B Explanatory memorandum,
by Mrs Minodora ClivetiNote
It is a fact that the number
of women in prison in Europe is constantly increasing. The number
of women prisoners in custody increased in at least 16 European
countries in the ten-year period from 1994 to 2003. In Finland the
number of women prisoners increased from 122 in 1994 to 205 in 2003
(a 68% increase), in the Netherlands numbers grew from 385 to 1
025 (a 166% increase) and in Cyprus numbers grew from 20 to 102 (a
More crimes carry a penal sentence despite
the low level of violent crimes committed by women.Note
More children are being separated
from their mothers or are growing up in prison.Note
2 The gender gap is probably one of the most remarkable aspects
of crime. Generally speaking, crime has been a male preserve, so
that, looking back over the history of women in prison, we find
the same disparities. Women were often imprisoned in unsuitable
facilities where emphasis was laid chiefly on their role as housewives
and they were given only limited access to educational opportunities.
The stereotypes regarding women’s role in society have therefore
guided the way in which women were treated in prison.
3 Despite the increase, however, women are still only a minority
of the prison population, with the result that there are very few
prisons for women. For this reason, they are often imprisoned in
places far from their homes, which makes it very difficult to maintain
family ties. Furthermore, because prison regimes have been specially
designed for men, in most cases one finds a glaring lack of programmes
and provisions suited to the female prison population.
4 According to the current rules on the treatment of prisoners,
men and women should as far as possible be held in separate establishments,
and if the prison is designed to house both men and women, the premises allocated
to women must be entirely separate.
There have been some in-depth academic studies of some aspects
of the problems faced by women in prison, notably the MIP project.Note
has conducted analyses of the social background and penal characteristics
of women in prison and concludes that a high proportion of women
prisoners in all countries have experienced multiple forms of social
exclusion already prior to their imprisonment. The study postulates that
“being gender responsive in the criminal justice system requires
an acknowledgement of the realities of women’s lives, including
the pathways they travel to criminal offending and relationships
that shape their lives”.Note
A fairly accurate picture of women prisoners in most European
countries is that, in comparison with their male counterparts, they
have a much lower educational level, have been victims of sexual
abuse and domestic violence and were unemployed before their imprisonment.
This is borne out both by the Quaker Council for European Affairs
(QCEA) study on women in prisonNote
and by the MIP project.
7 Prisons are designed with men in mind. This is a result of
the fact that the majority of the prison population is made up of
men. Because of this, and because of the evidence of disadvantage
in the social and educational background of women prisoners, prisons,
prison regimes and prison rehabilitation and education programmes
often do not address the specific needs of women.
8 Also, because of the low proportion of women prisoners among
the total prison population, the types of prison in which women
are held are often not suitable; women can be held in mixed facilities
where they encounter male prisoners, women can be imprisoned in
prisons with too high a security classification and regime in relation
to their offending, and women can be imprisoned far away from their
homes because of lack of suitable facilities nearer to their homes,
thus weakening family ties.
Vulnerable and economically disadvantaged women are increasingly
likely to be detained pre-trial, due to their inability to afford
bail or the services of a lawyer. In many countries the proportion
of women held in pre-trial detention is equivalent to, or larger
than that of convicted female prisoners.Note
should be noted that the conditions for remand prisoners are very
often worse than for persons who have been tried and sentenced.Note
This can include lack of access
to education and work, being locked up in their cells for up to
23 hours out of 24, less access to health provision and less access
2 Problems faced by women in prison
situation of single mothers
10 Even if it is short, a prison
sentence has disastrous effects on women because it seriously disrupts
family life. Most women in prison are mothers and usually in sole
charge of the children. The prison sentence the mother serves affects
the children and other members of the family disproportionately,
especially where the mother was or is the sole carer.
The issues policy makers need to consider are:
- whether it is appropriate at
any age for children to be in prison with their mothers,Note at
what age this becomes inappropriate, what provision for the children
in prison needs to be made and what social and educational support
they require both while in prison and afterwards;
- what arrangements need to be made to ensure that children
outside prison retain contact with their mothers and are cared for
appropriately but without the risk of the mother losing parental
- what arrangements need to be made for children to visit
their mothers in prison to maintain family ties.
