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Too many trafficked women unfairly sent to prison
PRT/Hibiscus report highlights inadequate legal representation, poor interpreting services and disproportionate punishment.

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Coercion leads to prison, not help

Vulnerable foreign national women in the criminal justice system, including trafficking victims, are facing inappropriate imprisonment and the threat of deportation at the expense of rehabilitation or support, according to a new report published on Monday (17 September 2018) by the Prison Reform Trust and Hibiscus Initiatives.

The report, Still No Way Out is based on data analysis, Freedom of Information requests and interviews with key stakeholders and trafficked women themselves.

Key facts

The report includes key information about Foreign national women offenders:

  • Foreign national women represent 8% of the general population in England and Wales, but over 12% of all women received into prison each year and nearly 19% of those remanded.
  • This has come down since 2013 when foreign national women represented 17.5% of all women received into prison and 23.3% of those remanded.
  • Foreign national men and women accounted for nearly a fifth of self-inflicted deaths investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman in 2015–16.
  • Most (59%) of the foreign national women in prison in England and Wales on 30 September 2017 were from Europe, with the largest groups from Romania and Ireland. The most commoncountries of origin have remained consistent since 2013, apart from a decrease in the number of imprisoned Vietnamese women.
  • Over half (56%) of all foreign national women prisoners in England and Wales are located in three prisons: HMP Bronzefield (27%), HMP & YOI Peterborough (18%) and HMP Downview (11%). The other 44% are dispersed across the women’s prison estate.
  • Figures compiled by Hibiscus, from the women they supported between 2013 and 2017, show that half were held in prison on remand; 49% of those given a custodial sentence were serving a year or less; and the most common offences for which the women were in prison were fraud (18%), theft (18%) and false document offences (10%)—all indicator offences for trafficking and coercion.

Who are foreign national offenders?

‘Foreign national offender’ is a broad term encompassing those convicted of any offence without evidence of British nationality. Women classed as foreign nationals may have lived legally in the UK for many years, in some cases since childhood, and regard themselves as British. They may also have dependent children; yet their leave to remain may be revoked following a criminal conviction, so that they face possible removal or deportation to a country where they have no connection, leaving family and community behind.


The main conclusion of the report is that many women are inappropriately convicted and imprisoned for offences which they are coerced into committing by the people who have trafficked them. This is despite the provisions of section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The report also finds that, once wrongly imprisoned, this group of women is systematically discriminated against:

  • Foreign national women in prison receive little or no access to rehabilitative opportunities in prison and poor resettlement planning and support. Inspection reports highlight that support for foreign national women in prison, such as interpreting and immigration legal advice, varies considerably and that resettlement support is generally poor. 
  • Prisons face significant challenges in meeting the needs of foreign national women and trafficked women in prison, due to a lack of information about prisoners before their arrival, the churn of women serving short sentences and a lack of resources to provide necessary support. 
  • Official data and prison inspectorate reports show that access to open conditions, Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) and Home Detention Curfew (HDC) remain very limited for foreign national women in prison. This is despite the fact that most have been convicted of non-violent, often minor, offences and many may not ultimately be deported. The overriding focus on their removal from the UK jeopardises fair treatment and rehabilitation. 
  • Analysis of HM Inspectorate of Prisons surveys reveal that most foreign national women receive very poor levels of support to prepare them for release, and providers of ‘through the gate’ support are not explicitly required to address the distinct needs of foreign national women. Confusion over the respective responsibilities of prisons, the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies has created additional difficulties for foreign national women, who are at increased risk of getting lost in the system.
PRT and Hibiscus conclude by arguing that the same central principle of the Lammy Report — that public bodies must explain racial disproportionality or reform the system to eradicate it — should apply to offenders with foreign national status.


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