Friday, 26 February 2016

Young Women in Prison- a Neglected Group

 Despite a growing and overdue recognition by criminal justice services that young people do not magically achieve adult maturity on their 18th birthday, there’s an important group of young adults whose needs have not yet fully been analysed let alone met- young women.  Whether it’s because numbers are small or a sense that their characteristics differ little from those of older women, recent initiatives have neglected to consider how best young females should be managed when they come into conflict with the law. 

A new report from the Transition to Adulthood Alliance looks at how the prison system manages the 18-21 year old women in custody.  While there are fewer than 200 of this age group in custody at any one time, the way they are cared for represents something of a paradox.  Up to the age of 18 girls are not held in prison service custody at all, but detained either in Secure Children’s Homes or Secure Training Centres. In some of these facilities, they may undertake education and other activities alongside boys.

On reaching the age of majority however, young women find themselves not only in prison but in an adult women’s prison – unlike many young men in custody, they are not placed in a Young Offender Institution exclusively designated for their age group.  It’s true that in some establishments, young women stay in separate wings or units but many prisons have found it easier to manage young women if they are mixed in the general population. Whether this is the right or most effective approach is one of the questions raised in “Meeting the Needs of Young Adult Women in Custody”.

Using data and information from recent Inspection and monitoring reports and from a number of site visits, the study assesses the adequacy of the current arrangements for young women and of the standards which underpin them.  The report makes a number of recommendations including:

·         the introduction of  more age appropriate rules , incentives and regimes within custodial settings

·        better staffing, with more female officers trained in ways of treating young women who have experienced trauma and abuse;  and

·        through the gate mentoring approaches for this age group with a focus on helping young women find suitable housing and work.

The report also argues that systematic research is undertaken into the benefits and drawbacks of mixing young and older women in prison together with the collection of more information about the nature and seriousness of violent offences for which young women are imprisoned.

While a higher proportion of young women in custody are there for violent crimes compared to older women prisoners, half of 18-20 year old women sentenced to prison receive terms of six months or less. Of these, over half are convicted of theft or handling stolen goods. These findings suggest that there is considerable scope for greater use of community based sentences. The report argues that a stronger presumption be introduced against the use of custody for young women. Such an approach is likely to give them the best chance of growing out of crime and leading happy, healthy and productive lives.   


  1. In order to promote positive behavioural change, it is essential for the young people (men & women) to experience new levels of personal positive thoughts and feelings. It is the same for everyone. Until the system acknowledges that prison and punishment by itself fails to meet these fundamental requirements, little will change.

  2. Quite agree Trevor Hope all well with you