Women in the justice system – latest statistics

Latest official stats show women under-represented in the justice system as offenders and workers. More likely to serve short prison sentences.

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Gender differences

The Ministry of Justice has just published (24 November 2016) the latest statistics on women in the criminal justice system, covering 2015.

Overall, and unsurprisingly, females appear to have been substantially under-represented as offenders throughout the CJS compared with males. This is particularly true in relation to the most serious offence types and sentences, though patterns by sex vary between individual offences. Females were also typically under-represented among practitioners in the CJS and among victims of violent crime, although they were more likely than males to have been a victim of intimate violence or child abuse. Trends over time for each sex often mirror overall trends, though this is not always the case.


According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, there was no statistically significant difference in the proportion of women and men that were victims of crime in 2015/16. Women were less likely than men to think that the CJS is fair and more likely to believe that crime is rising. Women were more likely to have been subject to abuse as children, particularly sexual assault. They were less likely to be victims of violent crime in general, but much more likely to be victims of sexual assault or domestic violence – and female homicide victims were far more likely than their male equivalents to have a current or former partner be the principal suspect for their death.

Police activity

Less than a quarter of those given a penalty notice for disorder (22%) or caution (24%) were female. Women were underrepresented to an even greater extent among those arrested (16%), who are typically being dealt with for more serious offences than those dealt with out of court. For both out of court disposals and arrests, females were particularly likely to have been dealt with for theft offences.


Over the last decade, the number of females prosecuted has risen by 6%, driven by increases in prosecutions for TV license evasion, while the number of males prosecuted has fallen by a third. Nevertheless, in line with police activity, females were still substantially underrepresented among those prosecuted, at just over a quarter of the total (27%). This is broadly mirrored in convictions, remands and sentencing, although women have a slightly higher conviction ratio. Women were more likely to be sentenced to fines and conditional discharges and less likely to be sentenced to custody, compared with men. They also received shorter immediate custodial sentences on average, with the gap increasing over the last decade, driven by increases in the number of prosecutions and average custodial sentence length of male sexual offenders.


Offender Characteristics

Females made up a quarter of first time offenders, but only one in seven of those dealt with who had a previous caution or conviction. Males were more likely to be sentenced to immediate custody and to receive custodial sentences of 6 months or longer than females with a similar criminal history. Three-fifths of offences committed by women with 15 or more previous cautions or convictions related to theft, compared with only two-fifths for men. Although males were more likely to reoffend, females had a higher number of proven reoffences on average per reoffender. Females were slightly more likely than males to reoffend following a short custodial sentence, but considerably less likely to reoffend following longer ones.

Offenders under supervision or in custody

Women represented only 5% of the prison population, a proportion that has fallen over the last decade. However, in line with sentencing patterns, women were typically serving shorter sentences and represented almost 9% of those admitted to custody. Female prisoners reported feeling better supported in prison, but less safe, and they were more likely to self-harm and self-harm more frequently than men. There were lower rates of assault in female prisons, but a slightly higher proportion of disciplinary incidents relative to the population. Women typically had shorter periods of probation and fewer requirements. They were also more likely than men to participate in education in prison, to be granted home detention curfew if eligible, to make a success of release on temporary license and to have their probation orders terminated early for good progress.

Offence analysis

A range of differences between the sexes could be seen when individual offences are examined; typical behaviours and outcomes vary between men and women at an offence level. For example, while women were more likely than men to have been prosecuted for TV license evasion, typical sentencing behaviour was the same for both sexes, whereas prosecutions for benefit fraud were close to evenly split between men and women, but males typically received more serious sentences. Trends also vary over time at an offence level: for example, women were becoming less likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence for indictable drug offence, while males were not. In line with overall trends, however, the differences that exist at offence level usually represent either less involvement or less serious involvement in the CJS for women than men.


Women were substantially underrepresented among the police and judiciary, at just over a quarter of practitioners, but represented more than half of those working in the Ministry of Justice, Crown Prosecution Service and female prison estate. In general, CJS functions involving direct contact with offenders had fewer females than males (and vice versa for those that do not), but the proportions have been slowly getting more equal since 2011. Female representation among senior staff was considerably lower than in the general workforce for all CJS organisations, but proportions have been rising. This summary omits to say that a large majority of probation staff having direct contact with offenders are women.

The MoJ has also published this very helpful infographic which summarises all the main data:



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