justice is delivered".

The research found that more than 4,100 women were in prisons in England and Wales last week, up from 1,800 15 years ago, and two in three women sentenced to less than 12 months in jail are reconvicted within a year of their release.

Fiona Cannon, chairwoman of the Taskforce, said: "Instead of a punishment of last resort, women's prisons are now seen as stop-gap providers of drug detox, social care, mental health assessment and treatment and temporary housing - a refuge for those who have slipped through the net of local services.

"It should be possible to reform women's justice so that, with improved national and local coordination, better accountability and reinvestment of resources, the Government can achieve a measurable reduction both in offending by women and the women's prison population."

No proposals have yet been made for which prisons should be closed but the Prison Officers' Association last night said Low Newton was performing well and already served a wide geographical area. …