Women offenders are an afterthought in the government’s rehabilitation reforms, the House of Commons justice committee suggested today.

Six years after the Corston Report, which recommended that only the most serious female offenders be jailed, the committee said that the women’s prison population has not fallen sufficiently quickly and that more than half are serving ineffective short custodial sentences.

The committee also highlighted the lack of availability of help for mental health and substance misuse.

Committee chair Sir Alan Beith MP (pictured) said the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have been ‘designed with male offenders in mind’. ‘This is unfortunately symptomatic of an approach within the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service that tends to deal with women offenders as an afterthought,’ said Beith.

The committee said that government plans to introduce payment-by-results in probation services need to be redesigned in respect of women offenders to ensure women receive the support they need.

It raised concerns that efforts to implement Lady Corston’s 43 recommendations have stalled, and said the government is failing to achieve the joined-up approach needed to support women at risk and help women offenders lead a law-abiding life, as policy is framed around the much larger numbers of male offenders.

The committee said that the government’s strategic priorities for women offenders ‘lack substance’ and suggested there is a case for commissioning services for women separately, making use of women’s centres and ‘robust’ alternatives to custody. Beith said: ‘This is not about treating women more favourably or implying that they are less culpable. It is about recognising that women face very different hurdles from men in their journey towards a law-abiding life.’

Just under 4,000 women are currently in prison, around 5% of the overall prison population.

Justice minister Helen Grant said the government would respond to the report in due course. She said: ‘This government is committed to seeing fewer women offending and reoffending. Some female offenders need to go to prison, but we must ensure they get the right support to stop them returning to crime.

Grant said the government is changing the law so that all prisoners get 12 months tailored support on release and is ensuring that courts have credible and robust sentencing options available.

She said the government had also increased the additional funding to probation trusts to commission enhanced services for women in the community and will legislate to put their needs firmly in statute.