It doesn't tally at all with what he says privately, he conceeds women are "far more messed up than men" when they get to prison and the the prisons "don't know what to do with them". So how does that justify locking them up , when diversion sentences are more successful in cutting reoffending and clearly more cost-effective?
Released from behind the Times paywall.
Mr Clarke’s rebuff to penal reformers will fuel their fears that women offenders are being marginalised in sentencing reforms to be outlined later this month.A report to be published next week is to call for far-reaching reform of justice, with a switch of emphasis away from imprisoning women to developing community-based alternatives.
But Mr Clarke’s insistence that there will be no swift moves to close women’s prisons and his robust response to penal reform groups will delight those Conservative MPs who believe he is soft on crime.
Cuts in police numbers, along with sentencing reforms intended to stabilise and then reduce the prison population, are provoking fears that the coalition is soft on law and order.
David Cameron will seek to reassure the public and his party that the Government has a tough approach to crime when he makes a speech on law and order later this month. He will speak shortly before Mr Clarke unveils proposals to overhaul sentencing, including plans to divert men and women suffering from mental health, drug and alcohol abuse away from the criminal justice system and to health facilities for treatment.
Penal reformers claim that thousands of female criminals currently jailed for non-violent crimes should not be sent to jail but punished in the community.
The latest figures show that just under 45 per cent of women sent to jail in 2009 were convicted of theft, fraud and forgery offences, compared with 21 per cent of men. Just 14 per cent of women jailed were convicted of violence against the person, compared with 21 per cent of men.
Andrew Neilson, assistant director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said that Mr Clarke could take steps to reduce the number of women in jail without alarming the public.
“He could target this area as a way of reducing the prison population. Cutting the number of women in prison is much easier to sell to the public than men, particularly as so many women are in prison for non-violent crimes.”
Penal reform groups believe that the momentum for reforming the way women are dealt with in the justice system has slowed since Labour lost the general election. Under Labour, there was a female prisons minister who also championed women’s justice.
There are also fears over the future funding for a network of pioneering centres set up to help overhaul the way female offenders are treated. They were seen as the core element of a strategy to keep women out of prison and able to remain in their communities.
The Government gave £15.6 million over four years to trial centres around the country when they were piloted in 2007. Last month, the Government added £1.7 million to the £1.5 million provided by charities to ensure the survival of 26 centres, after fears that several were facing closure.
Crispin Blunt, the Prisons Minister, made clear that the Justice Ministry contribution was a “one-off” and there are fears that charities will be unwilling or unable to bear the financial burden of keeping the centres open.
Early findings from the centres suggest that they have a better record of turning women away from a life of crime. Anawim centre in Birmingham reported last year that 3 per cent of women using the unit had reoffended, compared to 54 per cent of those in jail.
The centres also represent a much cheaper and more effective way of dealing with female offenders. It costs, on average, about £54,000 to keep a woman in prison for a year compared with between £10,000-15,000 for a community order.
A Ministry of Justice official said last night that the Government remained committed to developing policies addressing the particular needs of women offenders.