New research published by the Prison Reform Trust reveals significant variations in how police forces deal with women who come into contact with the criminal justice system in the UK. 'Fair Cop? Improving outcomes for women at the point of arrest' provides solutions and examples of positive initiatives being delivered by police forces to tackle low-level, non-violent crime committed by women.
Some examples are, Durham Constabulary’s ‘Checkpoint’ and Humberside Police’s ‘Adult Female Triage Project’. The Manchester ‘Whole System Approach’ for women aims to embed a gender informed response to women at each stage of the criminal justice system - arrest, sentencing and release from prison, complemented by universal services for all women in need of support.
However, the report also found that opportunities are being missed to intervene early, to reduce women’s offending and protect the public. Women are more likely to be serving a sentence in prison for theft and other non-violent crimes than men. In many of these cases, an out of court disposal and problem-solving solutions at the point of arrest may be appropriate, where the harm caused by the offence is low but the needs of the woman are multiple or complex. However, the use of out of court options for women who have committed such low-level offences fell by over 45% since 2007.
Women represent a small minority of those in the criminal justice system - in 2015 there were 157 first time women offenders per 100,000 of the population, compared with a first-time offending rate of 439 per 100,000 of the male population. The causes and patterns of women’s offending are different from those of men’s, so a distinct approach is needed. Women who come into contact with the criminal justice system are often the victims of serious crime themselves. 57% of women in prison report a history of domestic abuse and 53% report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child, compared to 27% of men in prison.
The frequent use of remand, fines and short custodial sentences provide limited opportunities for rehabilitation or post-release planning, causes significant disruption to family life and jeopardises women’s employment and housing. In 2010 it was estimated that women’s imprisonment resulted in 17,240 children being separated from their mothers and there is a growing body of evidence about the intergenerational harm this causes. Only five per cent of children with a mother in prison remain in the family home during their mother’s imprisonment.
Read the report here.