Women sidelined by prison courses

Steve Hook

A new approach to prison education is needed for female convicts, according to new research.

Women make up 6 per cent of the prison population and their personal circumstances are being overlooked, with their emotional needs and domestic responsibilities not taken into account in education programmes.

The study, by the Learning and Skills Network, says prison education needs to be improved to address needs that are specific to women, such as the importance of family responsibilities and self-esteem.

It says organisations bidding for contracts to provide prison education should be able to show what special provision they have made for female inmates.

Women prisoners are more likely than men to have mental health problems, the research found. About half claim to have been the victims of domestic violence. They are also more likely than men to be drug addicts, with two-thirds believed to have a drug problem and 41 per cent in prison for drug offences.

Women are far more likely than men to be responsible for a child or the welfare of a disabled or elderly relative. Younger women are also more likely to self-harm than their male counterparts.

These factors should be taken into account in education programmes so that woman can be better-prepared for life after prison and for coping while inside, the report suggests.

It says there are subtle differences in the ways in which men and women approach studying which also need to be taken into account. Women, for example, are more likely to consider who else is studying before deciding whether to join a course.

The research found that women are more likely to be in a prison a long way from home because of the relative lack of space compared to men's prisons.

This reduces the number of visits they get from family and friends, making them particularly vulnerable.

WOMEN INMATES

* 70 per cent have mental health problems

* 37 per cent have attempted suicide

* 20 per cent were in the care system as children compared to 2 per cent of the general population.

* At least 50 per cent report being victims of abuse or domestic violence.

* Nearly 40 per cent lose their homes as a result of imprisonment

* 65 per cent re-offend on release

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Steve Hook

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