UK Government abandons community prison plan in favour of pilot scheme

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GB news 24 desk//

The government has abandoned plans for five community prisons for women in England and Wales.

Instead, the Ministry of Justice will trial five residential centres to help offenders with issues such as finding work and drug rehabilitation.

Justice Secretary David Gauke said short custodial sentences had failed to halt the “cycle of offending”.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said “thousands” of women would benefit from the change.

He described the strategy as a “welcome recognition of the futility of short prison sentences” for women whose offending is often driven by “unmet mental health needs”.

In the foreword to the strategy published on Wednesday, Mr Gauke said 70.7% of women and 62.9% of men released from custody between April and June 2016 after a sentence of less than a year went on to re-offend within 12 months.

Mr Gauke added there was “persuasive evidence” that the new approach would help reduce re-offending rates.

He said mothers at the trial residential centres might be able to have their children with them.

The government has pledged to spend £5m over two years on “community provision” for women.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) has welcomed the change in strategy.

But Dame Vera Baird QC, representing the APCC, warned the scheme would only work if properly funded and questioned the MoJ’s decision to hand £50m – originally earmarked for the prisons – back to the Treasury.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said ministers deserved “real praise” for the change in approach but – like the APCC – warned it was “essential” that programme is “properly funded”.

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