Do we send too many women to prison?

(121 Posts)
FrancesMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 26-Nov-12 10:56:38

We've been asked by the Prison Reform Trust (@prtUK) to find out what Mumsnetters think about women and prison.

Over 10,000 women were imprisoned in England and Wales in 2011, more than double the number 15 years ago. Eighty-one per cent of women sentenced to prison are there for non-violent offences.

New Ministry of Justice figures show that the self-harm rate for women prisoners is over ten times higher than for men. Over half of women in prison report having experienced domestic violence and one-third sexual abuse.

Over 17,240 children were separated from mothers serving time in 2010. An estimated two babies are born in English prisons every week, although data is no longer collected centrally.

In a YouGov poll, launched today by the Prison Reform Trust, treatment for drug and alcohol misuse and mental healthcare were the top solutions to get public backing for reducing non-violent offending by women.

Government research concludes that community sentences are more effective than short prison terms. Independent research shows that community women's centres provide a safe place for women to address underlying problems while maintaining care of their children.

The Prison Reform Trust is calling on government to support community solutions to women?s offending. They say that improving the system for women should also benefit men.

What do you think? Do we send too many women to prison for minor offences - or is it wrong to make this a gender issue? How should society strike the balance between the needs of children and their parents' behaviour? Should we send people to prison for non-violent offences? Do you have confidence in community sentencing?

The Prison Reform Trust provides advice and information, conducts research and works with government to create a just, humane and effective prison system. It relies entirely on voluntary donations. Watch the Prison Reform Trust's SmartJustice for Women film. Watch their 2012 lecture on women?s justice.

Thanks, MNHQ

SchroSawMummyRidingSantaClaus Mon 26-Nov-12 11:07:40

I think it's wrong to make it a gender issue. If woman are going to offend, they should be just as prepared as a man to face the consequences of their actions.

Lougle Mon 26-Nov-12 11:07:44

Far too many variables to consider for an informed opinion, I think.

1. "10,000 women imprisoned", how many men?
2. How many charged, how many convicted, how many sentenced? 10,000 can be 100% or 1% of women who are charged then convicted.
3. "81% of women imprisoned for non-violent crime." What percentage of men imprisoned for non-violent crime?
4. "Over half of women in prison report having experienced domestic violence and one-third sexual abuse." What proportion of non-imprisoned women report the same?
5. "Over 17,240 children were separated from mothers serving time in 2010. An estimated two babies are born in English prisons every week." Is it not a slippery slope to suggest that having children should be a 'get out of jail free' card, or even pregnancy? Women could easily fall pregnant between charge and court to avoid a custodial sentence.

Lougle Mon 26-Nov-12 11:09:37

Also, I think you would have to compare incident rates, arrest rates, conviction rates, and imprisonment rates (plus first offence/repeat offence) of individual crimes for each gender to establish whether there was a disproportionate response either locally, regionally or nationally.

piprabbit Mon 26-Nov-12 11:21:13

Their website is as hard to read as the OP is - it really doesn't do them any favours.

My main concern is less to do with women being imprisoned and more to do with anyone with primary care responsibilities being imprisoned. It seem that by sending carers to prison, not only they but their whole family is punished. So steps should be taken to impose a punishment (where possible and proportionate to the crime) that enables the carer to continue with their caring responsibilities - particularly when the crime is non-violent.

I've heard of women getting caught in cycle whereby the court assesses their suitability to undergo punishment in the community, only for that not to be an option because the woman would have difficulty completing the sentence due to childcare commitments - so she gets a custodial sentence instead. That seems bonkers, surely supporting women (and other carers) to complete their sentence in the community would be cheaper and far more humane for the children?

SchroSawMummyRidingSantaClaus Mon 26-Nov-12 11:26:30

Surely though, if a person with children is being sent to prison, they are not exactly the best rolemodels for the kids?

piprabbit Mon 26-Nov-12 11:30:50

Are you suggesting that the children of convicted female prisoners should be removed from their care permanently? Whatever the crime?

mcmooncup Mon 26-Nov-12 11:43:08

I think prison in general is fairly shite and doesn't achieve much at all.
Reoffending rates are enormous.

InNeedOfBrandy Mon 26-Nov-12 11:53:59

Hmm I think they should definately go to prison for violent offenses and just because they are female shouldn't detract from that fact.

But prison is shit, it doesn't do anything, it doesn't change your outlook on life and where children are concerned/LP I don't think they should go to prison so easily. I don't know how you would stop women offending because they know they won't go to jail though without changing society.

SoupDragon Mon 26-Nov-12 11:55:51

I think it's wrong to make it a gender issue. If woman are going to offend, they should be just as prepared as a man to face the consequences of their actions.


Sokmonsta Mon 26-Nov-12 11:56:19

It shouldn't be a gender issue.

Unfortunately reoffending rates are poor because an offender is not always able to complete every course they should to help reduce their risk of reoffending. Not every prison offers them. It's just female prisons are even more limited than male ones. And it's harder for a mother to move away from her family to complete the course which would put her back with them, potentially quicker.

SchroSawMummyRidingSantaClaus Mon 26-Nov-12 12:20:33

Pip I guess it depends on the crime, if it's bad enough for them to spend time in prison then they are obviously not good role models or can even be said to be taking proper care of their kids. They are putting them in the position of being away from them because they choose to offend.

It's not the courts punishing the children, it's the offenders.

AmberLeaf Mon 26-Nov-12 12:25:20

The government should consider improving detox/rehab provision and accessibility to it, that would quite probably make a difference to reoffending rates of both sexes.

Drug misuse is a huge factor in offending rates.

Drugs are also far too available inside prisons, if you are not a drug user when you go in, you may well be when you come out.

Most of the time, people make their own choices, but there are lots of factors to look at.

Huge numbers of inmates are illiterate or have learning disabilities.

Lots of women who are jailed are jailed for crimes related to finance/poverty.

I don't think it is always in the best interests of society as a whole to jail primary caring parents.

