Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

News and Other Busyness

More Women Behind Bars

Squall 13, Summer 1996, pg. 10.

A REPORT PUBLISHED by the Penal Affairs Consortium in April revealed that the number of women in prison has risen by 57 per cent since the end of 1992.

Most women given custodial sentences are nonviolent offenders. Many of these have committed minor offfences: of the total 4,406 women sentenced to prison in 1994, 1,454 (33 per cent) were fine defaulters.

Most have few or no previous convictions. Sixty per cent have two or fewer previous. Twenty per cent of these are first-time offenders.

The Penal Affairs Consortium report reveals that over the last three years the number of women prisoners has increased at a rate twice that of male prisoners. Less women offenders than men are fined (28 per cent compared with 36 per cent) or given community service orders (7 per cent compared with 11 per cent). Only 29 per cent of the 3,714 women remanded in custody in 1994 were finally sentenced to prison.

Because there are only 14 prisons which hold women in the country, far more women are likely to be imprisoned a long way from home. Only four prisons have mother and baby units.

The report concludes that the number of women in prison reflects a “growing mood of toughness in penal policy”. It stresses that: “The rapidly increasing use of prison for women is not due to a rising tide of female violence but is primarily due to a greater readiness to lock up nonviolent women offenders.”

Critics of this trend encourage a policy of community supervision for women offenders, particularly mothers.

Commenting on the results of the report Mary Honeyball, General Secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: “No one wants to excuse crime and offending, but when we look at the numbers and reasons for so many women, especially those with children, being held in prison, we must ask: ‘is this something that the public demands and that women offenders deserve?’ On both counts the answer is no”.