New figures reveal postcode lottery in imprisonment rates for women in England and Wales

By agency reporter
May 1, 2019

A new analysis of court data published by the Prison Reform Trust has found significant variations in imprisonment rates for women between police force areas in England and Wales.

The average imprisonment rate for women in England is 30 per 100,000, and in Wales 48 per 100,000.

Cleveland has the highest imprisonment rate in England and Wales at 67 women per 100,000 head of population. Between 2012 and 2017 this region saw an increase of 22 per cent in the use of immediate imprisonment for women.

By contrast, Greater Manchester, where there is a co-ordinated strategy involving the local authority, police diversion, a problem solving court and women’s support services, has an imprisonment rate of 25 women per 100,000 head of population. Between 2012 and 2017 it saw a decrease of 33 per cent in the use of immediate imprisonment for women.

London has an imprisonment rate of 35 per 100,000 and saw the number of women imprisoned following arrest fall by 22 per cent between 2012 and 2017.

The analysis found that the overall use of imprisonment for women in England and Wales rose by five per cent between 2012 and 2017. However, this masks significant geographical variations between different police force areas.

For instance, Warwickshire saw the number of women sent to prison rise by 81 per cent between 2012 and 2017, whilst Northampton saw a reduction of almost 50 per cent.

Nearly half of police forces in England and Wales saw an overall decline in the number of women imprisoned. In some areas there have been concerted local efforts to develop more effective responses to women’s offending through joined-up working between police, courts and women’s support services.

However, in the majority of areas the number of women sent to prison continued to rise, despite cross-party consensus on the need to reduce the large numbers of women sent to prison for short spells for committing non-violent crimes.

The analysis also reveals significant local variation in the numbers of women sentenced to short prison sentences of less than 12 months. Between 2012 and 2017, Sussex saw a 41 per cent decrease in the number of women given short sentences, while Suffolk saw an increase of 112 per cent.

Last year 82 per cent of women entering prison had committed a non-violent offence, and 72 per cent were sent there to serve a sentence of less than a year.

A widespread recognition of the ineffectiveness of short prison sentences, and suggestions by ministers to introduce a statutory ban on their use, present an opportunity to reduce the number of women in prison significantly and to deliver on the government’s commitments in its Female Offender strategy, published nearly a year ago.

Reductions in the use of custody for women seen in many police force areas give hope that similar results are within grasp if dedicated efforts are made to intervene early and tackle the problems that drive women into crime.

Jenny Earle, who leads the Transforming Lives programme, said: “The government has promised to reduce the imprisonment of women and the intergenerational harms this causes. Impressive work in some local areas to reduce the number of women entering the criminal justice system is bearing fruit. But we have yet to see the decisive action – including a prohibition on short prison sentences and investment in women’s support services nationwide – that will put an end to the postcode lottery in women’s justice.”

* The data are available here

* Resources to help inform understanding of local trends available here

* Prison Reform Trust http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/

[Ekk/6]

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