Most people who know anything about prison agree that, in the vast majority of cases, they do not solve the problems they are intended to. A very high percentage of prisoners have mental health problems, addiction problems and other forms of problems that prison does not address. A very high percentage are non violent and no threat to the public, but still we lock them up.
In the case of women prisoners the case for locking them is even thinner, yet the female prison population in England and Wales has increased 114% over the last 15 years, and now stands at over 4,000. 80% of women prisoners have serious drug problems, and of prisoners that self harm, 43% are women, though they only make up 5% of the prison population. Approximately one third are there for shop lifting or handling stolen goods, and a half are thrown into prison on remand.
Another feature of the women in prison means that each year 17,000 children are separated from their mother because of prison. Of these children only 5% remain in the family home and 9% are looked after by the father. The children lose their routine, their school friends and because of the few women's prison, their mothers are usually miles away creating problems trying to keep contact with the family. In Styal Prison some of the prisoners were actually born there, becoming part of a never ending cycle. Two children a week are born in prison.
Looking at the cost of keeping a woman in prison, stated to be £56,415, and being aware of the non violent nature of the offences, the devastating effect on family life and the women themselves, plus the fact that it is help that most need and not punishment, it is obvious that the money would be better spent setting centres to deal with their problems rather than locking them up and perpetuating the cycle of chaotic lives.
Of course that would require a civilised society where all vulnerable people would receive assistance when required.