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Shocking lack of action about women in prison

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INQUEST report, women in prison, deaths in prison, government inaction, Still Dying on the Inside“The whole system has to change so that other women don’t die.”

Still Dying on the Inside: Examining deaths in women’s prisons, a new report released this week by the charity INQUEST, is calling for urgent action to save the lives of women in prison.

The report documents the inappropriate use of imprisonment for women with histories of mental ill-health, domestic violence and poverty.

Since the 2007 publication of Baroness Corston’s ground-breaking review of women in the criminal justice system, 94 women have died in prison; 2016 was the deadliest year on record with 22 deaths in women’s prisons.

And between 2010/11 and 2016/17, 116 women died while under probation supervision following release from prison.

‘Still Dying on the Inside’ features the stories of some of the women who have died, and the report provides unique insight into deaths in women’s prisons based on an examination of official data, INQUEST’s research, casework and an analysis of coroners’ reports and jury findings.

Law-breaking by women differs markedly from that by men; it is less frequent, and less serious.

Women bear the brunt of social, health and economic inequalities, reflected in the fact that 87 per cent of women sentenced to prison are there for non-violent offences, with 40 per cent imprisoned for theft.

And more than half (53 per cent) of women in prison report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child compared to 27 per cent of men.

With this report INQUEST highlights the lack of action from successive governments to prevent deaths and puts forward a series of recommendations based around closing women’s prisons and redirecting resources from criminal justice to community-based services.

Still Dying on the Inside also reframes deaths in custody as a form of violence against women, given many women’s experiences of domestic violence, abuse and trauma.

And it identifies serious safety failures inside prisons around self-harm and suicide management and inadequate healthcare provision.

It also highlights the lack of action on recommendations arising from post-death investigations and inquests.

Still Dying on the Inside calls for the government to:

Redirect resources from criminal justice to welfare, health, housing and social care;

Divert women away from the criminal justice system;

Halt prison building and commit to an immediate reduction in the prison population;

Review sentencing decisions and policy;

Ensure access to justice and learning for bereaved families;

Build a national oversight mechanism for implementing official recommendations;

And for an urgent review of the deaths of women following release from prison.

Deborah Coles, executive director of INQUEST, said: “Since the Corston Review, there has been little systemic change and for far too many women, prison remains a disproportionate and inappropriate response.

“The persistence and repetition of the same issues over an 11-year period reveals nothing less than a glaring failure of government to act.

“While Ministers continue to drag their heels on the women’s justice strategy, which was due in 2017, women continue to die.

“The government must work across health, social care and justice departments to dismantle failing women’s prisons and invest in specialist women’s services.”

Lynne Roscoe, grandmother of Emily Hartley, who died in HMP New Hall in 2016, said: “Emily was struggling with her mental health from her early teens. She was sent to prison after she had a psychotic episode and set fire to herself, her mattress and curtains.

“There are many others like Emily who find it hard to cope with an illness. They need care and support, not a prison sentence.”

Marilyn Reed, mother of Sarah Reed, who died in HMP Holloway in 2016, said: “If Sarah had received the right care and support, rather than punishment, then she would still be alive.

“The whole system has to change so that other women don’t die.”

To read the full report, click here.

And please forward it to your MP and ask what action they will take to prevent more women dying in prison.

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