1 Lord McNally debates involving the Department for International Trade

International Women’s Day

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 11th March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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Colleagues, I would like to use my time to raise how the criminal justice system responds to the needs of women in prison. It is now 14 years since the ground-breaking report by our colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, which called for a distinct, radically different, visibly led, strategic, proportionate, woman-centred, integrated approach to how we treat women offenders. Ten years on from the Corston report, in March 2017, the charity Women in Prison reported only mixed progress. Its report stated:

“What is required is a joined-up approach that takes into account the root causes of women’s offending. This approach must encompass an understanding of the compelling opportunities for change that appropriate housing, mental health support and gender-specific women’s community support services can offer.”

Four years later again, the Prison Reform Trust has recently completed a five-year piece of work entitled Transforming Lives: Reducing Women’s Imprisonment. That report points out that women in prison are highly likely to be victims as well as offenders, with over half of them having experienced domestic violence and many of them having dependent children.

My final quote is from the Ministry of Justice when announcing in January plans to build 500 new cells in women’s prisons. Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League, commented at the time that

“today’s announcement shows that ministers are looking at the issue down the wrong end of a telescope.”

I spent seven years at the MoJ, between 2010 and 2017, and must share my part of the responsibility for the glacial progress made in achieving the changes necessary.

I do not expect the Minister to be fully acquainted with the sayings of Aneurin Bevan, but he once said, “Why look into the crystal ball when you can read the book?”. This is especially true in the case of women in prison. From Corston onwards, there have been reports which point in the right direction of travel but need resources spent in the right way to promote diversionary measures and alternatives to prison, which could create the opportunity to reduce by two-thirds the number of women in our prisons.