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Rehabilitation and employability programmes serve as a lifeline for many women leaving prison

Without help, many will leave prison homeless, jobless, with broken relationships and caught up on a path that could lead to re-offending, writes Carolyn Harris MP | PA Images

3 min read

The stigma of having a criminal record makes it challenging for women to find a job, these attitudes amongst employers, the media and the public must change to prevent re-offending.

With more than three quarters of women in the criminal justice system being survivors of domestic violence or sexual abuse, it is fair to say many women that are in prison are the real victims. 

Difficult childhoods, poor mental health and substance abuse are also all common factors in the backgrounds of women prisoners and are all reasons why trauma-informed support is needed to rehabilitate these women and help them to turn their lives around.

Over 70% of women are sentenced to six months of less in custody – with many serving only a few weeks in prison.

There isn’t enough time for them to have sufficient counselling, be treated for any addictions or mental health issues or to gain any new skills or qualifications. But those few weeks are long enough to totally disrupt their lives, meaning that without help, many will leave prison homeless, jobless, with broken relationships and caught up on a path that could lead to reoffending and recalls to prison for years to come.

The good news is that there is help out there for these women, and that with this support their futures can look far brighter. A criminal conviction doesn’t have to be the end of their story.

More than a third of women serving prison sentences attribute their crime to a need to support their children

One of the key factors to keeping women from returning to prison is making them employable.

The stigma of having a criminal record means that women often find even the prospect of applying for a job a challenge. They feel isolated, their self-esteem is low and the thought of disclosing their convictions to potential employers means that they are loathed to even fill in applications.

This is where the charity Working Chance comes in.

They provide bespoke rehabilitation and employability programmes and are a lifeline for many women when they leave prison.

Working with employers of all sizes and across all sectors – they facilitate interviews, help with applications and CVs and dramatically improve many women’s chances by matching them with jobs that will suit them.

Women’s offences are far more likely to be financially motivated that men’s are.

In fact, more than a third of women serving prison sentences attribute their crime to a need to support their children. Punishing these women with a prison sentence, does little to help them and further disadvantages their children. 

The trauma for a child of seeing their mother go to prison is huge. In recent months, this has been even greater due to the woeful handling of virtual visits by the Ministry of Justice whilst physical visits have been stopped to meet social distancing guidelines.

When these women leave prison and are reunited with their children, their situation is going to be even harder if they struggle to find work. Money will be even more difficult to come by than before their conviction, and most will be tempted to re-offend as the only way of providing for their family.

It’s clear that without the help of charities, these women will be on spiral of destruction that will see them caught up in the judicial system for many years.

Attitudes to women who have served a prison sentence need to change – amongst employers, the media and the public. It’s only effective and targeted support that can make that happen and give these women hope for a brighter future.


Carolyn Harris is the Labour MP for Swansea East.

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