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Prisoners: Females

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN HL12505, tabled on 25 January 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the briefing by Women in Prison, A national plan for tackling coronavirus in prisons, published on 21 January, what plans they have (1) to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on female prisoners, and (2) to improve the rehabilitation of women who have been in prison.

Answered on

8 February 2021

We have taken quick and decisive action, backed by Public Health England and Wales, to limit the spread of the virus across all prison establishments, including the women’s estate. This has included restricting regimes, minimising inter-prison transfers and compartmentalising prisons into different units to isolate the sick, shield the vulnerable and quarantine new arrivals. A comprehensive regular testing regime of both staff and prisoners is in place and is key in helping to prevent the spread of the virus. Our evidence gathering indicates these measures have had a positive impact on limiting deaths and the transmission of the virus in prisons. We are now working closely with the NHS to support the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible groups in custody.

A women’s self-harm taskforce has been set up to coordinate and drive forward work aimed at reducing levels of self-harm in the women’s estate, which includes the introduction of wellbeing checks for women during COVID-19 restrictions.

A range of other measures have also been put in place across the women’s estate to reduce the impact of COVID-19, including:

  • every prisoner has received £5 free PIN phone credit per week, which has been doubled recently for those women who need it, in order that they can keep in touch with their support networks on the outside;
  • video visits continue to be available to women, and again recently their availability in the women’s estate was increased;
  • production of materials intended to support wellbeing, including a range of in-cell distraction activities, such as work books, puzzle books and information about relaxation techniques.
  • creation of a Wellbeing Plan with input from mental health charity Mind, and prison resident focus groups. This is a resident-owned self-help tool that can be used by residents to reflect on their triggers and coping strategies, as well as actions they could take to improve their mood and look after themselves at difficult times.
  • the Covid Special Purpose Licence Temporary Release (SPL ROTL) scheme for women who are pregnant and those who are in Mother & Baby Units, with the most recent release during January.
  • prison officers entering the service have been given an additional week’s training focused on female-specific issues to provide new officers with better understanding of the distinct needs of women prisoners. As women are a minority in the prison population, tailored training for officers working with this group will ensure they can be more responsive to their needs.

Through the Gate (TTG) providers continue to work to an Exceptional Delivery Model and offer remote phone support to all prisoners in their last 12 weeks of sentence. This includes signposting to relevant Third Sector providers in the community and other Government departments (e.g. completing the Duty to Refer under the Homelessness Reduction Act to Local Authorities and referring to local HPTs if they are without accommodation). TTG staff, community Offender Managers, HPTs and released women have written information about services they can access before, during and after release. Staff can make referrals to third sector services, such as women’s centres, as appropriate and women can self-refer if they wish.

To support its COVID-19 response, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has set up seven Homelessness Prevention Taskforces (HPT) to help find accommodation for offenders upon release. These have been very successful in securing improved accommodation outcomes. We are exploring how the regional HPTs might be a feature of the future landscape, ensuring that the specific needs of women are fully considered.

HMPPS has developed a national Accommodation Framework setting out how to work together with partners to ensure that offenders can access and maintain settled accommodation that is safe and appropriate for their needs. This framework contains specific aims in terms of women’s access to post release accommodation, including the provision of more places in Approved Premises (Aps) and more appropriate accommodation through the Bail Accommodation and Support Services (BASS) that are currently run by NACRO.

There are seven APs for women who have high risk complex needs covering England and Wales. We are working to the expand the geographical coverage of the provision and having opened a new women’s AP in London during 2020 we expect to open a further one in the South West during 2021.