Increase in women prisoners branded ‘failure’

Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey

A sharp increase in the number of women prisoners in Northern Ireland has been criticised as evidence of failing penal policies, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

A new report from the Institute of Criminal Policy Research at Birbeck College at the University of London has revealed that 53 women are currently imprisoned in Northern Ireland, up from 23 in 2000.

The same report also found that there are almost 4,000 women imprisoned in England and Wales and 360 in Scotland.

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey said the figures are “deeply alarming” and point to prisons “being used as ‘safe places’ to house women who need mental healthcare and support”.

Ms Bailey added: “The majority of women imprisoned in NI have not committed violent crimes – many are victims themselves – of rape, domestic abuse and sexual assault. Many suffer mental ill-health, and many have not been tried at all and are imprisoned on remand.

“The trauma, harm and inappropriateness of incarceration cannot be overestimated. These failures are compounded by unnecessary cuts to public services and an absent Executive.

“Without a functioning government, investment in public services and a range of long-term, cross-departmental measures to address poverty, gender-based violence and our mental health crisis, more women will be failed and more women will be incarcerated.

“Imprisonment is not the solution to the vast majority of these cases. We should be offering care, support and, where necessary, rehabilitation.

“We call on all parties and on the British Government to cooperate as a matter of urgency so that we can begin to address these issues.”