Kate Green MP (Photo: House of Commons official portrait)
Women make up only around 4 per cent of the prison population, many are convicted of less serious offences, and serve only short sentences.
But often they are caught in a revolving door of repeat offending.
This is hugely expensive for the taxpayer, highly disruptive for the children of women offenders, and doesn’t work to tackle the root causes of women’s offending.
Many struggle with substance misuse or poor mental health. Some are coerced by a partner to commit crime or have themselves been the victims of abuse.
Some commit crimes because they don’t have enough money to pay the bills, or face homelessness on release.
So when the government announced its female offender strategy in 2018, aiming to reduce the number of women in prison especially on short sentences, provide support on release from prison, and increase the proportion of women managed in the community, it was widely welcomed.
But the Public Accounts Committee found that no meaningful progress has been made to implement the strategy.
Worse, while £200 million has been committed for 500 more places in women’s prisons, only £9.5 million has been spent on community solutions since 2018.
Perhaps the relatively small number of women in custody has left the issue on the back burner.
But the government’s failure to prioritise the investment needed overlooks the ruinous financial, social and human costs of keeping women in custody.
That’s why we’ve said the Ministry of Justice must urgently assess the funding needed to improve outcomes for women and increase community provision.
It must also publish what it aims to deliver, with an action plan and performance measures so that it can be held to account for progress.
Implementing the strategy across government, and in partnership with specialist organisations, could transform the prospects of female offenders – and secure better value for the taxpayer.
Kate Green is a Labour MP and a member of Public Accounts Committee.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.