More teenage girls are sent to prison

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The Independent Online

The number of teenage girls being sent to prison is rising at an alarming rate, despite a fall in crime among young women.

The number of teenage girls being sent to prison is rising at an alarming rate, despite a fall in crime among young women.

A study by the Howard League for Penal Reform, released yesterday, found that the number of girls aged between 15 and 17 being sent to prison increased by 382 per cent between 1992 and 1998. In 1998, 302 girls were locked up compared with only 79 in 1992. Crime figures for the same group of women show a fall of 25 per cent in the same period.

The rise in young women prisoners, many of whom are mothers, has been blamed on harsher sentencing by the courts, particularly for drugs-related offenders. The rate at which they are jailed is understood to have increased further with the introduction of Detention and Training Orders (DTOs), which mix community punishment and prison.

David Wilson, a professor of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Central England, said only 13 per cent of women prisoners were violent offenders but the courts were passing increasingly tough sentences for drug-related crime.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League, said: "The huge increase in the number of girls being sent to prison is a result of more punitive sentencing, not increasing crime."

Some 100 women under 18are in jails in England and Wales, with 40 aged 15 or 16.

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