Prison Service’s Women’s Policy Group in 1998 there was also a perception that women’s prisons were disadvantaged in budgetary terms. With the founding of the Women’s Policy Group, however, governors were given the opportunity to bid for special projects (such as Mother and Baby Units) and the Prison Service claims that nowadays there is parity of funding between the male and female estate. There is also ongoing work to ensure that money continues to be ring-fenced for special projects in the women’s prisons, especially for education.
The latest Section 95 publication (Home Office 2004) reports that women’s regimes are better than men’s in three areas: Prison Statistics (2002) …indicate that female prisons provide: higher average hours on purposeful activity per week (23.7 hours compared with 22.6 for men); slightly longer time out of cell (11.1 hours on weekdays and 10.1 a day at weekends compared with 10.1 and 8.9 hours respectively for males); marginally more hours of education and skills training (6.6 hours a week compared with 5.8 hours for all prisons). (Home Office 2004: 38)
Today, women’s prisons in England are less disadvantaged within the prison system than they were, primarily because there has been much more official awareness of areas of disadvantage as far as the women’s estate is concerned, and also because there has been greater recognition that many of the needs of female prisoners are different to those of their male counterparts (see Home Office Women’s Offending Reduction Programme Team 2004). Indeed, the Prison Service ran an award-winning and effective advertising campaign to attract women into the Prison Service to work specifically with female prisoners – a not inconsiderable feat when a few years before prison officers had been reluctant to work in the women’s prisons because to do so was seen as being a bad career move (Carlen 1998).
Most recently, one of the greatest changes in the Prison Service approach to women is being attempted in the area of security. It has long been argued in England that women in prison are disadvantaged because of having to submit to rules and regulations made for men, and that nowhere is this more striking than in the area of security where women suffer especially from constant strip searches. Now the Prison Service’s Women’s Team, in recognition of the additional pain which women suffer in connection with strip searching, is planning to investigate the extent to which strip searching of women is really necessary and the ways n which it can be decreased without breaching security levels (Prison Service Women’s Team 2004).
Yet, despite all the causes for optimism, and as the most recent Report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales (2004a:4-5) points out, the women’s estate is at present under particular pressure because of overcrowding, and many programmes which are supposed to be up and running have not been implemented because of all the burdens attendant upon an overburdened system.
Within an overcrowded prison system, the needs of women are both acute and in danger of being neglected or disregarded….The special needs of women…need to be promoted vigorously in a system where they will always be a small and easily marginalised minority. (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2004a: 4-5)
Yet, although several people working within the system told us that they thought that men’s prisons continue to make wider training provision,