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10 things you should know about women and the criminal justice system
The latest official data on women and the criminal justice system

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National Statistics

Two weeks ago (24 November 2022), the Ministry of Justice published a compilation of statistics from data sources across the Criminal Justice System focusing on women. All the data are from 2021. Below I pick out 10 facts that were interesting to me and, I hope, they are interesting to you too.

1: Women throughout the CJS

Most readers will know that women make up slightly more of the population but are in the minority throughout the CJS. However, the infographic below shows a complex picture. Women comprise just 15% of arrests but 21% prosecutions. Women make up just 4% of the prison population but 7% of immediate custodial sentences.

2: Homicides

In 2020/21, 594 homicides were recorded; 70% of victims were male and 30% female. In over half (54%) of female homicide victims (where the suspect was known), the suspect was their partner or ex-partner. (See my coverage of femicide here.)

3: Sentence length

In 2021, the average custodial sentence length for male offenders was 22.7 months compared to 14.5 months for female offenders. A greater proportion of female offenders are sentenced for offences that tend to receive shorter sentences.

4: Short sentences

Women were serving shorter custodial sentence lengths. As at 30 June 2022, 17% of females and 7% of males were serving sentences of less than 12 months.

5: Complex needs

In the 2021/22 HM Inspectorate of Prisons survey, women reported a high level and breadth of personal need. Compared to men, a higher proportion of women reported: self-declared mental health problems, physical disability, having drug and alcohol problems, money worries and housing worries.

6: Self-harm

A higher proportion of female prisoners self-harmed in 2021. In 2021, the number of individuals who self-harmed per 1,000 prisoners was 350 for females and 135 for males. The number of instances of self-harm per self-harming individual was over twice as high for females at 10.6.

7: Racial disparity

Ethnic minority groups accounted for a higher proportion of prosecutions against males compared to females. In 2021 Black men were particularly over-represented, accounting for 12% of all male prosecutions. This compared to Black women accounting for 7% of all female prosecutions.

8: First time offenders

A higher proportion of female offenders were first time offenders, than males. Of all female offenders cautioned/convicted in 2021, 35% were first time offenders (compared to 22% for males).

9: TV licence evasion

TV licence evasion was the offence with the highest proportion of female defendants in 2021. In 2021, 75% of those prosecuted for TV licence evasion were female. This offence accounted for (a, frankly, staggering) 18% of all female prosecutions.

10: Theft from shops

Theft from shops was the most common indictable offence for female defendants in 2021. This offence accounted for 21% of all female prosecutions for indictable offences, compared to 8% for males. Of the 19,900 defendants prosecuted for theft from shops, 5,600 (28%) were female.


The MoJ has created a really helpful dashboard enabling people to dig into the data by area, age group and other variables. I strongly recommend that anyone with a particular interest in women in the CJS (and/or those of a nerdish temperament like myself) have a surf.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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