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Addict treatment 'better than jail'
Crime rates among women suffering from poor mental health or substance misuse would be cut by offering medical support rather than handing out jail sentences, a poll suggests.
Around seven in 10 people (69%) believe treatment for drug addiction would be the most effective measure to reduce reoffending among women who commit non-violent crimes.
The poll of around 1,550 people finds that 68% think support to tackle alcohol abuse would be most beneficial, while 62% think providing mental health care would reduce reoffending.
It comes after the Prison Reform Trust, which commissioned the research, launched a three-year strategy to reduce the imprisonment of women in the UK.
Around half of women leaving prison are reconvicted within one year of release, the trust said. This proportion rises to more than 60% for women serving a short sentence of 12 months or less.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Solutions to women's offending lie not behind bars but in effective treatment to beat addictions to drugs and drink, mental health care and help to get out of debt. The public understand this. Now it is up to Government to put things right."
Three-fifths of people (61%) say helping women offenders get out of debt would be effective at cutting crime rates, while just over half (54%) back supervision and support centres for women serving community sentences, the YouGov poll finds.
Ensuring female offenders make amends with victims is considered an effective strategy by 53%. Imprisonment was ranked as the seventh most effective way of addressing women's offending, with backing from 52%.
Dame Elish Angiolini, chair of the Scottish Commission on Women Offenders, is giving a lecture on reforming women's justice at Friends House in central London. "In a long history of pretty meaningless soundbites, 'short, sharp shock' at least has the merit of being an attractive display of an alliteration," she will say.
"That is its only value. Far from having a deterrent effect, the short sentence has the impact of inoculating women offenders from any deterrent value of imprisonment. Neither are these sentences suitable as a refuge from the harsh reality of life outside for some badly damaged women."