International Women’s Day

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As the world marks International Women’s Day 2012, it is now over a year since the UN General Assembly   adopted new rules for the treatment of women prisoners and for non-custodial measures for women offenders.  The Bangkok Rules were drawn up in response to the recognition of the particularly deleterious impact of imprisonment on women and the children of imprisoned women, and the need for specific standards.

In some countries, women and girls are imprisoned for “moral crimes” such as running away from home, often to escape domestic violence or because they are forced into prostitution. Despite considerable international support for women’s prisons in Afghanistan for example, after release there is often little hope of safety and security let alone a positive environment for women and their children.
Concerns are not limited to the poorest of conflict affected countries. In the United Kingdom, it is four years since a major review -the Corston report- became the latest in a long line of reports to recommend restricting the use of imprisonment for women and radical reform of women’s prisons. Since then the number of women in prison in England and Wales has reduced a little which is certainly a positive step but imprisonment still produces very poor outcomes. More than half  of women leaving prison are reconvicted within one year – for those serving sentences of less than 12 months  it is almost two third. This ineffective and often damaging experience is inflicted on the very vulnerable. Nearly 40% of women in prison have attempted suicide at one time in their lives and over half have suffered domestic violence.

Prisons have a negative impact on women in almost every part of the globe. On the day that the world calls for increased justice for women and celebrates the contribution which they make, there is a particular need to remember the injustice, violence and harm inflicted on women who pass through criminal justice systems. It is an opportunity for urgent international action to make real the standards found in the Bangkok Rules.


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