In response to consultation on the imposition of community & custodial sentences guideline

What is the consultation about?

The Sentencing Council consultation looks at proposed changes to the Imposition guideline, the overarching guideline for general principles around imposing community orders and custodial sentences, and in what circumstances a custodial sentence can be suspended. It is also the main guideline for sentencers on requesting pre-sentence reports and imposing community requirements and includes a sentencing decision flow chart. Through the consultation process, the Sentencing Council is seeking views on the usefulness, accuracy and clarity of the proposed changes.

Which NWJC Partners have submitted responses to the consultation specifically?

NWJC Partners that have submitted responses include Advance, Anawim, Birth Companions and One Small Thing. Some of these responses have been developed in collaboration with women with lived experience of sentencing and key frontline staff who work in prisons and with women under probation supervision after leaving custody.

Key points made by NWJC Partners responding to the consultation

  • Community sentences for women, with expert case work support, can fulfil all the purposes of sentencing and reduce the risk of reoffending. It is important that community sentences are delivered in conjunction with a specialist women’s centre and providers.
  • Greater clarity on the unified thresholds, and the factors that contribute to whether a threshold has been crossed or not, is needed. Sentencers should be supported to consider all available disposals even where the threshold for community orders has been passed.
  • Probation teams should work closely with specialist women’s services, including women’s centres, to accurately identify a woman’s specific circumstances and support needs in a trauma-informed and gender-responsive way. Investment in specialist training for Probation Teams and sentencers to better embed intersectional approaches to understanding women’s needs is vital (as outlined in the Double Disadvantage Action Plan).
  • Pre-sentence reports (PSRs) are needed for both community and custodial sentences. PSRs are rarely, if ever, unnecessary. PSRs should be written collaboratively with specialist women’s organisations (and caseworkers) to ensure that a woman’s specific needs can be identified and fully understood. Specialists should be brought into any communication between sentencers and probation practitioners to ensure accurate information on and comprehensive analysis of a woman’s individual behaviours and experiences can be shared. Consideration as to how trauma and gender-based abuse impacts women should inform all decisions and recommendations made.
  • Adopting early intervention and diversionary practices, including Community Resolutions and Out of Court Disposals, at the pre-sentence stage and earlier in the process can be hugely effective and should be valued.
  • The inclusion of pregnant women and dependents within the Imposition of Custodial Sentences section is welcomed. References to pregnancy and birth should be extended to the postnatal period, specified as being up to 24 months after birth. 
  • The specific risks to pregnant women receiving custodial sentences must be emphasised and fully understood by sentencers. All pregnancies in prison should be considered high risk since women face significant barriers to accessing vital pregnancy related healthcare in custody.
  • The postnatal period is a particularly vulnerable time for most women in a custodial environment. Mothers of children up to the age of two years old should therefore be included as mitigating factors when considering whether it may be appropriate to suspend a custodial sentence.
  • Substantial investment in community services and Probation is needed. The Sentencing Council has a role to play in calling for this investment alongside the launch of this new guidance.