Mothers need to be able to
maintain their role as parents; this must include full parental
control and access to information about the welfare of the children.
In order to preserve normal family ties (with all members of the
family but particularly with children), any information received
of the death or serious illness of any near relative must be promptly
communicated to the prisoner. Prisoners should be kept fully informed
and be fully involved in decision making surrounding their child’s
education, health, medical treatment and general well-being. At
present the difficulty of communication between the prison and the
outside world means women prisoners may not be informed of their
The impact of parental imprisonment on children can stretch
far beyond the time of imprisonment and immediate post-imprisonment
period. Research has repeatedly highlighted the fact that many prisoners
have criminal parents: a United Kingdom study following boys over
a period of forty years found that those who were affected by parental
imprisonment as children were more likely than other boys to display
antisocial behaviour in later life. This same study, through its
long-term focus, found that “parental imprisonment is not just an indicator
of parental criminality, but confers specific risk on children”Note
(that is, having a
parent imprisoned makes children more likely to engage in antisocial
behaviour in later life).
Children separated from parents for other reasons did not
exhibit antisocial tendencies to the same extent. The imprisonment
of a parent was found to be a strong predictor of future criminal
behaviour in the children, regardless of the length of sentence
Other studies have found a “dose-response relationship
between the number of times parents were incarcerated and the number
of times offspring offended in adulthood”,Note
heightens further the importance of preventing repeat offending
on the part of the parents.
Children with imprisoned parents are also more likely to drop
out of school and to become delinquent than the population at large.
Children in institutional care (many there as a result of their
parents being imprisoned) are more likely to enter the criminal
justice system themselves: a quarter of the adult prison population
in England and Wales was in care at some point during childhood.Note
However, early and targeted intervention with
children of imprisoned parents can reduce or mitigate some of these
The small number of women’s prisons can place some women a
significant distance away from home, which can make it particularly
difficult to maintain family bonds.Note
Not all female prisons have mother
and baby units (MBUs), so a mother may find herself detained even
further from home, at the time when family support and advice is
most needed. Prisoners may even ask to serve their sentence in a
higher security prison in order to be nearer their families.
Sentencing may result in the limitation of certain rights
but it should not impact on the rights of the offender’s children.
These rights are often not considered when dealing with offenders.
In 2004, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
recognised the children of mothers in prison as among the most vulnerable
and it regularly questions governments on the treatment of children
of imprisoned parents.Note
17 Around the world, babies and small children are living in
prison with their mothers. Allowing babies but not older children
to reside in prison is based on the premise that to separate a mother
and baby causes emotional problems for the baby, but to keep a young
child in the limited confines of a prison hampers their educational
development and thus they should be removed from the prison at a
certain age. However, there is a lack of agreement on the age at
which this should happen.
situation of pregnant women
18 The prison environment is not
the most suitable environment for a pregnant woman, who requires
care and special attention. Poor conditions in prison can cause
complications both for the future mother’s health and for the foetus.
An inadequate or unbalanced diet, a shortage of vitamins and a lack
of regular care, proper medication and appropriate medical assistance
increase the risk of complications.
19 Pregnant prisoners need proper exercise and to be issued with
appropriate clothing. Many prisoners will need support and to be
educated about pregnancy. Such provisions are often unavailable
or sorely inadequate.
One factor which can seriously compromise the standard of
antenatal care is staff shortages. In the United Kingdom, for example,
there is an ongoing lack of prison officer escorts to accompany
prisoners to ultrasound scans and other external appointments. These
appointments often have to be cancelled and rescheduled which takes
some time. This is not only stressful for the woman involved, but
can also jeopardise her ability to make decisions about the future
of her pregnancy.Note
breastfeeding and postnatal health
International standards state
that prisoners should give birth in an ordinary hospital outside
of the prison.Note
is important to ensure that the mother and child have access to
the best possible medical care and equipment.
