The sun shone over Westminster on March 7th 2017 when the Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss promised support for Women in Prison.
She was addressing an afternoon tea reception hosted by the Rt Hon Baroness Corston to celebrate the 10th anniversary of publication of her report into the treatment of women in the criminal justice system. The packed reception was co-hosted by the charity Women in Prison and was supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust. It took place in the Cholmondeley Room and out on the Pavilion Terrace and as well as a delicious tea, the award-winning theatre company, Clean Break gave a performance.
There was wide representation from the legal and prison systems, from parliament, local councils, police forces, academia, women’s sector groups, press and media. I was particularly delighted to meet, among many others, the chair of the National Federation for the WI, Janice Langley and Emma Holland Lindsay. And also the delightful Angella Williams who has been trying to tempt me to learn how to cook the Caribbean way! If I lived nearer to London, I’d be at Angella’s Kitchen for sure – check her out!
I listened with interest to the upbeat views of Carl Hardwick, governor of Drake Hall women’s prison in Staffordshire and hope to visit him there soon to see for myself the work being done to help prisoners.
But uppermost in everyone’s mind was the content in the ‘Corston+10’ report. And it was not good news. The Baroness had compiled a 43 point, traffic-light-coded report, based on her original recommendations, and in which there were only two green lights representing implementation; 13 red lights representing no progress and 30 amber lights heralding some progress. There were nine warning signs of imminent problems; seven signs of U turns where progress was being made but is now being rolled back; and seven signs of positive developments on the horizon.
In April 2017 the 12th report of the Justice Committee on Prison Reform: Governor Empowerment and Prison Performance was being debated in the House of Commons. The many people and organisations trying to improve the lot of women prisoners will be watching carefully to see what transpires.