I don't think it's as simple as a gender issue. I think there are some issues that affect women that are not taken into account always.

If my DB's ex gets let off / gets a lesser sentence because she's a mum, I will be livid.

lisad123 Mon 26-Nov-12 13:06:51

Sorry rules are do the crime, do the time. Male or female, you choose to offend and are not thinking of your children when you do so. Therefore why should government think of gem later, you weren't thinking of them when committing an offence.

SchroSawMummyRidingSantaClaus Mon 26-Nov-12 13:07:56

I completely agree with that, Lisa.

InNeedOfBrandy Mon 26-Nov-12 13:09:36

I wish we could get rid of prison apart from a few really fucked up people.

Most people in prison have some sort of learning disability, no education, ADHD is really really high among the prison population, mental health issues and poverty. These can all be solved and managed without the need for prison IMO.

AmberLeaf Mon 26-Nov-12 13:37:05

Agree with your last point InNeedOfBrandy

I suppose it depends which you think is more important too.....punishment or rehabilitation.

InNeedOfBrandy Mon 26-Nov-12 13:41:59

Even child molesters can be made that way, if they grew up being abused physically mentally and sexually it's very very likely they will go on to do the same. If you grew up thinking violence was normal you wouldn't think twice about hitting someone as you don't get that it's wrong. If you grew up and didn't get a average education and so got stuck in the poverty cycle one day your electrics about to run out, another baby on the way and christmas I can understand why someone would mug someone else of do a burglary.

All of the above can be solved before it even gets that far.

CelticPromise Mon 26-Nov-12 13:44:58

There are too many women and men in prison. It's expensive and doesn't work. I think it is a gender issue because the overwhelming majority of violent crime is committed by men. Most women in prison are there for non violent offences. I think prison for non violent offences has really got to be a last resort.

I do have confidence in properly funded community sentencing, but probation services are cut to the bone. Good targeted help for mothers at risk of offending might help too and have a knock on effect. A different strategy to tackling drugs would help too- legalise use and focus resources on catching the people making money out of misery.

Janus25 Mon 26-Nov-12 13:54:14

Hi, I agree with a lot of what's gone before today in this discussion, mainly around the arguments that any male or female offender who is a danger to others should be locked away. And I fully believe we all have a choice in deciding how we behave and not everyone has an abusive, unprotected, basically crap childhood and goes on to offend. And perhaps even some of those that do knowing exactly what they're doing and the consequences and the risks involved but go ahead anyway. However, women usually carry out far less serious crimes than men and have still been imprisoned, and whatever the moral arguemtns, it costs a lot of money (that we don't have going spare) to lock someone up! Also, society and the judicial system has in the past, viewed women offenders as more morally repugnant than men: same views tend to apply to women alcoholics or drug users. If a man is imprisoned often the women in his life will look after his children whilst he's bring them to visit: when a woman is imprisoned her children are more likely to go into care and there is often no one to bring her children to see her. We might say, "tough, she made a choice and has to live with it" however, the children didn't make the choice so why should they be punished further? In some countries, if the mother is in an open prison there may be ways for her to be made more responsible for her children whilst serving her sentence - there are examples of women having to go out and take their children to and from school, and then go back to prison at night. Perhaps keeping such contact going would hopefully remind a mother what she's missing and that there is something to motivate her not to reoffend?

SchroSawMummyRidingSantaClaus Mon 26-Nov-12 13:56:08

Yes, legalising use of drugs is going to help. hmm Tell that to the kids of junkies who will then be able to legally get fucked off their face. That will just make it easier on the drug user and harder on the family.

madeinwales Mon 26-Nov-12 13:59:14

I work with women who are released from prison and find your talkboard very interesting. `There but for the grace of God go all of us`.... many of the women I have worked with during the last 10 years have been failed by education system, social services and mental health services. The women I know are often victims themselves abused and neglected from the day they were born; frequently they have low confidence and self esteem. They make poor choices in managing their money, relationships and get into trouble. I agree that better help with drugs and alcohol would prevent more women going to prison. Locking up a woman for arson when she has set fire to herself isnt in anyones interests.. locking up someone who hasnt paid for her TV licence isnt going to help her or her family. If you are interested read the Prison Reform website. visit UNLOCK website or Howard League for Penal reform and advocate not locking up women who will be better served with community punishments rather than separating her from her family more than 50miles away; so she loses her home and her children.. in fact everything... Then we all pay the price. Did you know that One in FOUR people in the UK has a criminal record for something other than a driving offence?;ask the question why did so many suitable potential commissioners have to resign for minor offences they committed when they were children. Simon Western for example... a Faulklands veteran and all round hero was forced to stand down because he was a passenger a stolen car as a teenager... lets stop being hypocrites and look at our MPs who fiddle expenses and dont learn their greedy lessons compared with women who steal because she has been released from HMP Holloway with a TENT instead of somewhere to live.

EIizaDay Mon 26-Nov-12 14:06:24

Not enough people in the UK go to prison when they should. It doesn't matter about whether they are man or woman.

Isn't the gender issue something that we've been "fighting" for for years? Need to take the crunchy with the smooth don't we.

elizaco Mon 26-Nov-12 14:15:05

I don't think it is a gender issue. The punishment should fit the crime, be it a man or a woman.

JaneSoroptimist Mon 26-Nov-12 14:15:12

Pity I won't be able to listen or attend the lecture this evening - I was moved to tears listening to Juliet Lyons at the Soroptimist Study Day earlier this year Most women in custody are serving short sentences for non-violent crimes and many have themselves been victims of serious crime and sustained abuse. One community solution is through women's centres that enable women to address the cause of their offending and keep them out of trouble while maintaining care of their children. It requires a joined-up approach to tackle the complex factors contributing to the disproportionate number of women imprisoned for offences and the damage this inflicts on their children (18,000 children affected in the UK each year).

EIizaDay Mon 26-Nov-12 14:21:32

Jane; am I right to think that while "most women in custody are serving short sentences for non violent crimes and many have themselves been victims of serious crime and sustained abuse" we might also write
"most men in custody are serving get my drift??

i think the cost of prison and the cost of looking after the child in care should mean non violent, non prolific criminals should be punished in the community by giving back to society.

