British women prisoners to be put in jails close to home

London, Oct 25 (IANS) The British government plans to ensure women prisoners serve their jail terms close to their homes and be helped to return to the outside world under new measures.

The measures follow a series of media reports last year highlighting the plight of women offenders who are often sentenced for relatively minor crimes, as well as the traumatic effect on their families.

In a wide ranging shake up of the prisons estate, all 12 female only jails in Britain are to become "resettlement prisons" with rehabilitation work at the heart of their regimes, The Independent reported Friday.

According to the new measures, women will be given targeted help with drink, drug and mental health problems and begin to forge links with local communities which will continue after their release.

They will be held in the jail nearest to their homes, helping them to maintain links with family and friends. They will be given advice on jobs, housing and training in an effort to smooth their transition to life outside prison.

The Ministry of Justice is also to develop an open unit at Styal women's prison, Cheshire, where small groups of inmates will be given intensive support to find jobs on being freed. It will initially be run on a pilot basis but is intended to be rolled out across other women's prisons.

The female prison population stood at 3,952 last week which represents a drop of 160 over the last 12 months. The vast majority are jailed for less serious offences such as shoplifting -- almost three-quarters of the women imprisoned last year received sentences of less than 12 months.

Lord McNally, the justice minister, said: "Keeping female prisoners as close as possible to their homes, and importantly their children, is vital if we are to help them break the pernicious cycle of re-offending."

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