Belfast Telegraph

Number of women prisoners in Northern Ireland has more than doubled since 2000

 

By Eamon Sweeney

The number of women currently imprisoned in Northern Ireland has more than doubled since the millennium, according to figures contained in a new report.

In 2000 there were 23 women in jail here. But the latest information relating to the end of September showed that 53 females were currently behind bars.

The report compiled by the Institute of Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck College at the University of London also revealed that there were almost 4,000 women imprisoned in England and Wales, while there were 360 in Scottish prisons.

Since 2000 a number of high-profile female killers have been incarcerated in Northern Ireland.

Hazel Stewart and her lover Colin Howell were convicted of the murders of their respective spouses, RUC man Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell.

And Karen Walsh, dubbed the 'Crucifix Killer', was jailed for the murder of 81-year-old Maire Rankin at her Newry home on Christmas Day in 2008.

Newry killer Lindsay White is also locked up in Hydebank's Ash House, the women's wing, for beating a homeless Polish man to death in July 2009.

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey said the figures in the latest edition of the World Female Imprisonment List were "deeply alarming".

"In Northern Ireland in particular, prisons are being used as 'safe places' to house women who need mental healthcare and support," she said.

"The majority of women imprisoned in NI have not committed violent crimes - many are victims themselves - of rape, domestic abuse and sexual assault.

"Many suffer mental ill-health, and many have not been tried at all and are imprisoned on remand.

"The trauma, harm and inappropriateness of incarceration cannot be overestimated.

"These failures are compounded by unnecessary cuts to public services and an absent Executive. Without a functioning government, investment in public services and a range of long-term, cross-departmental measures to address poverty, gender-based violence and our mental health crisis, more women will be failed and more women will be incarcerated.

"Imprisonment is not the solution to the vast majority of these cases.

"We should be offering care, support and, where necessary, rehabilitation.

"We call on all parties and on the British Government to cooperate as a matter of urgency so that we can begin to address these issues."

Globally, almost 7% of the prison population is now female with researchers calculating that the over 700,000 women inmates represent more than a 50% rise on the 466,000 that were behind bars in 2000.

The new figures include those who are currently on remand and awaiting trial. In comparison, the amount of male prisoners has risen by around a fifth (20%) in the last 17 years.

Belfast Telegraph

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