In addition, “measures of physical restraint should never
be used on women in labour, during transport to hospital or during
delivery unless there are compelling reasons for believing that
they are dangerous or likely to abscond at that time. In cases where
a woman poses a significant and realistic threat to the safety of
others, all other methods of ensuring security shall be attempted
before physical restraints are used.”Note
“Nevertheless, from time to time,
the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) encounters examples of
pregnant women being shackled or otherwise restrained to beds or
other items of furniture during gynaecological examinations and/or
delivery. Such an approach is completely unacceptable, and could
certainly be qualified as inhuman and degrading treatment. Other
means of meeting security needs can and should be found.”Note
Breastfeeding women also have particular health and nutrition
needs. New mothers require health checks to ensure that their body
is recovering from birth healthily and, for example, to ensure that
they do not have any infection that they might transmit to the child
through breastfeeding. Often women in prison are discouraged from
breastfeeding, as it is perceived to interfere with prison routines.
Once born, the child requires immunisation and regular health checks.Note
specific situation of female foreign nationals in prison and female
24 There is evidence that female
foreign nationals (immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers or stateless persons)
are particularly exposed and may suffer multiple disadvantages compared
to other prisoners.
25 Foreign nationals who are non-resident in the country in which
they are imprisoned face particular challenges. If their first language
is not that of the country where they are imprisoned, their understanding
of their legal situation and their communication with a lawyer are
likely to be impaired. Legal procedures may be slowed by the need
for translation/interpretation, especially if the prisoner’s first
language is not a widely spoken one. Even when foreign nationals
do speak the relevant language they may be unfamiliar with the criminal
justice system of the country where they are imprisoned. Their comprehension
of prison rules and the behaviour expected of them may differ from
that of their peers and thus, they may have trouble negotiating
the benefits and sanctions of the prison system, as well as the
legal system. Isolation, incomprehension and lack of knowledge may
create barriers for accessing work, training and education. They
are likely to experience severe isolation.
26 Whilst the problems of family contact may be less severe for
resident foreign nationals, there are concerns relating to deportation
on completion of the sentence for resident foreign nationals. If
they are deported, the impact on their families may be greater at
the completion of their sentences. The problems all mothers face
in prison are exacerbated for foreign national women. Arranging
alternative care for children is more difficult over long distances
with limited communication.
27 Both prisons and the criminal justice system need to take
into account possible delays in any issue where communication is
important and should allow extra time. Foreign national prisoners
should also be given extra support in contacting their lawyer, consulates
and families. The possibility and consequences of serving their
sentence in their own country need to be fully explained to them.
Some prisons try to put foreign nationals of the same nationality
together for mutual support and to help with interpretation. Prisons
can help by making an effort to secure interpretation and translation
and putting foreign nationals in touch with those who might be able
to support them such as NGOs, support groups and individuals of
the same nationality. Prisons could also help by making information
about prison rules available in the appropriate foreign languages
and by discussing rules, culture and expectations with prisoners
who might have difficulty understanding them.
28 Where female minors are concerned, care must be taken to prevent
them coming into contact with adult female prisoners by endeavouring,
as far as possible, to replace prison sentences with alternative
sentences or to house them in separate, independent buildings.
International standards state that adults and juveniles should
be imprisoned separately. “Accused juvenile persons shall be separated
from adults and brought as speedily as possible for adjudication.
The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners, the
essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation.
Juvenile offenders shall be segregated from adults and be accorded
treatment appropriate to their age and legal status.”Note
30 Yet, the number of juveniles in prison within the female prison
population is low. This means that, in reality, juveniles and adult
female prisoners are sometimes accommodated in the same sections.
This may result in juveniles being in regular contact with women
who have a long history of crime. On the other hand while this situation
is not ideal, it may sometimes be the only way that individual juveniles
can avoid isolation and have access to educational opportunities.
Under existing European rules,
all prisoners are entitled to the same level of public health, including
care for mental health. The 2006 European Prison Rules state that
“prisoners shall have access to the health services in the country
without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation”
and “health policy in prisons shall be integrated into and compatible
with national health policy”.Note
32 Yet, one of the major problems is that of prison overcrowding.
A large number of Council of Europe member states have occupancy
rates of over 100%. According to Amnesty International, a large
number of complaints have been lodged for withholding of medical
care, ill-treatment and sexual harassment.
