The number of women in prison could be substantially reduced if specialist facilities for women with learning disabilities and complex needs and those with personality disorders or a forensic history were provided, a leading psychiatrist has claimed.

Dr Claire Royston, medical director of Care Principles, submitted a report in March to the Health and Social Care Bill Committee – and this view has since been supported in the Woman’s Justice Taskforce, which said there needs to be a greater focus on physical and mental health needs of women offenders.

Dr Royston said: “I am delighted to see that the ‘Reforming Women’s Justice’ report by the Women’s Justice Taskforce supports my view that women’s prisons are not necessarily the right place for mental health assessment and treatment of certain offenders.  With a greater recognition of this fact, and specialised facilities, the numbers of women in prison in England and Wales could be greatly reduced from the current 4,000-plus.” The report claimed that two in three women sentenced to less than 12 months in jail were reconvicted within a year of release. Dr Royston claims that with proper assessment and treatment, this cycle of re-offending could be broken.

In her submission to the Health and Social Care Bill Committee, she also called for the creation of a specialist NHS commissioning body for people with learning disabilities and complex needs, and for those with complex presentations of Autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

She also called for specialist psychiatrists to be significantly involved in commissioning for these patients, and that those responsible for commissioning services for them should be brought together to find suitable services.