§ Lord Hylton
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether the situation has changed since the 1994 Home Office Survey Mothers in Prison found that 61 per cent. of women in prison had children under 18 and over 30 per cent. had children under 5; and what consideration they are giving to realistic alternative sentences for mothers. [HL1129]
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
A survey of 234 women prisoners for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prison's Thematic Review in late 1996 found 66 per cent. of women prisoners were mothers with children under 18 years. Fifty-five per cent. of women had at least one child under 16 years. Estimates based on this survey suggest that around 4,500 children under 16 years have a mother in prison. The same survey found over a third of the mothers had one or more children under five years old.
A custodial sentence may be imposed only where the court is of the opinion that the offence is so serious that only such a sentence can be justified or where only such a sentence would be adequate to protect the public.
Where the court is not of this opinion, a wide range of community and financial penalties are already available for both male and female offenders. Some larger probation services provide "women only" offender programmes, although many are mixed. As part of the Effective Practice Initiative the Probation Inspectorate will be considering how best to monitor provision for the supervision of women offenders in their future inspection arrangements. A programme for women offenders has been selected as one of the three "pathfinder programmes" under this initiative.