The new Sentencing Bill must ensure that fully funded specialist support is in place for women who are given community-based sentences of less than 12 months to empower them to break the cycle of reoffending. We know from our experience of supporting women in contact with the criminal justice system, who are often sent to prison for first-time offences and for less than six months, how detrimental prison can be for women and their children.
We know there is a better way. We know that diverting women away from prison, rather than criminalising them, can lower reoffending by addressing the root causes of women’s offending. The women in contact with the criminal justice system that Advance supports in the community say that our help improves their lives:
· 93% reported improved health and wellbeing
· 89% reported a reduction in drug and alcohol use
· 92% felt safer from abuse
However, despite multiple pledges from the government to prioritise tackling violence against women and girls, we are concerned that the move towards 12-month suspended sentences will increase risk to women. The government must ensure that the safety of women and girls is paramount and that domestic abuse is treated as serious and high-risk in sentencing. We are pleased to see the announcement from the Ministry of Justice that domestic abuse perpetrators will continue to receive custodial sentences and urge the police and courts to properly administer and enforce protective orders.
Other new legislation announced by the Government gives us cause for concern. Whilst measures to mandate tougher sentences for serious sexual offenders and murderers are welcome, these decisions must be informed by the dynamics of gender and domestic abuse. Most victims of rape are assaulted in their home by their intimate partners. In 2022, almost half of adult female homicide victims were killed in a domestic homicide. The Sentencing Bill must establish that domestic abuse is a serious offence that plays a significant role in sexual violence and homicide.
We are pleased to see the Victims and Prisoners Bill return to parliament. It is vital that the rights of victims are enshrined and adhered to. We believe that every survivor must have access to specialist support from a dedicated advocate, throughout every part of the criminal justice process. The Victims and Prisoners Bill must include a statutory duty on local authorities to commission community-based support services for survivors. We know that the support delivered by these services, in collaboration with all community and statutory agencies, is essential in helping survivors rebuild their lives.
The government has made promises, time and again, to tackle violence against women and girls. This parliamentary session may be the final opportunity before a general election to make real, meaningful change for women and girls.
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- Advance’s vision is a world in which women and children lead safe, equal, violence-free lives so that they can flourish and actively contribute to society. The charity works with women who experience domestic abuse to be safe and take control of their lives, and women who have committed crime or are at risk of offending to break the cycle.
- Women must be referred to Advance, via statutory services or the charity’s self-referral scheme. For more information about who Advance is able to support, please visit Get Help
- For facts and statistics about domestic abuse and women in the criminal justice system, as well as Advance’s work, please visit Our Impact