According to a 2018 government report, there were 3,850 women in UK prisons. The same report suggested urgent reform to reduce these numbers and see “fewer women in prison for short sentences” and to shift the “focus from custody to the community”. Yet just a year later, Boris Johnson announced an additional £2.5bn funding to create 10,000 new prison places. In 2021, the government revealed plans for an extra 500 places for women.
But as WIP’s Stop the 500 campaign explains, custodial sentences tear “families and communities apart”. As it also stresses:
Building more prison places will only shatter more lives and unnecessarily separate families. We know 95% of children have to leave their home when their mother goes to prison, as women are often primary carers.
Under current plans, children will visit overnight in prison, rather than mothers being released to spend the night with their children. We cannot let this happen.
“This flies,” WIP notes, ‘in the face of the Government’s own strategy which says that most women in prison do not need to be there”.
The campaign asks for people’s support for the government to invest:
in community-based services that support women to tackle the issues that sweep them into crime in the first place, like domestic abuse and poverty.
Justice for women
WIP has been campaigning since 1983 to “increase awareness of the lives of women behind the gates of our prisons – lives marked by sexual abuse, poverty and violence”.
Most recently, it has also campaigned against the draconian Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSCB). It has drawn attention to the additional dangers of the bill for women. In particular, WIP has noted that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) women are “more likely to be overpoliced, criminalised and receive disproportionately harsher treatment”, including custodial sentences. The bill threatens to “further entrench” these inequalities. Moreover, it notes that:
Black, Asian and minority ethnic women are already two times more likely to be arrested than white women, and following conviction Black women are 25% more likely than white women to receive a custodial sentence.
Alongside this, WIP’s chief executive Dr Kate Paradine recently wrote about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. She said women “in prison have been under non-stop restricted regimes”, with most:
locked in cells for an average of 22.5 hours per day, seven days a week. To put this in perspective, the United Nations defines this time-period as solitary confinement.
As direct action group Sisters Uncut noted, highlighting the WIP campaign:
No more police, no more prisons. This is state violence against women. https://t.co/CcUYkmsMtn
— Sisters Uncut (@SistersUncut) April 8, 2021
We can all stand in solidarity by signing and sharing the campaign to #StopThe500.