31 JULY 2015

Statistics show that one in three women in prison has experienced sexual abuse and over 50 per cent of women in prison have suffered domestic abuse. Women in the criminal justice system are among the most vulnerable and marginalised individuals in our society. So why don’t we hear about it?

Prisoners are not a ‘glamorous’ topic for politicians to try and sell to the public. Additionally, amongst all the issues faced by governments, prisoners are unlikely to be top of the agenda.

A recent exception to this rule was the Corston Report of 2007. This report highlighted the fact that: ‘Many people regard imprisonment of women as just desserts for crime committed but the cost to society is enormous, not simply the cost of keeping women in prison,  but also the indirect cost of family disruption, damage to children and substitute care, lost employment and subsequent mental health problems.’

Despite this, the system has yet to change. Over one third of women prisoners lose their homes, and often their possessions whilst in prison. On top of this many lose their children and suffer relationship difficulties with family and friends.

Some people are reluctant to hear about the issues facing these women, arguing that ‘if you’ve done wrong you deserve to be punished; you deserve to suffer the consequences of your actions’. However, surely losing your home, children, friends and family is not an additional part of this debt owed to society? The knock-on effect that prison has on a person’s life in terms of employment, relationships and reintegration into society is huge, particularly for women.

If we don’t have a system that wants to help people to change how can we expect them to? We need to change the fact that only 11 per cent of women receive help with housing matters while only 8.5 per cent of women are able to find employment upon release from prison. We need support networks that allow women to take control of what is happening in their lives so that they can leave behind the physical and emotional trauma of being in prison.

At User Voice we are currently running a campaign called #HearHerVoice to raise awareness of the issues faced by women who are in, or who have been through, the Criminal Justice System. We know that the criminal justice system needs to be improved. We are optimistic that change is possible and we know that we have the experience and insight to contribute to making it better.

Rehabilitation is possible and people with convictions can turn their lives into an active force for good in society. It is the goal of all our work, a process which goes deeper than reducing offending, although that is an outcome. To achieve this, we run women’s councils which work to address the issues that women face within probation.

Please follow our #HearHerVoice campaign to raise awareness of these issues, be part of the change and give these women a voice.

User Voice is a charity that aims to engage people in the criminal justice system to bring about reform and improve criminal justice services

Tosca Tizzano, Intern at User VoiceABOUT AUTHOR

Tosca is an intern at User Voice and a student at Cambridge University