FellatioNelson Mon 26-Nov-12 14:56:39

Exactly what Lougle said. I hate being asked for a black or white verdict on something when the necessary information is not available in order for me to have a properly informed opinion.

alreadytaken Mon 26-Nov-12 15:35:26

fewer women are sent to prison than men, and yes that's when you break it down to look at type of crime. I don't have time to find the statistics but it's not hard to do so. So it is a gender issue but one where women already get preferential treatment.

Prisons do try to reform prisoners so in prison you can chose to improve your education. You may also get help with drugs. Babies born in prison are allowed to stay with the mother untill it's in their best interest to be in a more stimulating environment.

Quite a few of the women in prison are not British and are there for being drug mules who got caught. They need a different sort of help.

If you want to make this a site issue do some more research.

Welovecouscous Mon 26-Nov-12 15:51:17

We send too many people to prison full stop. As many women are the main carer for children imprisoning women impacts particularly on children sad

Expensive and pointless sad

ChocolateCoins Mon 26-Nov-12 16:35:09

It definitely shouldn't be a gender issue. If they have committed the crime, they have to face the consequences. Male or female. I'm sure there are plenty of men that are the only parent to their children, that also get sent to prison.

cornykatona Mon 26-Nov-12 16:49:07

I understood that men's prisons were more overcrowded than women's, so women are more likely to go to prison than men are for similar crimes. is that correct does anyone know?

waltermittymistletoe Mon 26-Nov-12 16:49:55

I don't understand why it's a gender issue.

Shouldn't the study be about people in prison?

Women who go to prison get seperated from their children. But so do men!

Welovecouscous Mon 26-Nov-12 17:05:40

It's a gender issue because in the real world most small children's primary carer is female. It should be 50:50 but isn't, so mums going to prison can mean children terribly affected, children sent into care and families falling apart.

A vagina is not a get out of jail free card.

Nor should it ever be.

BelleDameSousMistletoe Mon 26-Nov-12 18:16:17

Women are more often jailed, and for longer terms, than men are for similar offences. This does make it a gender issue.

The information below is from which makes interesting reading:

*In the 12 months to June 2011 80% of women entering custody under sentence had committed a non-violent offence, compared with 70% of men.
*Women serve shorter prison sentences than men and for less serious offences. *In the 12 months ending June 2011, 59% of women entering prison under sentence serve sentences of up to and including six months, compared with 48% of men. Theft and handling was by far the most common offence, accounting for 34% of sentenced receptions.
*28% of women in prison had no previous convictions – more than double the figure for men (13%).
*13% of women serving sentences of under 12months had no previous convictions, compared with only 8% of men.

I want to know why the incarceration rates for women with no previous convictions is so much higher for women then men. It seems to me that women are still judged more harshly then men.

AussieMummyTo1 Mon 26-Nov-12 18:16:58


piprabbit Mon 26-Nov-12 18:17:26

Excellent post BelleDame

Sabriel Mon 26-Nov-12 19:23:45

madeinwales, you say "^many of the women I have worked with during the last 10 years have been failed by education system, social services and mental health services. The women I know are often victims themselves abused and neglected from the day they were born; frequently they have low confidence and self esteem. They make poor choices in managing their money, relationships and get into trouble.^"

Surely they then go on to raise children with the same problems? So how does it help the next generation to be left with a mother who can't provide a reasonable upbringing? Genuine question, since the argument seems to be that they can't be imprisoned because of their children.

There was an interesting set of articles about this in the Independent week commencing 17th Sept, particularly with regard to mothers. I haven't re-read all of them tonight, but I will do.

There ar fewer women's prisons so women are on average placed further from home than men making it hard to maintain contact with families.

If they are pregnant or have a newborn, they may get a (scarce) place in a mother and baby unit but in order to get the place they may end up even further from home and older children.

Many children of women prisoners do not have other family members willing and able to care for them during the prison sentence, whereas most children of male prisoners stay with their mothers.

Women prisoners are less likely to have prison visitors due to lack of husband/partner and greater distance from home.

Sentencing takes no account whatsoever of dependent children

Add all these to the statistics saying that women are more likely than men to receive custodial sentences for minor offences then i do think the system needs reform.

LemonBreeland Mon 26-Nov-12 20:15:44

Yes too many women are sent to prison. Most of the women in prison have mental health issues as well and drug and/or alcohol problems. they need treatment not prison.

The same however goes for a lot of male prisoners.

ATourchOfInsanity Mon 26-Nov-12 20:18:58

Just read an article on this in Telegraph. Apparently only 5% of the prison population are women, and that most of them are convicted non-violent crimes.

I seem to remember reading many articles a few years back that said up to 88% of women in prison had a mental illness. I was very shocked at this as it was much higher than the men's rate (which I forget now). I think from that I would be more comfortable thinking these women were receiving medical help, rather than just being tucked out of sight/out of mind.

The main point the govt prob want to avoid is the fact they are spending 50k + pa on these women, who could prob be getting more beneficial and long term medical help to stop them re-offending and thus wasting money that is much needed in other areas of our society.

LineRunner Mon 26-Nov-12 20:19:40

Yes, we do send too many women to prison.

We send too many young people into custody.

We sent too many men to prison.

We send especially too many women to prison for too long, for offences that are to do with debt and being victims. And they fare very badly on the sentence scale when compared with men. And even with the relatively longer sentences, they tend to get worse education / rehabilitation whilst inside, because the system is geared up towards the much larger male prison population overall.

And all prisoners are much, much more likely than the average non-prisoner to be mentally till, and/or to have been a victim of abuse, and/or to have learning difficulties.

likelucklove Mon 26-Nov-12 20:56:23

I do think we send too many women to prison for non-violent offences. What I find the most wrong, is when a TV licence has not been paid for whatever reason, and a woman answers the door to the police who arrest her. She is then prosecuted and could be sent to prison, for something that could be beyond her control. Her partner may have been responsible for paying it, but they haven't. Because she is at home when they knock on her door, she is the one liable. Now, I know TV licences need to be payed but there needs to be another way to deal with it to make it fairer. This is the extreme case, but it does happen. The Government need to assess they are using the same case precedent for men, women and youths, and not just making an example of certain groups.

