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How the justice system treats women in 2018

MoJ annual report on women in the justice system reveals differential treatment.

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The MoJ published its annual inequality reports last week (29 November 2018). On Tuesday, I explored the findings from the annual offender equalities report which provides statistics on offenders in prison and in the community and their protected characteristics.

Today I focus on the MoJ’s annual women and the criminal justice system report which tells the usual story of differential treatment for women. 

The main findings are summarised in the MoJ’s helpful infographic which is reproduced below the post. The report is 133 pages long, so I have chosen to share ten facts that I found of interest and encourage you to peruse the document yourself. Where possible, I have tried to pick out trends and facts likely to be less well-known.

The report

The bulletin is a compendium of statistics from data sources across the CJS to provide a combined perspective on the typical experiences of males and females who come into contact with it. It brings together information on representation by sex among victims, suspects, defendants, offenders and practitioners within the CJS and considers how these experiences have changed over time and how they contrast to the typical experiences of males. In general, females appear to be substantially underrepresented 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.

10 interesting facts about women in the CJS


1: Likelihood of being a victim

Men are more likely to be victims of a personal crime than females with 4.4% being a victim of a personal crime in 2017/18, compared to 3.5% women. However, in 2017/18, 7.9% women reported experiencing domestic abuse in the last year, compared to 4.2% of men. The proportion of females who were a victim of domestic abuse at some point since the age of 16 was over twice the size of the proportion of males, with 28.9% of females reporting this compared to 13.2% of males.

2: Fewer women are being arrested

The majority (85%) of arrests continue to be accounted for by males in 2017/18. Interestingly while the number of men arrested fell by 8% overall compared to 2016/17, there was a bigger fall (11%) in the number of women arrested.

3: Mental health needs

Figures from Liaison and Diversion services in police custody show that 69% of adult females had mental health needs compared to 61% of adult males, where depressive illness was the most common need. In young people, 51% of females had mental health needs compared to 41% of males, where emotional and behavioural issues was the most common need.

4: Violence most common form of offence for men and women

The table below shows that by far the most common reason for offence for both sexes was an offence of violence.

5: A growing proportion of defendants are women

In 2017, 74% of defendants prosecuted were male, and 26% were female. However, while the number of prosecutions of male defendants has declined steadily over the past decade by 32% (from 1.4 million in 2007 to 936,000 in 2017), the number of female defendants has only fallen by 4% over the same period.

6: More men sent to custody, more women get short sentences

The custody rate was higher for male offenders in each year of the last decade. Men had a higher custody rate for indictable offences (34%) than females (20%). Females were 43% less likely to be sentenced to custody for indictable offences, relative to males.

Average custodial sentence length (ACSL) for male offenders in 2017 was 17.6 months, and 10.0 months for females. This is driven in part by a higher proportion of female offenders receiving shorter sentence lengths of up to and including three months (57%), compared with 35% of male offenders.

7: Pre-sentence reports

In 2017, 38% of PSRs were written, fast delivery PSRs (women 32%, men 39%). Oral, fast delivery PSR’s were more common, especially for women (females 66%, males 57%), while standard PSRs which are given for the more serious offences were much less common and were given proportionally more often to male (4%) compared with female (2%) offenders (in proportion to men more likely to commit serious offences).

Overall, women (78%) were more likely than men (74%) to have their sentences concur with their PSR (concordance). In 2017, a lower proportion of female offenders were recommended for immediate custody (female 5%, male 9%) and a higher proportion for community sentences (female 65%, male 58%) compared with male offenders.

8: Proportion of white women prisoners increasing

Although the evidence of racial disparity throughout the criminal justice system is clear (See my summary of the Lammy review here), it is interesting to note that in the decade between June 2008 and June 2018 there was a two percentage point decrease in the proportion of Black male prisoners but an 11 percentage point decrease in the proportion of Black female prisoners. Overall, there was a 12 percentage point increase in the proportion of White women prisoners in the last decade.

9: Women get probation after fewer offences

In 2017, a total of 18,711 women (16%) and 99,001 men (84%) started supervision as result of a court order. The number of men on supervision fell by 28% over the previous decade while the number of women dropped by 23%.

A greater proportion of men who received a Community order had a longer criminal history, 23% had 3-6 previous cautions or convictions compared to 22% of women. Women receiving community orders tended to have a shorter criminal history, 25% had 1-2 previous cautions or convictions compared to 21% of men. 33% women receiving Suspended Sentence Orders had no previous cautions or convictions, compared to 20% men.

10: Recalls

From 2016 to 2017, the number of female offenders recalled under the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 has increased by 36%, from 726 to 986.

Reasons for recall differed between men and women. Although there is usually more than one reason for recalling an offender from licence, the majority of male recalls (61%) involved non-compliance. However, the majority of female recalls (57%) involved the failure to keep in touch. A higher proportion of males (45%) were recalled for alleged further offending compared to females (26%). A higher proportion of women (28%) compared to men (22%) were recalled to prison more than once.


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One Response

  1. In the last graphic, “Practioners”, it is stated females make up 60% of the workforce in the “HMPPS(excluding Probation)”. This is the Prison service. The proprtion of female to male prison officers is the statistic I would like to see – not this aggregated figure. The 60% statistic must be including the admin staff who aren’t Prison Officers. How under represented are women in the workforce in the Prison Offciers group? Is there active discrimination stopping the hiring of too many women to be Prison Officers? Do the M of J know that bringing in a higher proportion of female Prison Officers will bring better class of officer responsive to the needs of the prisoner and this actively keep the proportion down? And how low is the proportion? I would guess it is horrifically low. Hence its non-visible status, here, in this report. That is, it is being hidden just like the PAVA Pilot Study report – which, for the record, shows that the study failed.

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