Preventing the unnecessary criminalisation of women

All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System

In Autumn 2014 the APPG began an inquiry into the unnecessary criminalisation of women. The group receives administrative support and expert advice from the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The inquiry focused on policy and practice that supports women at risk and diverts them away from the justice system. It examined policies and initiatives from both inside and outside the criminal justice system. The aim of the inquiry was to highlight the importance of supporting rather than criminalising women at risk, influence policy and promote best practice.

Following a call for evidence the APPG received written submissions from a variety of public and voluntary organisations working with women at risk. The APPG also held oral evidence sessions and received evidence from the then Minister of Justice with responsibility for women.

Women in the justice system

Women are a minority in the criminal justice system. They commit far fewer crimes than men and the offences committed are of a less serious nature. Here are some of the key facts from the inquiry:

  • Women accounted for 16% (162,000) of all arrests in 2013/14. appg women report coverOver 100,000 arrests of women resulted in no further action.
  • 37,300 police cautions were issued to women in the 12 months ending September 2014, representing 22 per cent of all cautions issued.
  • Rates of pre-trial remand for women are high. Approximately 40% of women who enter prison in any one year are unconvicted. Few of these women go on to be convicted or receive a custodial sentence with 71% of those remanded in the Magistrates’ Courts and 41%of those remanded by the Crown Courts not receiving a prison sentence.
  • The number of women in prison has slowly fallen from 4,350 in March 2007 to 3,889 in May 2015 although this is still almost double the number twenty years ago.
  • As the vast majority of the women sentenced to prison serve very short sentences, the female prison population on any one day masks the high level of the use of imprisonment for women in England and Wales. In the 12 months ending June 2014, 9,204 women entered custody either on remand or under sentence. Of those serving a sentence, 77%  were sentenced to less than twelve months, 71% less than six months and 52% less than three months.

Report on preventing the unnecessary criminalisation of women

The report of the APPG inquiry  was published on 30 June 2015 and can be found here. The key findings of the inquiry were:

  • Far too many women are brought into the justice system unnecessarily. Thousands of women are inappropriately criminalised every year to the detriment of individuals, families and communities. For many women it is their repeated victimisation which has led to involvement in the justice system.
  • A large number of the women involved in the justice system have acute and multiple unmet needs. It is crucial that services in the community for these women are prioritised.
  • Gender-informed policing of women is key to preventing unnecessary criminalisation.
  • Money is not being spent in the right places. Thousands of women are sentenced each year to serve expensive and destructive short term prison sentences, yet successful women’s centres and diversion schemes are poorly and insecurely funded.
  • There is a danger that the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda will pull more women into the criminal justice system and keep them there for longer. Effective scrutiny of the impact of this policy change on women over the next few years is crucial.
  • Services and support for women are needed but the criminal justice system must not be the gateway to access services.

It will be interesting to see if Michael Gove prioritises women offenders and carries through the seemingly abandoned recommendations of the Corston report.

 

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