Community sentences and restorative justice have been proven to work, but the funding has been stopped or greatly reduced in most local authorities. I know a lot of people who don't like it and are quite angry when they see the people in orange vests. But anything to do with criminals is going to be controversial. Other countries can show us how it is beneficial and works; people need to be 'repaired' and not punished.

The needs of children should be paramount. No child should be put into care because of their parent's behavior. The care system is already struggling. And what happens when they come out and there is no home because they couldn't keep up with rent/mortgage repayments? Community sentencing would allow punishing the person, without putting a child at risk.

People do need to be sent to prison for non-violent offences because it is a slippery slope. But for shorter sentences, and place prisoners in prisons closer to home, so that they can regularly see family and friends. More women's prisons are needed. I live in Wales and there is not a single one here, which is ridiculous.

This cannot be a gender issue though, it needs to be an issue for the entire justice system. Less people should go to prison, with community sentences being used more. The cut to legal aid needs to be stopped, since everyone should have the right to a fair trial. Thousands of people will not be able to have legal representation because they do not fit the criteria, but still do not earn enough.

The medical wings and drug/alcohol/suicide watch wings in prisons need to be re-opened. The medical wing in Cardiff prison has been reduced, and there are no drug/alcohol wings anymore. It seems the Conservative/Liberal Government have given up on trying to rehabilitate offenders back into the community.

I wanted to say more but I forgot. If I remember, I'll add it. I like community sentencing grin I think I may have been brainwashed by the lecturer! (I study criminology believe it or not)

It seems a very loaded post, designed to make us all say how terrible it is and that Something Should Be Done.

This shouldn't be a gender issue. At all. Most of hose statements also apply to men. Children of offenders, male or female have to suffer because of their parents actions and we should have a system for minimising that suffering whilst ensuring that the penal system is still effective.

Most people who end up in prison have life stories which are far from ideal, and in many cases are absolutely shocking. Punishment is only half the need in that case, help is also very much needed.

gemma4d Mon 26-Nov-12 22:13:30

"Eighty-one per cent of women sentenced to prison are there for non-violent offences."

What sort of offences? Even non-violent crimes have victims. Does it make a difference to the victim that it was a woman, not a man?

Tigerbomb Mon 26-Nov-12 22:22:38

I'm sorry but if I thought there was a cat in hells chance of my children being taken away from me for a crime that I committed then I wouldn't be doing the crime. Children are suffering because of their parents decisions - should the blame be apportioned to the parents or to society?

I also think that people should NOT be going to jail for non payment of a TV license - male or female

FunnysInLaJardin Mon 26-Nov-12 22:22:42

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

madwomanintheattic Mon 26-Nov-12 22:28:54

These sorts of campaigns merely serve to underline that it is a woman's role to raise children.

I'm afraid the very valid points about sentencing differences are being lost by such a lame and crappy argument that criminals who are mothers should get out of jail free.

The op is emotive and extremely biased, and doesn't give enough context for the issue to be judged fairly.

MoreBeta Mon 26-Nov-12 22:32:16

I was told by someone who worked with people in serious debt that a large number of women in prison were there for non payment of TV LICENCE.

If the BBC was cut right back to 25% of its current budget and paid for out of taxes then those women would not be in prison. Simple as that.

Does anyone know what proportion are in prison for not paying TV Licence?

PortoDude Mon 26-Nov-12 22:49:18

MoreBeta, I agree that many more women are imprisoned for "financial" crime, which might involve not paying their TV license, shop lifting and minor fraud, or prostitution, and many of these crimes are committed by women trying to feed their families.

PortoDude Mon 26-Nov-12 22:53:55

I am shocked at some of the responses here. Women tend to commit crime as they start off as vicitms anyway. Not ALL women of course. And not all men either. Some criminals are evil bastards - male or female - who need locking up. Some are habitual criminals. Many are people who genuinely need help of one form or another for whom prison is probably not the best end resort.

madwomanintheattic Mon 26-Nov-12 23:01:52

I think the responses were generated by the extreme bias and lack of context in the op, Porto. And by the suggestion that merely by virtue of being women, they should be with their children.


What do you think would help? Presumably just keeping them out of jail wouldn't cut it, they'd still be nicking stuff and not paying their tv licenses. Maybe a concerted effort to get fathers to cough up? Direct billing to them for the tv licenses perhaps?

The argument about the very real issues concerning women and poverty are completely lost in the 'they should be with their children because they are mothers' line.

Do women without children feature in the argument? Or just the ones that have managed to breed?

It should be fine, really. If the women are in jail, the kids can stay with their daddies. grin now that would be interesting.

NormaStanleyFletcher Mon 26-Nov-12 23:07:17

Marking place

scottishmummy Mon 26-Nov-12 23:10:26

imo,consider cases and penal sentencing on individual basis not gender
most prisoners (male or female) have experienced abuse,low literacy, dysfunction
i would advocate a balanced,objective assessment and emphasis upon recovery and good mental health and social support for vulnerable prisoners in community.not just female prisoners

alreadytaken Tue 27-Nov-12 00:17:26

women who commit crimes are less likely to be sent to prison than men and get shorter sentences

FellatioNelson Tue 27-Nov-12 06:15:06

I agree with scottishmummy.

MB I find it very hard indeed to believe that anyone, male or female would be imprisoned for failure to buy a TV licence alone.

PortoDude Tue 27-Nov-12 08:47:14

It's the failure to pay the resulting fine that causes people to be sent to prison.

ratbagcatbag Tue 27-Nov-12 09:19:23

I really struggle. With the excuse that bad experiences mean it is understandable that people go on to commit further abuse/ violence.

