More than half of women jailed serve sentences under six months – study

Analysis showed that ‘theft from shops’ was the most frequent offence (36%) for sentences of that time frame.

Harry Stedman
Monday 16 October 2023 00:01 BST
The women’s prison population has risen over this year (Tim Ockenden/PA) (PA Archive)
The women’s prison population has risen over this year (Tim Ockenden/PA) (PA Archive)

More than half of women sent to prison last year were given sentences of less than six months, analysis has revealed.

The Prison Reform Trust found 58% of prison sentences for women in 2022 fell within the timeframe, despite the Ministry of Justice saying shorter sentences are associated with higher levels of reoffending.

The analysis of local court area data showed “theft from shops” was the most frequent offence, accounting for 36% of the total sentences of this length for women.

A total of 4,120 prison sentences were passed for women in 2022, a 44% reduction since 2014, as the Government’s female offender strategy delivery plan aims to put fewer women behind bars.

But, as of October 6, the women’s prison population stands at 3,604, a rise of 15% since January.

Nottinghamshire (73%), Durham and Derbyshire (both 70%) had the highest proportion of custodial sentences less than months, among police areas with larger sentence totals in England and Wales, while Merseyside (43%) and Sussex (45%) had the lowest.

A Ministry of Justice study published in 2019 found sentencing offenders to short-term custody with supervision on release was associated with higher proven reoffending than if they had instead received community orders or suspended sentence orders.

Pia Sinha, chief executive of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Sixteen years on from Baroness Corston’s seminal review on women’s offending, we continue to see too many women being sent to prison to serve pointless, short sentences.

“The Government’s own evidence shows that community sentences see fewer people go on to commit crimes in future.

“The unfolding capacity crisis is a chance for a reset on how we use these ineffective disposals.

“In doing so, the Government can learn from the progress made in many local areas to develop a joined-up response to women’s offending, which is often driven by addictions and mental ill health.

“The answers lie in proper investment in treatment and care in the community, not prison.”

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