Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Men's Jails to Hold Women as Numbers Soar

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Men's Jails to Hold Women as Numbers Soar

Article excerpt

Byline: BEN LEAPMAN;DAVID TAYLOR

A HUGE surge in the number of female inmates is forcing the Prison Service to convert men's jails to hold women.

The total has jumped by 25 per cent since the start of this year and now stands above 4,000 for the first time, the Home Office has admitted.

There are 4,033 women serving sentences or on remand, compared with 3,119 at the start of January.

The Prison Service says the maximum number that can be held without overcrowding is 4,026.

Much of the increase is due to the drugs trade, with women used as "mules" to carry cocaine or other substances through Customs. Many are foreign nationals.

A former men's prison, Downview in Banstead, will be used to hold female remand prisoners, although local Tory MP Crispin Blunt claims essential conversion work has not been completed early enough.

Female warders are being brought to the site from all over the country to cope with the new demands on a temporary basis.

This year's rise marks an acceleration in the long-term trend towards higher number of women being sentenced to prison by magistrates and judges. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, predicted in February that the number of women prisoners would reach 5,000 by 2007. On present trends it will reach that level in 2003. The rise has infuriated groups such as the Howard League for Penal Reform, which calls for the abolition of women's prisons. An estimated half of all women inmates have children under 16. Around a quarter are from ethnic minorities.

The number of male prisoners is also on the rise, although not as dramatically. The total number of men and women in prison now stands at 68,066, up by 2,000 since the start of the year.

Meanwhile, it was revealed today that half of all teenage criminals behind bars in England and Wales have the maths or reading abilities of a seven-year-old. …

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