I was beaten black and blue by my dad six days out of seven, and on the day he had off I was babysat by an uncle who sexually abused me for ten years, it took me a further 11 before I could go to the police about my uncle who is now on the sex offenders register and I have no contact at all with my dad.

I have never committed a crime, I have not beat anyone up or abused anyone as a result of what happened, so why do people think its acceptable to use it as a valid reason to explain or excuse someone's behaviour. You make your own choices in life and if that is you become an abuser then you should pay for that crime in line with the guidelines set out, whether male or female and kids or previous experiences should not dictate a lesser penalty.

InNeedOfBrandy Tue 27-Nov-12 09:28:15

ratbag I am sorry for what happened to you, but you are the exception to the rule and good for you. I worked for a month temp in a YO unit and these poor boys and girls did really not know anything better, there was no comprehension that they could do better. So I can see IME why they would turn into adult offenders. I'm really glad you have made a life for yourself and didn't think fuck it and ruin it.

MidnightKnitter Tue 27-Nov-12 10:03:00

what belle dame said at 18:16 and who knows said at 19:40. They have put it much more eloquently than i could, i'm out of touch with the stats. Iirc there is a strong correlation between a lack of psychiatric hospital treatment and increased prison population and that to me is an issue for both genders. Surely it is wrong that people are criminalised when what they need is treatment. Please feel free to correct me on that and yes i am aware that those with substance addictions can be difficult to treat and my need extended and repeat treatment.

Cantervilleghost Tue 27-Nov-12 10:06:03

Ratbag, I can't even imagine what you must have been through but I agree with InNeed that many are not as strong as you.

I've had cause to visit women's prisons with work and it can be really shocking - dreadful abuse histories are just normal and (serious) self injury is absolutely rife. There are many caring staff who do what they can but they are not mental health experts and they are not trained to deal with people in such deep distress. I do not fully understand the arguments about sentencing and whether women are treated more leniently than men but I do know that what we have are women's prisons with an extraordinary concentration of inmates with deep deep problems (on all measures more so than in men's prisons) who are often released back into the same unsafe, abusive situations they came from. I've heard stories from staff about women who don't want to be released or who deliberately commit further offences to get back into prison because their lives outside are so chaotic and awful. Surely this cannot be right.

ratbagcatbag Tue 27-Nov-12 10:09:45

Inneed - why I can possibly see what you're saying, there is a strong suspicion my uncle was abused ( he shared a room with his brother who also raped his own daughter) it was never officially used as a defence, why should he get a lesser sentence when he knowingly as an adult abused me? If he was abused then I am sad for him but he still made that decision to do it himself iyswim.

InNeedOfBrandy Tue 27-Nov-12 10:18:53

No not a lesser sentence, in my ideal world he wouldn't of been abused either or it would of been picked up and he would of had real proper help.

I don't think anyone who is an abuser just wakes up an abuser and not a "normal" person one day I do believe they are made.

Cantervilleghost Tue 27-Nov-12 10:21:25

I am definitely not suggesting someone should get a lesser sentence for a horrific crime if they disclose abuse or that people don't have agency, more that something is clearly going wrong further upstream if prisons (and particularly women's prisons) are full of mentally ill, drug addicted people very often with histories of abuse both in childhood and in adult life. What has been the trajectory of these lives if prison is the end result?

You need to get better information and some hard stats to make a meaningful point. Like, what percentage of men/women commit each type of crime, what percentage of each is sent to prison for that crime, and for how long, for a start.

I did read something a while back suggesting that women were much more likely than men to be imprisoned if they had carried out certain types of minor offences, such as not paying fines. If so, that is clearly wrong - why should women be punished more harshly for the same offence?

I also think in many cases prison is not appropriate for these very minor offences, for men or women, particularly where their families will also be affected. And from the little information you have given about mental/abuse issues, it does sound like a very sad situation where many of the people involved (and their families/society) would be better served by helping them with these issues than by imprisoning them.

Talking vaguely about "non-violent" offences is rather misleading. Non-violent offences could cover anything from not paying a fine, to robbery or fraud on a massive scale. I don't think anyone would suggest the latter shouldn't be punished by imprisonment, even if it's not violent!

In an ideal world, of course, prevention through intervention and support to people with problems (where possible) would be better than prison... though of course that's much easier to say than to implement.

DialMforMummy Tue 27-Nov-12 13:29:44

I think the op is very badly written. Some men in prison also have experienced sexual abuse and domestic violence. I am sure some self harm too.
Do we send too many women to prison for minor offences - or is it wrong to make this a gender issue?
It is wrong to make it a gender issue. However the background of someone who has committed a crime might be relevant and therefore taken into consideration.
How should society strike the balance between the needs of children and their parents' behaviour?
I am not sure, but I am certain that not punishing a criminal because he/she is a parent is not a good example to set to the children.
Should we send people to prison for non-violent offences? I am not sure, what does the law say?
Do you have confidence in community sentencing? I don't really have an opinion on that one.

edam Tue 27-Nov-12 13:42:42

Eighty-one per cent of women sentenced to prison are there for non-violent offences.

That suggests we are locking too many women up. I believe there are significant differences in the population of women prisoners v. the population of male prisoners which means it is importnat to look at the gender issues.

There are some suggestions that women are treated more harshly than men and more likely to be imprisoned for lesser offences - would need more detail to be sure about that but the stuff I've seen in the past argued that women are punished not only for the crime but for trangressing - women are expected to be 'good' while aggression and violence are seen as 'masculine' traits. All this would be unconscious bias of course, I don't imagine judges or magistrates sit there and think overtly 'she's a woman, she's been bad, that's worse than a man being bad'.

harrietspy Tue 27-Nov-12 13:46:53

Simple answer: yes.

I used to work in a prison. A huge proportion of women in prison grew up in care, have been sexually or physically abused, have serious addictions. A huge proportion have massive mental health issues. Prison is a horrible environment no matter how well-intentioned the governance, and it just doesn't work. It makes everything worse. Locking people up might satisfy our understandable need to see crime punished, but it's incredibly expensive and ineffective - both as a deterrent and as rehabilitation. Why don't we spend a proportion of the money it costs to keep women in jail in trying to effect real behaviour change in the community?

