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The increase in governmental concern about female offenders can most probably be best explained by reference to the steep rise in the numbers of women being sent to prison (and thereafter recidivating) and the agitation for reform by numerous studies and reports which have insistently argued that both the in-prison and resettlement needs of women prisoners are different to those of their male counterparts.

In England and Wales women constitute about 6 percent of the total prison population and between 1994 and 2004 the numbers of women in prison in England and Wales increased by 151 per cent (Prison Reform Trust 2004). On March 5th 2004 there were 4549 women in prison. Between 20 and 25 percent of women in prison at any one time are likely to be on remand. Almost half of women released from prison in 1997 were reconvicted within two years (Social Exclusion Unit 2002). Moreover, as 71% of convicted female prisoners served sentences of less than one year in 2002 (Home Office 2003c) there was no statutory obligation to provide them with any post release assistance (Gelsthorpe 2004: 34).

Academic critiques of women’s imprisonment and rehabilitation services in England and Wales have been published regularly since the 1980s (e.g. Carlen, 1983, 1990; 1998; Devlin 1998; Eaton 1993; Hamlyn and Lewis 2000; Lowthian 2002, to cite but a few). More influential, however, have been the official, inspectorate and NGO reports, all of which have called for reforms of a greater or lesser degree (e.g. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 1997; Prison Reform Trust 2000; Home Office 2000; O’Keeffe 2003; Fawcett 2004; James at al 2004 - to cite the most important). Under Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 the Government now annually publishes separate statistical information about women in the criminal justice system.

We have been fortunate in that the time span of this Project has coincided with a most exciting time in the reorganisation and reform of the way in which the criminal justice and penal systems respond to all offenders, and to women offenders in particular. Thus, in addition to the help we have had from women ex-prisoners and ex-prisoner organisations, we have also had immense help from all the relevant government departments and service providers, especially the Home Office Women’s Offending Reduction Team and the Prison Service Women’s Offending Team. We very much appreciate that they, like us, want to find out how best to improve justice for women, and we hope that from our collaboration with our EU partners we will all of us learn some more productive ways of responding to the resettlement needs of women who have been released from prison.

Report’s Main Conclusions

  • There is no shortage of information about women in the criminal justice and penal systems in England and Wales

  • The government and the Prison Service cannot nowadays stand accused of failing to recognise that the needs of female offenders and ex-prisoners are different to those of men

  • Innovative and detailed policies for the reintegration/resettlement of female offenders in England and Wales have been developed by the Home Office and the Prison Service

  • There appears to be general agreement amongst the relevant senior professionals that there is a disjunction between the good intentions (as instanced in policy statements) of the government departments implicated in the reorganisation of services to

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