Overcrowded prisons are more conducive to the spread of hepatitis
and HIV/Aids, as well as tuberculosis. Many countries have reported
high rates of HIV in penal institutions. In the countries of central and
eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, high rates of HIV infection
and injection drug use among prisoners are a growing concern. For
example, in Latvia, it has been estimated that prisoners comprise
a third of the country’s HIV positive population. In western Europe
particularly high rates of HIV in prisons have been reported in
Portugal and Spain.Note
As most prison data is not gender disaggregated, there is
a lack of information available on the numbers of women in European
prisons with HIV/Aids. However, a large proportion of women in prison
have been victims of sexual abuse, which may have exposed them to
a heightened risk of HIV infection. In addition, women arrested
for prostitution or for drug-related offences are at high risk of
already being infected with HIV when they enter the prison system.Note
The prison population can be considered as a high risk group
in terms of drug use: drug users are overrepresented in prison,
and a significant percentage of female prisoners have been sentenced
as a result of drug offences (the largest part for drug possession)
showing that drugs are a significant and increasing problem in the
life of delinquent women.Note
These women often have a long-standing addiction which will
not be addressed during their term of imprisonment. Because of alcohol
or drug use and their lifestyle, female prisoners are more vulnerable
to a large number of physical health problems than men and, more
specifically, are likely to suffer psychological problems. It is
important for this reason that they should have access to suitable
health services tailored to their needs. However, according to a
recent study, only a few European countries have developed drug
treatment programmes for prisoners.Note
In many countries, women in prison suffer mental health problems
(including depression, phobias, anxiety, neuroses, self-harm and
suicide) at alarmingly high rates. Research indicates that women
prisoners suffer mental health problems to a much higher degree
than both the male prison population and the general population.
Again, the reasons for the very high incidence of mental illness
amongst women prisoners may be related to the higher proportion
of women imprisoned for drug-related crimes, as well as higher rates
of past sexual, physical and mental abuse. Mental heath may further
be damaged by anxiety over the safety of their children who remain
on the outside.Note
As a minority group, the
health needs of women prisoners are often unmet. This needs to be
urgently rectified, both from a human rights point of view and,
as in the case of communicable diseases, to protect public health
38 As a result, women prisoners are much more likely to self-harm
(including attempted suicide) than their male counterparts. Hence,
mental health services in prison need to cater to gender specific
needs. Women’s mental health is likely to deteriorate in prisons
which are overcrowded, where differentiation of prisoners based on
a proper assessment is not made and prisoner programmes are either
non-existent or inadequate to address the specific needs of women.
39 According to the CPT, the presence
of male and female staff may have a beneficial effect by stimulating a
degree of normality in places of detention.
40 However, there is an obvious risk of violence when male staff
hold positions that bring them into contact with female prisoners,
especially in view of the hierarchical nature of prisons and the
unequal power relationship between warders and female inmates.
41 Indeed, it has been found in a number of prisons that the
presence of male prison officers in the residential wings creates
a situation where sexual misconduct is more widespread if female
prisoners are under the supervision of male officers.
42 The imbalance between the situation of prisoners and warders
and the closed environment of prisons provide fertile ground for
abuses such as harassment, exploitation, prostitution and rape of
female prisoners. A large number of women have suffered past sexual
abuse and/or trauma and have mental and psychological problems.
It is essential therefore that staff should have rigorous attitudes
and that the prison authorities should put in place stringent disciplinary
The 2006 European Prison Rules recommend that prisoners should
only be searched by staff of the same genderNote
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners asserts that
women prisoners shall be attended and supervised only by women officers.NoteNote
is interesting to note that some Council of Europe member states
such as Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg and Portugal
employ no male staff in prisons for women.
effects of the imprisonment of mothers on children and their family
life, and help with resettlement
effects of imprisonment on family life
44 Most women in prison are mothers.
In the United Kingdom, for example, 66% of female prisoners are mothers
and 55% have at least one child aged 16; over a third of them have
one or more children under the age of 5 and 35% are single mothers.
45 In most cases, the imprisonment of a woman can lead to the
violation not only of her rights, but also of those of her children.
When a mother is incarcerated, her baby and/or young children may
either go to prison with her or be separated from their mother.
Both options have consequences for the children.
46 It is absolutely essential that women should be able to maintain
their ties and contacts with their children. In this connection,
there are very few prisons which possess facilities suitable for
family visits or which encourage relations between mothers and children.