Gender is relevant. More women than men are lone parents. The more women who are locked up, the more children's lives are dramatically disrupted and disturbed.

Lougle Tue 27-Nov-12 13:47:00

"*In the 12 months to June 2011 80% of women entering custody under sentence had committed a non-violent offence, compared with 70% of men."

This is meaningless unless you know what proportion of men/women committed violent crimes, what proportion of men/women committed non-violent crimes and what the custody rates were for each, proportionally. All this tells you is that more male prisoners committed violent crimes than women.

"*28% of women in prison had no previous convictions – more than double the figure for men (13%).

I want to know why the incarceration rates for women with no previous convictions is so much higher for women then men. It seems to me that women are still judged more harshly then men. "

Again, meaningless, unless you can see stats for how many men/women out of prison have no previous convictions. It may be that men in general have more convictions than women. Also, it only carries meaning if the same crime is being punished by prison for women vs community service for men.

[ Current figures for the week of the 23rd] :
Men: 81,984
Woman: 4,174
Total: 86,158
Operational Capacity for England and Wales: 90,995

Don't want to read and run (but have to), but haven't the time write now to go into the points I want to make, but there's a breakdown if anyone was interested.

mollymole Tue 27-Nov-12 14:48:39

IMO it is the level of crime that is relevant to the sentance not the sex of the criminal.

SleeplessinStortford Tue 27-Nov-12 16:36:54

I think it's a disgrace that we punish the most vulnerable people in our society instead of helping them. Many people have miserable lives and little opportunity to improve them. Many women, and many mothers, are in a cycle of disadvantage which is too difficult to break. Helping these women instead of punishing them would benefit them, their families and society as a whole. Money spent on prisons should instead be spent on preventing offending in the first place, and rehabilitation.

SleeplessinStortford Tue 27-Nov-12 16:57:39

My opinions are the same for male prisoners too, but the point is surely that by imprisoning women, there is more likely to be a disproportionate effect on children, and cycles of disadvantage are made worse. It's completely valid to bring gender into the argument because some women are more vulnerable or disadvantaged because of their gender or because they have children.

GothAnneGeddes Tue 27-Nov-12 18:26:59

There's a really good book on the issue called "Eve was Framed" by Helena Kennedy QC, which is a very good overview of all the issues.

I would argue that yes, we do send too many women to prison and there are better option out there.

scottishmummy Tue 27-Nov-12 18:48:27

I would never apportion greater sympathy on gender basis,a troubled life is no good
not for society,not for the individual,not financially. I favor rehab for suitable candidates
a small minority prisoners are deviant,dysfunctional and role prison is to remove their liberty and punitive sanction

LineRunner Tue 27-Nov-12 20:17:32

God, I remember 'Eve Was Framed'. Changed my outlook, way back when.

PortoDude Tue 27-Nov-12 20:36:18

I am very interested to know what proportion of crime is drug related. As I think our laws on drugs and tobacco and alcohol are all mixed up and need a radical overhaul.

ellenjames Tue 27-Nov-12 21:07:56

don't do the crime if you can't do the time!

LineRunner Tue 27-Nov-12 21:09:10

profound, dude

PortoDude Tue 27-Nov-12 21:13:05

Yes, I have read Eve Was Framed too. The Criminal Justice system was set up and is mostly staffed with middle class men.

PortoDude Tue 27-Nov-12 21:19:10

I have to say - I do not believe in going to prison for non-payment of fines. There must be a more suitable community based punishment. If the fine was for a violent or anti-social crime, then a short custodial sentence would have been more applicable in the first place.

FastidiaBlueberry Tue 27-Nov-12 21:21:03

Of course we're sending too many women to prison.

We are sending them there for crimes which when men commit them, don't usually get a custodial sentence.

This bollocks that people are spouting about how a vagina shouldn't be a get out of jail free card - well hey, a penis appears to be.

HalloweenNameChange Tue 27-Nov-12 22:21:24

Don't think it should be a gender issue, However maybe it should be a resident parent issue (which is gender biased towards women though I know). If someone is a decent parent and has been conviceted on a non violent crime.. maybe a slight amount of leeway?

HalloweenNameChange Tue 27-Nov-12 22:23:04

*Rather than separating a family and creating larger issues for society by taking children away.. I should elaborate.

scottishmummy Tue 27-Nov-12 22:42:14

the poor wimmin, bad lasses lead astray by penis owners that clichéd appraisal doesnt help
both genders can have propensity for crime and deviancy.but in women criminality is considered more shocking
the accelerators into crime are poor literacy rate,poverty,abuse,dysfunctional childhood for both genders

PortoDude Tue 27-Nov-12 22:49:45

I think we are better off concentrating on what crimes women commit and why they commit them. And comparing them to what crimes men commit etc.

PortoDude Tue 27-Nov-12 22:55:22

I think women are automatically more harshly judged as us women just should not have criminal tendencies as we are luffly and love fluffy kittens and all that. I would hasten to bet that Maxine Carr - who killed no-one - is more reviled in the press than Ian Huntley.

scottishmummy Tue 27-Nov-12 23:01:55

there are embedded social and psychological expectation and construct of women
digression and deviance from social norm is harshly judged
bit i dont think the female criminal justice experience is more deserving than that of a vulnerable male

edam Tue 27-Nov-12 23:03:38

I just love the way misogynists have now perverted the language of equality so any attempt to look at potential gender discrimination is met with immediate howls of 'you aren't being fair to men!'.

Jeez. Doesn't take long for reactionary forces to absorb and pervert attempts to fight discrimination, did it? These days you can't even ask whether there are gender issues before you get multiple posts from people claiming merely posing the question is unfair to men.

Newsflash - in general, men are still hugely advantaged and women are still hugely disadvantaged on any measure you want to look at. Asking whether the criminal justice system is uniquely exempt from this phenomenon is hardly eccentric.

