Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Justice for Women

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Justice for Women

Article excerpt

Byline: By Barbara Argument

Put a woman in prison and you take a mum away from her children.

Most will lose their homes and possessions ( and their children will be taken into care.

Is that Smart Justice for Women? asks a campaign hotting up at a conference at South Bank Women's Centre today.

Its aim is to be tough on crime, but encourage courts to send fewer women to jail. It urges the Government to invest in more effective alternatives to custody and crime diversion schemes.

The online campaign at www.smartjustice.org shows only 16pc of women are in prison for serious and violent offences.

The biggest single reason for them being jailed is shoplifting.

Campaigners say the average length in custody is 39 days, which cannot help offenders change their criminal behaviour or reduce crime in the long run.

Keynote speakers at the conference include Teesside- based Wendy Shepherd from Barnardo's pioneering SECOS centre, which works to prevent the exploitation and abuse of young prostitutes.

The Smart Justice campaign officer, Helen Attewell, says: "Imprisoning low-level women offenders does not make sense, when 81pc of women shoplifters are back inside within two years."

She says: "SECOS is a fantastic example of work with very vulnerable young people, currently at risk of being a crime victim, but also potentially at risk, without support, of becoming offenders."

Redcar and Cleveland MP Vera Baird, who backs the campaign, says; "A short spell in prison can have no rehabilitative value, but it can break up a home, send children into care and eventually free the woman into chaos in which she is likely to offend again.

"Many women prisoners have suffered abuse and violence and some have mental illnesses or drugs addiction.

"They need strict community punishments and support to deal with issues such as domestic violence and drug abuse.

"Prison should be a sentence used only for those women who pose a danger to society, otherwise we run the risk of causing trauma to the 17,700 children a year affected by the imprisonment of their mothers and of passing crime on into the next generation."

Councillor Pearl Hall is also backing the campaign.

"Women get involved in crime for a variety of reasons," she says.

"We need prisons for the most serious and violent offenders, but we also need more resources in the community to tackle the causes of crime and help women get their lives back on track." The facts

There are 4,394 women in jail this month, compared to 1,811, 10 years ago.

13,000 women went to jail in 2003 for an average of 39 days.

40pc served three months or less while 75pc were sentenced to 12 months or less.

Shoplifting is the most common crime for women.

Two thirds of women in prison are being held waiting for their case to go to court. Of these 40pc get a custodial sentence and 20pc are found not guilty.

A woman convicted of theft or handling at the Crown Court is now twice as likely to go to prison as in 1991. …

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