From today's Gloucestershire Echo (ok not exactly a national paper). Does he really mean this? Or is it just some old b0ll0x dished out to the press? http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/gloucestershireheadlines/Jack-Straw-says-women-offenders-jailed/article-1576977-detail/article.html Justice secretary Jack Straw said today that female offenders should be punished in the community rather than being sent to prison. Mr Straw was visiting HMP Eastwood Park, in south Gloucestershire, where he toured the prison, meeting prisoners and wardens. The jail currently holds 280 prisoners, far below its capacity of 362, from convicted child abusers like Vanessa George, to murderers and drugs and burglary offenders. After speaking with prisoners, Mr Straw told the Press Association: âFemale prisoners are very different to male prisoners, and while there is a consensus that we need to be tougher on male offenders there is also a broad consensus that where possible we should punish and reform females in the community and not in prisons. âThe male population in prisons is rising but the female population is going down. âA lot of serious women offenders have mental health issues and problems with drugs and alcohol abuse and self-harm. âOften that is caused by a lack of self-respect, so we need to give them confidence and an understanding about what they are doing. âMany have children and are the principle care giver, so being sent to prison disrupts their lives and their childrenâs lives. âWe have to be sensible and humane in getting offending down in men and women, and we have to have different, but firm, approaches.â Mr Straw toured the mother and baby unit, where prisoners are allowed to stay with their babies until they are 18 months old, and the juvenile unit for young offenders as well as the general population wing. Eastwood Park has a high self-harm rate, in the year to November 2008 there were 2,290 incidents reported. But governor Paul Stickler said that rate was falling. âWe are delighted to have Mr Straw here, Iâm proud to see him here for staff and prisoners because we have made an incredible change in our performance and targets,â he said. âMr Straw seems very interested in the conditions prisoners are kept in and the education and progress that prisoners make. âFemale prisoners are equal to male but they cannot be treated the same, we have to have a different agenda. âMr Straw also spoke to me about self-harm and the way that we have changed to bring in a multi-disciplined approach with mental health services which has seen self-harm in custody reduce by 50% in the last 12 months.â The mother and baby unit gives prisoners bigger, brighter rooms to themselves where their children also sleep. They are given parenting classes and health seminars and during work or education time the babies are looked after by nursery staff. Collette Parke, 22, from Birmingham, gave birth to her son Theodore Russell ten weeks ago in prison. She has been on remand for conspiracy to supply drugs since March and awaits sentence in February. âI spoke with Mr Straw and we talked about having a baby here, itâs good to have him here because if you have any concerns about anything he is the man to speak to really,â she said. âWhen I first came to prison I though the mother and baby unit would be like a hostel, but itâs like a home from home really, except you have a nursery.â The concensus whereby 'we should be tough on men but reform women in the community', where does this come from?