Decades of research has shown that most women prisoners are victims of violence, abuse and addiction and that they (and their families) suffer inordinately in the current penal system. Women in custody are more likely to have mental health issues or drug dependency problems than men and are five times more likely to have a mental health problem than other women in the general population . Prison is often more harmful for them as women have higher rates of self-harm - they account for 43% of all incidents of self-harm despite representing just 5% of the total prison population . Reliable research on prison reform has found that prison sentences fail to address the multiple and complex needs of female offenders .
In addition, women are often inadequately prepared for their release from prison: Having a stable home, secure employment and proper provision for childcare upon release from prison are some of the most important factors in the successful rehabilitation and resettlement of women . It is notable that prisoners who have problems with both employment and accommodation on release have a reoffending rate of 74% during the year after custody, compared to 43% for those with no such problems . Just 11% of women received help with housing matters while in prison. Only 24% of women with a prior skill had a chance to put their skills into practice through prison work.
Women are more likely to be held in custody further away from home than men due to the dispersal of women’s prisons across England, which makes it harder to maintain good links with housing providers . It has been said that “there can be no single solution to the problems with which the Criminal Justice System as it pertains to women is fraught. Any solutions offered need to accommodate the wide and diverse range of problems with which women offenders are faced.