It’s time to #OPENUP women’s futures

Claire Cain, Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager at Women in Prison - 24 May 2019

On Wednesday 26th June women affected by the criminal justice system, staff and volunteers from Women’s Centres, support services, and other supporters will join together to meet with MPs in Parliament and call on them to #OPENUP Women’s Futures.

The Mass Lobby of Parliament will mark one-year since the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s women’s strategy (entitled the “Female Offender Strategy”). The Strategy led with an understanding that there are too many women being sent to prison and promoted diversion from a custodial sentence at the point of arrest and in the courts. In order to have diversion you have to have something to divert people into. For women, the UK is in a potential position of global leadership as we have a unique network of specialist Women’s Centres that offer holistic support to women affected by the criminal justice system. This model of support has been developed over decades and is proven to be more effective at reducing (re)offending than a prison sentence. Investment in the network of Women’s Centres is key to the success of the Strategy.

On 8th March this year – International Women’s Day no less – HMP Holloway, the only women’s prison in London was sold for £80m. The closure had significant detrimental impact on women affected by the criminal justice system and their families and there is no clearer case for that money to be used than for the successful delivery and implementation of the Strategy. This will be a key call for the Mass Lobby.

Overall the event is about championing the pathways and change that needs to happen in order to reduce prison populations. You may want to educate MPs about those who are still trapped in prison on the now abolished IPP sentence, or that people are still being sent to prison for non-payment of council tax. You might want to raise the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation, or support Revolving Doors’ #Shortsighted campaign to end short prison sentences, or the connection between imprisonment and homelessness. We will have briefing materials on all of the above for your MP and most importantly the solutions we need to move forward.

We believe an event like this is a chance to unite and amplify the voices of those calling for change. It’s a chance to ensure we are kept on the agenda in Parliament and for relationships to be strengthened with MPs and with each other.

What to expect on the day

Women in Prison are hosting this event and have booked the Emmanuel Centre (about 10-15 minute walk from Parliament) as a base for the day. In the Centre we will have a campaign pack of information for every MP. There will be stalls, an exhibit on Holloway prison, crafting corner and lots of food! We will have speeches in the Centre at the end of the day, including from the Justice Minister Edward Argar.

After registering in the Centre and getting all the information you need you will then go over to Parliament for your meeting with your MP. This might be in their office or in rooms we have booked out. Your MP is also welcome to come across to the Emmanuel Centre.

To avoid disappointment we are encouraging lobbyists to contact their MP in advance of the 26th June to arrange a time and location to meet. This way we can also coordinate group meetings. For instance the Women’s Support Centre (Woking) covers the whole of Surrey and so we are setting up a meeting with a few MPs at once to meet with the Women’s Centre and other individual supporters from Surrey can join that meeting too. The important point is to contact your MP now, let Women in Prison know the outcome and then we can coordinate. If your MP won’t meet with you or you don’t want to meet with them we would like to arrange meetings with members of the Justice Select Committee or the relevant Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) so please let us know.

In your meeting there will be a pledge card for MPs to commit to supporting the campaign and lots of photo opportunities. Women in Prison is publishing lots of guidance in advance of 26th June on the key messages, top tips for meeting with MPs and how to make the most out of your day.

How to take part

STEP 1: Go to our website (womeninprison.org.uk) and register your attendance using the online form.

STEP 2: Write to your MP to request a meeting: You can use our TEMPLATE EMAIL to contact your MP. Once your MP has replied please let WIP know the time and location of your meeting (email claire.cain@wipuk.org). If you have any difficulties or your MP is unable to meet with you on the day then please get in contact and we can make alternative arrangements.

STEP 3: Book your travel. Aim to arrive at the Emmanuel Centre at least two hours before your meeting with your MP if possible. This event is being kindly sponsored by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and we are able to pay travel expenses for Women’s Centre and support services staff and any individual who has been affected by the criminal justice system. For more details please see our Mass Lobby Expenses Policy.

STEP 4: Once you have the time of your meeting and the estimated time of your arrival at the Emmanuel Centre please email these details to claire.cain@wipuk.org to ensure all participants are registered.

STEP 5: WIP will email you further details in the lead up to the event including campaign materials and guidance to support your meeting with your MP and visit to Parliament.

Keep in touch

All information is on our website so please take a look at our FAQs, or just get in touch with any questions or to talk things through – claire.cain@wipuk.org / 0207 359 6674

We already have lobbyists joining us from Lancashire, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham, Surrey, Gloucester, Cambridge etc but there are still lots more MPs to meet with so please do consider joining us. Let’s make the most of this opportunity to join together and meet with MPs in person to really convey the passion, commitment and solutions that we are offering with this campaign.