What should a good woman’s prison be like?

Work with offenders on the new prison inspectorate’s expectations

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has published an updated version of its Women’s Prison Expectations. The document comes on the back of a public consultation last November and December and sets out the inspectors’ standards for the treatment and conditions experienced by women in custody.

This second edition aims to focus more clearly on key outcomes for women in prison, while acknowledging findings from recent reviews and inspection reports and drawing on current thinking about what constitutes good practice. The underpinning ethos is that women should no longer be held in custodial establishments which were designed for men and merely adapted slightly to accommodate women. The Inspectorate’s starting point in setting out specific outcomes for women in custody is that their needs and vulnerabilities are different from those of men in many ways. Inspectors say that they want to see a fundamentally different approach to imprisoning women which is safe, decent and purposeful.

Four health prison tests

The expectations are organised under inspectors’ four tests of a healthy prison. For women these are:


Women, particularly the most vulnerable, are held safely.


Women’s relationships with children, family and their support networks are central to their care in custody. A positive community ethos is evident, and all needs are met.

Purposeful activity

Women are able and expected to engage in activity that is likely to benefit them,including a positive range of recreational and social activities.

Rehabilitation and release planning

Planning to address the rehabilitation needs of women starts on their arrival at the prison and they are actively engaged in the delivery and review of their own progression plan. The public are kept safe and release plans are thorough and well delivered.

Each expectation area provides an expected outcome, expectations and indicators.

Themes from the consultation 

Inspectors identified seven key themes from the consultation exercise:

The involvement of community agencies

Many organisations responding to the consultation highlighted the importance of  involving voluntary, community and third sector agencies to help support women in prison and on preparation for their release. HMI Prisons has strengthened references to the involvement of external agencies in providing services throughout the Expectations.

Promoting positive behaviour

In response to the consultation HMI Prisons renamed its “Behaviour Management” section to “Promoting positive behaviour” in the belief that the new title better reflected the intention of enabling women rather than managing them.


A common theme in the consultation responses was the need for a greater emphasis on identifying and supporting women appropriately in pregnancy, particularly in relation to unexpected or still births. The inspectors have added a new section specifying expectations around the specific needs of pregnant women and those who have recently given birth are met.


Neurodiversity was another area where the inspectors have introduced new indicators relating to the screening for neurodiversity and staff understanding of and response to neurodiversity.

Equality and diversity

The inspectors have amended their equality and diversity expectations by making the language used clearer as well as adding further indicators relating to the needs of older women.

Women serving short sentences

There has been a number of recent research studies pointing out the structural disadvantages faced by women serving short prison sentences and this theme was reflected in the consultation responses. The inspectors have introduced a number of new expectations around prompt and accurate information about recall and the need to provide a better resettlement service, particularly around accommodation.

Readers who work in women’s prisons or who work in other settings with women who are sent to or released from prison might be interested in reading the new expectations in full. They can be found here.