This separation is likely to have serious consequences in the long
term. Therefore, a visitors’ centre should be provided for the comfortable
reception of visitors, including a play area for children supervised
by a qualified childminder. The maintenance of family ties through
visits is to be encouraged.
47 Yet, visiting facilities are often not designed with children
in mind and have no play facilities leading to stressful visits
for families, prisoners and guards. Search procedures intended for
adults may be frightening for children. Smooth visits improve good
order and safety in the prison.
48 Special efforts should therefore be made to allow the children
of prisoners to visit the prison. Searches and security procedures
involving children should be carried out in a non-threatening manner.
Any new measures or policies proposed shall be analysed for their
effects on children visiting the prison and take into account the
rights of the child. Staff should receive training to deal with
49 The overnight visits of family members should be made available
for both male and female prisoners where possible. Overnight visits
are a chance for a family to bond together and may be particularly
effective for children staying overnight with their mothers in prison.
Such visits can comply with security by using a separate apartment.
Women prisoners should be entitled to “conjugal” visits. Same-sex
couples shall not be discriminated against. The health and safety
of prisoners should be ensured by the provision of free condoms.
50 All prisoners shall have control over who is allowed to visit
them, regardless of the age of the prisoner. Prisoners who have
been subject to domestic violence shall be given special support
in negotiating contact with the outside world.
There are high rates of abuse and violence in prisoners’ histories.
Family ties should not give an automatic admittance to visit a prisoner.
This rule should ensure the safety of juvenile girls who are particularly at
risk from abuse.Note
training and employment
52 Female prisoners have the same
needs for purposeful activity as male prisoners, but their situation
is different. Women prisoners generally serve shorter sentences
so it is harder for individual women to complete educational courses
(especially higher level distance learning courses) and to get work.
With fewer women in a women’s prison than men in a men’s prison,
companies are less interested in outsourcing. It also means that training
providers are less interested in serving women’s prisons.
53 Whilst policies may encourage education and training in prison
to the highest level, it may be very difficult for prisons to put
this into practice. Moreover, mothers caring for babies in prison
may not have crèche facilities available so that mothers are effectively
barred from participating in most prison activities.
54 Many programmes provided for women are in traditionally feminine
areas of work such as sewing and hairdressing, thus reinforcing
gender stereotypes and women’s disadvantaged place within the labour
market. However anecdotal evidence from France and Denmark suggests
that women prisoners might respond better to offers of traditionally
55 One of the major problems arising
is that of the situation of women upon their release from prison.
Even short prison sentences (or periods of pre-trial detention)
can break up family units: if imprisonment causes detainees to lose
their homes (because they cannot keep paying rent or mortgage payments),
jobs or places on mental health, drug or substance abuse programmes,
their children may be taken into care because of the parent’s perceived
inability to take care of them. Parents without custody of their
children can find it harder to access benefits or social support:
in many countries those with children are given priority when allocating
public housing, which can lead to a vicious circle where parents
cannot regain custody of their children because they lack a home,
yet cannot secure housing because they are not caring for children
at the time.
Even parents who have worked or undergone training while in
prison may have difficulties following release. Employers may be
unwilling to hire someone with a criminal record or history of imprisonment,
even if they were acquitted of any criminal activity,Note
a lack of independent finance can prevent former prisoners from
setting up their own businesses.
57 Due to the many difficulties associated with release from
prison, it is something which should be prepared for by all involved:
prisoners, children and authorities. Following release, support
from agencies and organisations can help the former prisoner readjust
to life on the outside.
58 Women serving a sentence, whether short or long, should be
eligible for programmes to help them cope with the problems with
which they will be faced. For this purpose, the public authorities
should take measures to create reception centres for women released
from prison and their children, especially as the conviction often affects
the chances of finding accommodation. Women very often suffer discrimination
when looking for decent accommodation.
Obviously, having a family to go back to is important in preventing
reoffending: “Families are an important influence on many aspects
of prisoners’ lives … Family contact is associated with lower rates
of self-harm while inside prison … Families are one of the most
important factors affecting prisoners’ rehabilitation after release”.Note
study of released prisoners found that only half of those who had
no contact with family members during imprisonment had completed
a year of parole without being re-arrested, compared to 70% of those
who had at least three visitors while in prison.Note
60 A large number of imprisoned
women do not need to be in prison at all. Most are charged with
minor and nonviolent offences and do not pose a risk to the public.