I do wonder whether the people who are so quick to deny that the possibility of sexism even exists in the context of criminal justice are equally vociferous in denying racism exists.

scottishmummy Tue 27-Nov-12 23:13:14

is that a what about the menz dig?no one is being this a oi yiuse is anti feminist putdown
i dont feel specificity more disgruntled at the female criminal justice experience,than the male experience
systemically society fails the poor,those with poor social history,and poor educational outcomes. my immediate response to that isnt what about da menz, nor is it oh my god poor women gotten at by society and criminal justice

PortoDude Tue 27-Nov-12 23:17:26

Could you repost in the English language SM?

edam Tue 27-Nov-12 23:18:53

yes, prisons are full of people who have had shit lives but it is wilful blindness to refuse to see that there are distinct differences in the population of male prisoners and the population of female prisoners. Equality does not mean insisting that everyone is the same - we don't offer women prostate screening and we don't offer men cervical smears. You have to recognise gender issues just as much as race issues or disability issues, or age, or sexual orientation...

scottishmummy Tue 27-Nov-12 23:23:42

your posts are littered with hyperbole and little digs
i dont have to see anything your way, nor do we have to concur
and no i need dont have a gender issue about it. i have a issue with how we treat disaffected,poor and marginalised individuals in society.not just wimmin

GothAnneGeddes Wed 28-Nov-12 02:31:19

Edam - I completely agree. I'll probably get shouted at for this, but power structures affect you throughout your life, so the idea that the criminal system is some haven of gender equality, when it is certainly beset by both institutionalised racism and classim is just laughable.

SoupDragon Wed 28-Nov-12 07:11:28

we don't offer men cervical smears

That may be because men don't have a cervix.

MaeBee Wed 28-Nov-12 10:30:29

I work in prisons and whilst I'd generally veer in the idea that prison doesn't help reduce reoffending to any significant amount (about 70% reoffend within first year out again), the difference between male and female prisons is significant. i've worked in both, and am currently working in a male prison with domestic violence perpetrators.
prison doesn't work a lot of the time. That's just a fact. It's a very expensive (£40,000 a year) way of pleasing a population hungry for punishment and demonisation of the 'criminal' classes. it doesn't really deter crime and when we note that more than 60% of boys with a dad in prison go on to offend themselves we can see that actually the impact on kids can sometimes contribute to crime in our communities.
here are some facts:
The vast majority of women in prison are in for non violent crimes. More than 90%. A significant amount of that is non payment of fines. So that's financial reasons, which I'm sure even the thickest Etonian would recognise that there is a correlation with non payment of fines and poverty. Trust me, you'd pay if you could.
Women are sent to prison more readily than men. •28% of women in prison had no previous convictions – more than double the figure for men (13%).
Women are far more likely to be the primary caregivers. When men go to prison they are often (though not always) assured that their children remain in the custody of their female partners.The children suffer significantly, but not as significantly as when children are put in care.•It is estimated that more than 17,240 children were separated from their mother in 2010 by imprisonment. That's a lot of children you're punishing when you send a Mother to prison. and unless you have some weird notion of Biblical suffering for your parent's sins then that HAS to be thought about when giving a custodial sentence. cos we all know that children in care have much lowered life chances. 1in 4 women in prison grew up in care themselves.
there is also this: •Women on remand makeup 18% of the female prison population. These women spend an average of four to six weeks in prison and nearly 60% do not go on to receive a custodial sentence.
so that, fellow mums, is saying that this are women who aren't sentenced to a custodial sentence, but still are separated from their children.
sometimes of course it is in the interests for children to be taken into care. of COURSE that's true. however, a lot of the time we are talking handling stolen goods, or really low impact petty crimes.

if you want to reduce offending because you want safer communities, if you want children growing up with more life chances, if you want damaged women given help not punishment, if you want to pay less taxes out of your own wages, then you look for other solutions. however, if you just want revenge whatever the cost because of some fantasy of "goodies" and "baddies" then go for it. lock em up.

AmberLeaf Wed 28-Nov-12 10:58:43

Brilliant post MaeBee

MoreBeta Wed 28-Nov-12 11:08:43

Yes I agree a very good post MaeBee.

Prison is an extremely blunt instrument. How do we differentiate between say persistent repeated offences such as petty theft to feed a drug habit (or even just because of mental illness) and theft which is oportunistic, premeditated and fuelled only by greed?

Both have the same immediate economic impact and hence both carry the same tariff. How can a judge sat in a court with only the facts of the case before them even begin to piece together extenuating circumstances and then consider putting together a whole package of support as an alternative to prison?

Where I think we fail is not so much in the handing out of a prison sentence as a basic essential deterent to others - but the bigger failure is making sure the person once released is not 'allowed' to go back to their former life.

Maybe a condition of release is close daily contact with a probation officer, mental health support, social services, welfare officer, etc. I know it is expensive but surely no more than prison.

Tanith Wed 28-Nov-12 12:12:20

I remember many years ago Clare Short campaigning for female prisoners.

Exactly the same sort of statistics were presented then: women less likely to offend yet more likely to be imprisoned. It's depressing to read that little has changed.

It was also the case that women were more likely to be certified insane.

Society appears to struggle with the concept of women committing offences.

msrisotto Wed 28-Nov-12 13:51:41

Maebee - Great post, can I ask where you got your figures from? I'm not challenging you, i'd like to bookmark the website1

CelticPromise Wed 28-Nov-12 15:29:16

Hear hear Maebee.

FrancesMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 28-Nov-12 15:38:39

Hiya, If you're interested BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour are discussing reforming women's justice tomorrow morning (10am)


MaeBee, you posted what I couldn't quite figure out how to say.

HeadfirstForAMistletoeKiss Wed 28-Nov-12 16:53:14

It shouldn't be a gender issue but it is. I have a family member who works in a female prison and she is constantly dealing with self harming, and many of the women have been through horrific ordeals before offending and being imprisoned.

