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: |
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.

YouSeveredHead Mon 26-Nov-12 12:25:55

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.

JammySplodger Mon 26-Nov-12 13:03:54

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.

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