Many are imprisoned due to their poverty and inability to pay fines.
A large proportion are in need of treatment for mental disabilities
or substance addiction, rather than isolation from society. Many
are victims themselves but are imprisoned due to discriminatory
legislation and practices. Community sanctions and measures would
almost certainly serve the social reintegration requirements of
these women better than imprisonment.
61 Yet, it is evident that the use made of the possible alternatives
to custodial sentences is far more limited than it needs to be;
there is significant potential for change in the approach of policy
makers and justice systems.
62 It is absolutely essential that women should, whenever possible,
be offered alternatives to imprisonment, which would enable them
in the first instance to keep their children with them and not have
custody taken away from them, to keep their home and be able to
Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.
Reference to committee: Doc. 10900 and Reference No. 3248 of 30 June 2006.
Draft resolution adopted unanimously by the committee on 16
Members of the committee: Mrs Christine McCafferty (Chairperson), Mr Denis
Jacquat (1st Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Minodora Cliveti (2nd
Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Darinka Stantcheva (3rd
Vice-Chairperson), Mr Konstantinos Aivaliotis, Mr Farkhad Akhmedov,
Mr Vicenç Alay Ferrer, Mrs Sirpa Asko-Seljavaara, Mr Jorodd Asphjell,
Mr Lokman Ayva, Mr Zigmantas
Balčytis, Mr Miguel Barceló Pérez, Mr Andris Berzinš, Mr Jaime Blanco
García, Mr Roland Blum, Mrs Olena Bondarenko, Mrs Monika Brüning,
Mrs Boženna Bukiewicz, Mrs Karmela Caparin, Mr Igor Chernyshenko,
Mr Imre Czinege, Mrs Helen D’Amato, Mr Karl Donabauer, Mrs Daniela
Filipiová, Mr Ilja Filipović, Mr André Flahaut, Mr Paul Flynn, Mrs Pernille
Frahm, Mrs Doris Frommelt, Mr Renato Galeazzi, Mr Henk van Gerven,
Mrs Sophia Giannaka, Mr Stepan Glăvan, Mr Marcel Glesener, Mrs Svetlana Goryacheva, Mr Luc Goutry, Mrs Claude
Greff, Mr Michael Hancock, Mrs Olha Herasym’yuk,
Mr Vahe Hovhannisyan, Mr Ali Huseynov, Mr Fazail Ibrahimli, Mrs Evguenia
Jivkova, Mrs Marietta Karamanli, Mr András Kelemen, Mr Peter Kelly,
Baroness Knight of Collingtree, Mr Haluk Koç, Mr Andrija Mandić,
Mr Michal Marcinkiewics, Mr Bernard Marquet,
Mr Ruzhdi Matoshi, Mrs Liliane Maury Pasquier,
Mr Donato Mosella, Mr Felix Müri, Mrs Maia Nadiradzé, Mrs Carina
Ohlsson, Mr Peter Omtzigt, Mrs Lajla Pernaska, Mrs Marietta de Pourbaix-Lundin,
Mr Cezar Florin Preda (alternate: Mr Laurenjiu Mironescu), Mrs Adoración Quesada
Bravo, Mrs Vjerica Radeta, Mr Walter Riester, Mr Andrea Rigoni, Mr Ricardo Rodrigues, Mrs Maria de Belém Roseira, Mr Alessandro
Rossi, Mrs Marlene Rupprecht, Mr Indrek Saar, Mr Fidias Sarikas,
Mr Andreas Schieder, Mr Ellert B. Schram, Mr Gianpaolo Silvestri, Mrs Anna
Sobecka, Mrs Michaela Šojdrová, Mr Oleg Tulea, Mr Alexander Ulrich,
Mr Mustafa Ünal, Mr Milan Urbáni, Mrs Nataša Vučković, Mr Dimitry
Vyatkin, Mr Victor Yanukovych, Mrs Barbara Žgajner-Tavš, Mr Vladimir
NB: The names of the members present at the meeting are printed
The draft resolution will be discussed at a later sitting.