Call for action to stop arrests of women for trivial offences

By agency reporter
September 11, 2019

Police are arresting vulnerable women for trivial offences in the misguided belief that it well help them to get the support they need from other services, an influential cross-party panel of MPs and peers has found.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (APPG) has called for change after figures showed that women in England and Wales were being arrested at a rate of one every five minutes.

Women who have been victims of violence and abuse are over-represented in the criminal justice system. The APPG has urged police to use their discretion when attending incidents. Instead of arresting vulnerable women, officers should seek to respond in other ways, such as ensuring that they are able to go to a safe place.

The findings are revealed in Arresting the entry of women into the criminal justice system, the first report to be published as part of the APPG’s inquiry into arrests of women.

The report comes only weeks after the Prime Minister pledged to recruit 20,000 more police officers. It warns that care should be taken to ensure that the rise in officer numbers leads to a decrease, rather than an increase, in unnecessary arrests of women.

Baroness Corston, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, said: “Women who are vulnerable need a safe space, not a police cell.

“It is unacceptable that tens of thousands of women who have suffered violence and abuse continue to be dragged into a criminal justice system that makes matters worse for them.”

Victoria Prentis MP, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, said: “It is in everyone’s interest to find ways to reduce the number of women who are arrested by the police each year.

“The millions of pounds spent on unnecessary arrests and investigations would go much further if they were invested in services that give women the support they need.”

Kate Green MP, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, said: “As a Manchester MP, I have seen how women-specific services can divert women away from the criminal justice system by giving them holistic support.

“The recruitment of more police provides an opportunity to ensure that all new officers adopt a gender-informed approach, but it must not lead to a rise in unnecessary arrests.”

Home Office data show that there were almost 103,000 arrests of women in the 12 months to the end of March 2018. More than half of arrests are for non-violent offences, and in many cases women who are arrested face no further action.

The APPG began its inquiry in May this year to investigate what can be done to reduce the number of arrests and prevent women being drawing into the criminal justice system. The inquiry is holding oral evidence sessions with expert witnesses and looking at examples of good practice.

MPs and peers heard evidence from the Howard League for Penal Reform. The charity had been in contact with a senior police officer, who said that he was training his officers to attend more carefully to women who were victims of domestic violence incidents. The officer told the charity that too many women were being arrested for assaulting police after they reacted badly in stressful and frightening situations. The women were victims, and yet ended up being arrested.

The APPG’s report states: “Vulnerable women who require support from other services should not be arrested and it is misguided of the police to think that arrest is a route to help – it is not.”

An arrest can have far-reaching consequences for women and their families. Once a woman has been arrested, her details are entered on the police national computer and retained until she reaches her 100th birthday. This information may be disclosed in criminal records checks.

Most women who are arrested do not need to be caught in the criminal justice net. A senior police officer told the inquiry that the system "punished people who were exhibiting non-typical behaviour".

The officer gave an example of a young woman with learning difficulties who repeatedly encountered the police due to her problematic behaviour on public transport as she travelled to a placement. The police did not arrest the woman but instead contacted the placement provider, who agreed to arrange transport so that she no longer had to take the bus on her own.

Making fewer arrests would lead to fewer women being prosecuted, sentenced and imprisoned. In 2018, a 10-month inquiry by the APPG into the sentencing of women found that many women were being sent to prison unnecessarily – in spite of overwhelming evidence that prison made matters worse for them.

The APPG receives administrative support from the Howard League for Penal Reform.

* Read Arresting the entry of women into the criminal justice system here

* Howard League for Penal Reform


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