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Too many women sent to prison for short sentences
Women at HMP Downview
Prison Reform Trust briefing on why we should focus on reducing the number of women in prison.

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72% women sentenced for non-violent offences

A new (20 July 2021) briefing from the Prison Reform Trust: Why focus on reducing women’s imprisonment? reveals  that most women are sent to prison for non-violent offences and serve sentences of 12 months or less. 72% of women who entered prison under sentence in 2020 have committed a non-violent offence. Furthermore, 70% of prison sentences given to women were for less than 12 months.

PRT makes the point that a series of inquiries and reports over the last 20 years, as well as the government’s own ‘female offender strategy’, have all concluded that prison is rarely a necessary, appropriate or proportionate response to women who get caught up in the criminal justice system. Despite this, the government has recently announced plans to build an additional 500 prison places in the women’s estate. This is in direct contradiction to a key commitment of the female offender strategy to reduce the female prison population.

The briefing provides a concise and informative explanation of the need to focus on reducing the imprisonment of women in England and Wales. It contains statistics on the number of women imprisoned, the characteristics of women in prison and the drivers to their offending, as well as information about community-based services and solutions.

Many of the key facts and figures in the briefing are summarised in the infographic reproduced below.


Women, who make up only 4% of the total prison population, are easily overlooked in policy, planning, and investment in the services that help them to take responsibility and turn their lives around. A recent PRT analysis of progress made by the government in implementing the female offender strategy since it was published in 2018 found that it had fully implemented less than half (31) of 65 commitments.  This PRT briefing has been published to coincide with the House of Common’s Justice Committee inquiry into women in prison.

Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, summarised the briefing succinctly:

“The evidence highlighted in our briefing could not be clearer—good, reliably funded community provision works better than prison, costs less, and keeps families together. Yet the government seems wedded to a costly policy of expanding the women’s prison population in direct contradiction of the evidence and its own female offenders’ strategy. We need investment in a national network of women’s centres, not new prison places.”


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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