In 2011 we asked ourselves a question...
...is there still a need for research into the treatment of women and girls in criminal justice?
The answer came back from all our stakeholders - a resounding YES
Since the seminal review by Baroness Corston in 2007 (see below) that looked at women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, focus on women at a national level has waxed and waned.
Twenty-five of the forty-three recommendations from her review were accepted outright, with a further fourteen agreed in principle, but not all and we are still faced with some appalling statistics around women, particularly those who are incarcerated.
- On 15 May 2015 there were 3,889 women in prison in England and Wales.
- Most women entering prison under sentence (82%) have committed a non-violent offence. In 2014, 41% of women entering custody under sentence for theft and handling stolen goods.
- Most women entering prison serve very short sentences. In 2014, 58% of sentenced women entering prison were serving six months or less. In 1993 only a third of women entering custody were sentenced to six months or less.
- 53% of women in prison report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child, compared to 27% of men.
- 46% of women in prison report having suffered a history of domestic abuse.
- 49% of women prisoners in a Ministry of Justice study were assessed as suffering from anxiety and depression, compared to 19% of the female population in the UK.
- It is estimated that more than 17,240 children were separated from their mother in 2010 by imprisonment.
- Parental imprisonment approximately trebles the risk for antisocial or delinquent behaviour by their children.
- Women are often held further away from their families, making visiting difficult and expensive. The average distance is 60 miles, but many are held considerably further away.
- 26% of women and 16% of men said they had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody.
- 25% of women and 15% of men in prison reported symptoms indicative of psychosis. The rate among the general public is about 4%.
- Women accounted for 26% of all incidents of self-harm in 2014 despite representing just 5% of the total prison population. This has fallen sharply since 2011 when women accounted for nearly half of all incidents, and reflects rising incidents amongst men.
- 46% of women prisoners report having attempted suicide at some point in their lives. This is more than twice the rate of male prisoners (21%) and higher than in the general UK population (6%).
- 45% of women leaving prison are reconvicted within one year. For women who have served more than 11 previous custodial sentences, the reoffending rate rises to 77%.
- Short prison sentences are less effective than community sentences at reducing reoffending.
- People serving prison sentences of less than 12 months had a reoffending rate seven percentage points higher than similar offenders serving a community sentence—they also committed more crimes.
(The information above was drawn from the Prison Reform Trust's Bromley Briefing, 'Prison, the facts' Summer 2015 - see below)
" The issues go beyond criminal justice alone. Society as a whole must recognise the ways in which women who offend have been failed repeatedly. It will take wider social justice approaches to promote desistance and to empower individuals to rebuild their lives."Shelley-Ann McDermott, Fellow 2011, 'Moving forward: empowering women to desist from offending'