It is because of a general gender imbalance that many of these women have ended up locked up- suffered domestic violence, been raped, pimped, introduced to drugs and receiving little or no help.

I don't know what the answer is, of course offenders need to be dealt with but there is a huge general difference between male and female offenders.

scottishmummy Wed 28-Nov-12 19:07:33

goth,carefully read my posts,have issues with how marginalized,poor treated in society
it's appalling as a society that we systemically fail many and women
not just women.I don't have more of an affinity for female suffering.I feel aggrieved globally

Solopower1 Wed 28-Nov-12 20:43:11

Great post, Maebee.

I think it is a gender issue for all the reasons mentioned earlier by eloquent posters.

Does anyone know what they do with women offenders in other countries? Any examples of good practice that we could learn from?

edam Wed 28-Nov-12 21:50:46

Agree, great post by Maebee.

Colleague of mine interviewed some women offenders who were on a basic cookery course (taught by volunteers). One woman told her it was helping her to enjoy cooking again - previously she'd been too scared to cook because her partner often ended up shoving her face into the pan. Many of the others didn't have a clue how to cook - helping them to learn those skills will help their families when they return to society (assuming they can have their children back).

MaeBee Thu 29-Nov-12 09:01:03

hi again,
the figures were cut and pasted from the Women In Prison website. They do a lot of great work.

msrisotto Thu 29-Nov-12 17:59:09


KatyPRT Fri 07-Dec-12 16:16:24

Thank you Mumsnetters for taking part in this discussion thread. We at the Prison Reform Trust wanted to respond to some of the points you have made.

We don’t advocate that women should be treated more favourably than men, nor that having children should be a ‘get out of jail free card’ for any parent. But as some of you have pointed out, the data (and frontline experience) shows that women in prison have distinct characteristics compared to men. We think this should be taken into account in the way they are treated in the criminal justice system, as should the distinct characteristics of other groups including children, young adults, and men and women with mental health problems or learning disabilities.

Because women are such a small proportion of the prison population, the system has not been designed with them in mind. Helping women to stop offending and turn their lives around often requires a different approach.

We appreciate the feedback on our website and OP, and will make sure they are more effective for future debates like this. You can find out more and keep up to date by going to: as well as from other organisations like Women in Prison with whom we work closely. In the meantime, some more facts:

•In England and Wales, the total prison population on 2 November 2012 was 85,450. This included 4,141 women and girls. Women on remand make up 17% of the female prison population
•In the 12 months ending June 2012, women accounted for 31% of all self-harm incidents in prison despite representing only 5% of the prison population
•A 2006 University of Oxford report on the health of 500 women prisoners found that women in custody are five times more likely to have a mental health concern than women in the general population
•In the same study, 52% of women surveyed said they had used heroin, crack or cocaine powder in the four weeks before prison, compared to 40% of male prisoners
•Sentencing guidelines recognise sole or primary care responsibilities as a mitigating factor in sentencing but research suggests that courts are not always aware if defendants have children.

We look forward to hearing more of your views.

Lougle Fri 07-Dec-12 16:33:29

"In the 12 months ending June 2012, women accounted for 31% of all self-harm incidents in prison despite representing only 5% of the prison population"

Prison isn't meant to be a nice place confused I can't see how you can argue that because some women react to prison by self-harming, they shouldn't be imprisoned in the first place.

NormaStanleyFletcher Fri 07-Dec-12 19:44:09

I doubt they suddenly start self harming when they get to prison. It is more likely that they had mh issues before then.

I totally agree that the prison service is much more geared up for male offenders. From the basic fact of being able to keep them closer to home most of the time, to the interventions available to help then address their offending behaviour.

Welovecouscous Fri 07-Dec-12 22:47:21

In a civilised society we can't just shrug and say "oh well" when we know people in prison are suffering unduly.

I don't even think prison works most of the time anyway. We just spend tax payers' money to imprison a lot of vulnerable people who need other kinds of sorting out.

Lougle Fri 07-Dec-12 23:10:32

Well, no, we can't. At the same time, we can't decide that anyone who doesn't like prison shouldn't be put there. It's a punishment. If women are self-harming in prison, then steps need to be taken to reduce that - more supervision, counselling, whatever...but you can't decide not to send people to prison if they don't like it.

scottishmummy Sat 08-Dec-12 00:23:09

need to look at pre-morbid sh behaviours rather than presume prison is cause
prison can exacerbate a preexisting condition

NormaStanleyFletcher Sat 08-Dec-12 00:38:38

most Prison officers I know - and from my user name you may guess that I know a few, acknowledge that short prison terms do fuck all to punish or rehabilitate, it is more of a revolving door. It is only usefull in that, for example, the really prolific TWOCer (car thief) is taken off the street for 3 months, and the crime stats drop.

Prison is not meant to be a nasty place that punishes you beyond the fact that your liberty is being taken away. Your liberty has been taken away, you have to live in a regime that dictates all sorts of rules and timetables, you are taken away from your life and your family, and that is your 'punishment'.

I think that far too many people are sent to prison, male, female, young and old. But the fact that women offend so much less, and are sent to prison for first offences more than men, for non violent/sexual offences more than men, etc is of real concern.

Feckthehalls Sat 08-Dec-12 00:55:51

I work in prisons.
Don't break the law.
That's how you avoid prison.

tracieryley Mon 25-Feb-13 02:22:17

i feel that some commentors on here dont take into consideration that people may have commited a crime befor theyve had children. i recieved a fine when i was 17 and not been able to pay it im now 22 and had my first child 8 month ago. i recieved a court summons this week and will discover the outcome on 8th march. so if i am unfortunate and get sentenced would use still say my baby deserves to be taken into care. he cant go near his father as he is violent and on a regular basis too includeing when i was pregnant (fyi he kept getting off with a caution) women are getting sent to prison for non violent crime (and men) when alternatives should be used if i get sent to prison i wont get to see my son at all where as if i do community service i still pay for the fine and my son gets to keep his mammy and its ab extra space in prison for soneone whi deserves to be ther

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