MEMBERS of a Bristol activist group visited a prison near Wotton-under-Edge as part of a campaign to reduce women’s custodial sentences.

Ten women from Soroptomist International of Bristol visited HMP Eastwood Park in Falfield to chat to prisoners.

The closed women’s prison has been open for 18 years, before which it was a male juvenile detention centre and young offenders institution.

The Soroptomist International movement works to improve the lives of women and girls across the world and is currently campaigning for a different form of restorative justice.

Helen Davies, who runs a Bristol graphic design company and teaches design technology, was one of the members who talked to Eastwood Park's inmates to learn more about life behind bars.

The mum-of-two said: “Prison disrupts the lives of vulnerable women, most of whom pose no risk to the public.

“I believe it’s foolish to break up families by sending women to prison – often far from their homes - for a non-violent crime.

“As a teacher and in my personal life I’ve seen children end up in care, which is very sad. A better outcome for women and their families would be the reduced use of prison and increased use of community alternatives.”

It is estimated that over 17,000 children were separated from their mothers in 2010 due to imprisonment.

Liz Corrigan, a Bristol magistrate and president of the club, said: “Rather than custody, many of these women could be safely managed in the community as they do not pose a significant risk of harm to the public. This would minimise the cost to the society but to do this we require more women’s centres."

More than 80 per cent of the 13,500 women sent to UK prisons each year are convicted of non-violent offences.

Soroptomist International clubs are working in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust to generate change in female imprisonment.