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

OP’s posts: |
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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

Message withdrawn at poster's request.


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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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).

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?

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

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.

LittleWhiteWolf Wed 28-Nov-12 16:47:21

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

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)


OP’s posts: |
CelticPromise Wed 28-Nov-12 15:29:16

Hear hear Maebee.

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

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.

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.

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

Brilliant post MaeBee

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.

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.

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.

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