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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

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??

Whistlingwaves Mon 26-Nov-12 14:31:47

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

KatieScarlett2833 Mon 26-Nov-12 18:02:46

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)

TheSkiingGardener Mon 26-Nov-12 21:49:13

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.

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