More than seven out of 10 women sentenced to prison last year committed non-violent offences and a similar proportion received sentences of less than a year. A new briefing from the Prison Reform Trust reported that levels of self-harm amongst women prisoners reached ‘record levels’ in 2020 with 11,988 incidents of self-harm compared to 7,670 in 2016.
Women represented more than one in five of all self-harm incidents in 2020 (22%) despite making up only 4% of the prison population. The briefing reports that 72% of women who entered prison under sentence in 2020 committed a non-violent offence and 70% of prison sentences given to women were for less than 12 months. ‘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,’ the PRT said. ‘Despite this, the government has recently announced plans to build an additional 500 prison places in the women’s estate.’ This was ‘in direct contradiction’ to a key commitment of the Ministry of Justice’s own female offender strategy to reduce the female prison population.
‘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,’ said Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust. ‘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.’
- Women were sent to prison on 5,011 occasions in 2020—either on remand or to serve a sentence.
- Levels of self-harm in the women’s estate reached record levels in 2020. There were 11,988 incidents of self-harm compared to 7,670 in 2016. Women made up 22% of all self-harm incidents in 2020, despite making up only 4% of the prison population.
- Women serving a sentence of less than 12 months accounted for almost half of recalls in 2020.
- The use of community sentences has dropped by two-thirds since 2010.