New inspection focuses on treatment of women in conflict with the law


CJI Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin has urged criminal justice organisations to take account of the specific issues and sensitivities affecting women and girls under 18 years when dealing with females who are suspected or convicted of committing a criminal offence.
“This is the first time Inspectors focused exclusively on how female offenders were treated by the police, prosecution, courts, prison, probation and youth justice services and how their offending was managed,” said Ms Durkin.
“We found evidence of professionals within criminal justice organisations who demonstrated genuine understanding of the specific needs of females and were working to help those in crisis, were developing and delivering women-only services and were supporting females in custody and on their release.  But with rising numbers of female offenders entering prison before the COVID-19 pandemic, criminal justice organisations must do more to develop and deliver female focused interventions that lead to better services and outcomes that meet their specific needs, now and in the future” she said.
In 2019, women accounted for less than one fifth of court convictions but proportionately, more females were sent to prison for theft than males.  
“Women and girls are more likely to receive short prison sentences than men but their impact can be far reaching.  A short prison sentence for a mother can be life changing for her child,” said Ms Durkin.
“Gender awareness is not about applying a different standard to police actions, prosecution decisions or sentencing because the defendant is a woman or girl.  It’s about delivering outcomes that are equitable as criminal justice approaches can overlook specific vulnerabilities, the experiences that may contribute to a woman or girls’ journey into offending behaviour and issues like childcare which may hinder their ability to complete non-custodial sentences.”
Ms Durkin said the new Department of Justice (DoJ) strategy under development to support and challenge women and girls in contact with the criminal justice system, offered a real opportunity to succeed where other strategies have not, but that it would require effective leadership, commitment from each of the partner organisations and adequate resources to deliver outcomes for women and girls that make a difference.  
“Awareness of issues affecting women and girls are currently in the public eye like never before.  It is timely for our criminal justice organisations to consider some of the most challenging and vulnerable people in conflict with the law. The inspection report makes three strategic and five operational recommendations for improvement to help achieve the change we believe is required.”