The Government published a separate strategy for women offenders and established the Women’s Offending Reduction Programme to co-ordinate cross-government initiatives that target women’s offending and the criminogenic factors that underpin it. In order for preventive strategies to be taken forward the reduction of women’s imprisonment has been identified as a priority. Yet the Government has presided over a period of unprecedented growth in the female prison population and its criminal justice policies convey contradictory messages about the use of custody for women. The future capacity of the female estate has been expanded by the commissioning of two new women’s prisons and the sentencing reforms contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 fail to apply a brake on the courts’ increasing use of imprisonment. This article examines the ways in which the new legislation fails the test of ‘joined-up’ government by undermining its own strategy for female offenders and exposing larger numbers of women to the risk of imprisonment.