Women released from prison are almost three times less likely to be employed on release than men leaving jail, a damning new report has found.
The study, carried out by the Prison Reform Trust and Working Chance, found fewer than one in 20 women were in employment six weeks after leaving prison, compared with more than one in 10 men.
Researchers warned women face a litany of obstacles in securing employment – drawing attention to a dearth of childcare support, low pay and the fact they are more likely to have suffered domestic abuse.
Nearly three in five women leaving prison were found to have been reconvicted within a year of release but this figure surges to nearly three-quarters of women serving sentences of less than a year.
Around three quarters of jail sentences given to women are for six months or less, which is indicative of the fact that a higher proportion of women carry out less serious, non-violent offences than men.
Such sentences have the highest reoffending rates and give inmates scant time to take part in training or work while inside.
A recent report from the Prison Reform Trust found 80 per cent of women in jail were inside for non-violent offences.
Katy Swaine Williams, of the Prison Reform Trust, told The Independent women are less likely to obtain jobs on release from jail than their male counterparts because they are more likely to be the sole carers of children.
She said: “Poverty is a major factor in women’s offending. The UK’s very expensive childcare system means that it is very difficult for sole parents to go out to work. A driver for women’s offending is to shoplift to get food for their children. This is a systemic problem.
“Also, many women are discharged to homelessness, so employment is not the first thing on their list. Instead, it is having a roof over their head. They are also potentially coming out to a situation where they are forced to return to an abusive partner to avoid homelessness or encountering new abusive situations on the streets.”
Ms Swaine Williams, who noted female inmates have higher levels of mental health problems than the male prison population, drew attention to the fact women are also more likely to have worked in a caring profession prior to entering prison.
She notes those in the care sector are more likely to be subjected to an enhanced DBS check and called for the government to look at the rules on disclosure of spent convictions for those working in care.
Ms Swaine Williams added: “So much of women’s offending is driven by trauma. If someone has a violent offence on their record, it should not be an automatic bar from jobs. It could have been violent resistance against an abusive partner or ex. Women need to have the opportunity to move on with their lives.
“A large proportion of women are in prison for shoplifting. Women who are experiencing poverty and also may be living in a controlling relationship where their income is restricted can be driven to shoplifting which can lead to imprisonment.”
The report looks at the disproportionate impact the current rules for disclosing convictions and cautions have on women. The most common sectors for women in the general population to work in are health and social work, retail and education, and many of these industries involve an “enhanced check” – meaning even convictions that have long been “spent” have to be revealed.
Natasha Finlayson, the chief executive of Working Chance, said: “Women with criminal convictions face social exclusion, prejudice and multiple obstacles to employment, as this report shows.
“Most have survived very difficult childhoods as well as struggles with poverty, poor mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence. For the women we work with, a job is more than an income – it means a future where she can flourish and contribute to society. Supporting these women into employment creates social and economic value and makes society safer by reducing reoffending.”
Frontline service providers have frequently warned women in prison are often victims of much more serious offences than the ones they have been convicted of.
Jenny Earle, the director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment, said: “It is widely acknowledged that most of the solutions to women’s offending lie in the community. Addressing the economic marginalisation that can drive women into crime, and the lasting impact of a criminal conviction, is therefore critical.
“Tapping into the skills and talents of women who deserve a second chance makes sense for families, the economy and society as well as women themselves. The government knows the solutions, and has already committed to many of them, but as our briefing reveals, a significant gap remains between aspiration and reality.”