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Latest HMP Bronzefield  inspection report highlights failings of women in the criminal justice system

Yesterday (May 11th), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) released an inspection report into HMP Bronzefield, England’s largest female prison. The inspection’s findings with regards to resettlement and women with complex needs are indicative of wider issues within the criminal justice system.

The report finds that 65% of women are released from HMP Bronzefield into homelessness – which almost identically replicates the national figure of six out of ten women leaving prison without  safe and sustainable accommodation[1].

This comes as no surprise to our lived experience members. An overwhelming majority of our female lived experience members have reported hitting brick walls trying to access support with accommodation post-release, putting them on a path of crisis and re-offending.

Things don’t change. You tell prison staff you have nowhere to go when you come out – I told them I didn’t have anywhere to go, thank God I ended up being told I could stay with my family That was the only place I was being offered a roof over my head. Housing was useless when I got out of prison. Probation tried to assist me with housing applications but the council phone you once, if you don’t answer, they don’t call you again.

Lived experience member, Revolving Doors

Insufficient resettlement staff at HMP Bronzefield and across the country more broadly, means women often lack the preparation and support they need to turn their life around once they leave prison – which risks compounding pre-existing social and health vulnerabilities such as substance use, domestic violence or mental-ill health. 

Just as worrying is the report’s finding that many women with complex mental health needs had come to prison as a ‘place for safety’, due to a lack of support provision within the community. Revolving Doors welcomes HMI Prisons’ recognition of this being a national issue, which is yet another indication of the pressing need to make diversion and effective community sentences a strategic priority.

No woman should be put in prison as a place of safety. Rather than investing in 500 new prison places for women, the government should be redirecting that money to resource mental health facilities. Over half of women released from prison into homelessness has a huge impact on women staying in the cycle of crisis and crime. They shouldn’t have been in custody in the first place. Time and time again women are failed by the system, this needs to change.

Lived experience consultant, Revolving Doors

Prison should never have to be a safety net for women. Providing support before they even have to enter the criminal justice system is the only way out of the revolving door of crisis and crime.

[1] Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison Report, October 2020