London’s Khan Launches Programme to Spare Criminals Jail Time If They’re Women

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan addresses delegates in the main hall on the second day of the Labour Party conference on September 25, 2017 in Brighton, England. The annual Labour Party conference runs from 24-27 September. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Leon Neal/Getty

Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan has launched a pilot programme which would see women who have committed “lower-level, non-violent offences”, such as thieves and shoplifters, avoid jail in favour of receiving mental health and substance abuse support.

According to a statement released by City Hall, the mayor believes that rather than punishing women for crimes they have committed, a non-custodial intervention would “help them onto a more positive path” and “reduce female reoffending rates “, the scheme being introduced to “address the difficulties facing women in the criminal justice system”.

While the mayor’s office points to studies which say that women are more likely to reoffend after short prison sentences for ‘minor’ offences, women still continue to be just a tiny proportion of the prison population, at just 4.6 per cent, with recent government statistics.

Being piloted over the next two years in the London boroughs of Camden, Islington, Lambeth, and Southwark, instead of women who have committed “lower-level, non-violent offences” being given time in prison, as their male counterparts who commit the same crimes would be, “women and girls will be referred to specialist support services in mental health and substance misuse”.

Specialists will assess the ‘needs’ of the women and provide the relevant support, and “target the factors that can influence reoffending rates amongst women, such as mental health, relationships and financial security”.

“As part of a joined-up approach, the police, prisons, local authorities and rehabilitation organisations will work together to help women build financial stability, find jobs and safe and secure accommodation,” the mayor’s office added.

Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Sophie Linden said this scheme was London getting “tough on the causes of crime”, while Commander Julian Bennett, the Met police’s lead for detention and prosecution, said: “The Female Offender Diversion Project pilot is an important part of the Met’s activity to support our key role in preventing crime in London, by tackling the underlying factors that lead to a high proportion of women reoffending following their conviction for low-harm offences.”

Scrapping prison sentences for women for all but the most serious crimes is backed by the Liberal Democrats; however, the Conservative government also supports a “step change” in the way women are dealt with by the justice system. Former justice secretary David Gauke unveiled in June 2018 proposals for a pilot scheme that would prioritise rehabilitation for women over punishment for their crimes, saying: “We will shift from prisons to women’s centres which focus on the full range of support services beginning with five pilots across England and Wales.

“I want this strategy to be the start of a shift in attitudes to the way we support female offenders with greater emphasis on community provision. This ultimately benefits everyone — offenders, their families and the wider community as we see fewer victims and cut the cost of reoffending.”

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