Call for decisive action over ‘postcode lottery’ in prison sentences for women

Women in parts of the north of England are four times more likely to end up in jail than female offenders in the Home Counties, research suggests.

A report by the Prison Reform Trust found the imprisonment rate in Cleveland was the highest across England and Wales – with 67 women per 100,000 in the police force area being handed an immediate custodial sentence.

South Wales follows with 65 prison terms per 100,000 women, while Cumbria’s figure of 50 was the third highest across the two countries.

By contrast, Sussex with 15 and Surrey with 16 per 100,000 have the lowest rates.

The analysis is published on the day the Prison Reform Trust convenes a Women’s Summit in London, bringing together ministers, senior police representatives, Government officials, women’s services and women with experience of the criminal justice system.

Jenny Earle, who leads the programme to reduce women’s imprisonment, said: “The Government has promised to reduce the imprisonment of women and the inter-generational harms this causes.

“Impressive work in some local areas to reduce the number of women entering the criminal justice system is bearing fruit.

“But we have yet to see the decisive action – including a prohibition on short prison sentences and investment in women’s support services nationwide – that will put an end to the postcode lottery in women’s justice.”

Latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show there are just under 4,000 women in prisons in England and Wales, compared with nearly 80,000 men.

Females represent around 5% of the total prison population, a proportion that has been consistent over the last decade.

Analysis by the Prison Reform Trust showed the overall use of imprisonment for women in England and Wales rose by 5% between 2012 and 2017.

By contrast, Greater Manchester has an imprisonment rate of 25 women per 100,000.

Between 2012 and 2017 it saw a decrease of 33% in the use of immediate imprisonment for women – something the trust said was partly down to a co-ordinated strategy involving the local authority, police and women’s support services.

London has an imprisonment rate of 35 per 100,000 and saw the number of women imprisoned following arrest fall by 22% between 2012 and 2017.

The analysis found that the overall use of imprisonment for women in England and Wales rose by 5% between 2012 and 2017.

Nearly half (19) of the 42 police forces in England and Wales with data saw an overall decline in the number of women imprisoned between 2012 and 2017.

The Prison Reform Trust said this was reflected by some areas working with the police, the courts and the charity sector in an attempt to reduce women’s offending.

However, in the majority of areas (23) the number of women sent to prison continued to rise during the same period.

Only one police force area – Warwickshire – showed consistent year-on-year change in the number of women being jailed, with a gradual increase from 37 in 2012 to 67 in 2017.

The figures relate only to women who have been handed an immediate jail term – not those who receive a suspended sentence.

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