Key facts

A round-up and latest key statistics regarding women affected by the criminal justice system.

Women’s Prisons

Women are held in 12 prisons in England, there are no women’s prisons in Wales.  There is currently one women’s prison in Scotland, with some women held in units within men’s prisons.  In Northern Ireland women are held in a unit within a male Young Offenders Institution. 

Women’s prison population

  • Women represent around 5% of the overall prison population in the UK.
  • The number of women in prison in England and Wales stood at 3,935 on 13 July 2015.
  • A total of 9,176 women were received into custody in the 12 months to March 2014, a fall of 3% on the previous year.
  • Women accounted for 9% of all prison receptions in the 12 months leading up to March 2014.
  • The women’s prison population in England and Wales more than doubled between 1995 and 2010, from 1,979 to 4,236.
  • Most of the rise in the female prison population can be explained by a significant increase in the severity of sentences. Between 2009-2013 the number of women sentenced for theft from a shop decreased by 4% whilst the number sentenced to custody increased by 17%.

Women prisoner backgrounds

  • 46% of women in prison report having suffered domestic violence
    (80% of the women WIP works with have reported experiencing domestic violence)
  • 53% of women in prison report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood.
  • 31% women in prison have spent time in local authority care as a child.

Custodial sentences and previous convictions

  • 81% of women are serving a prison sentence for a non-violent crime.
  • In the 12 months to March 2014, 60% of sentenced women were serving six months or less.
  • Women serve shorter prison sentences than men and for less serious offences. 26% of all women in prison and 28% of women serving sentences of under 12 months had no previous convictions, compared to 12% of men.
  • Theft and handling was by far the most common offence, accounting for 40% of all sentenced women in the year 2013.

Women prisoners, mental health and self-harm 

  • Women account for a disproportionate amount of self-harm in prison; despite making up only 5% of the population, women account for 28% of self-harm incidents.
  • Women in custody are five times more likely to have a mental health concern than women in the general population.
  • Of all the women who are sent to prison, 46% say they have attempted suicide at some time in their life.
  • Women prisoners are subject to higher rates of disciplinary proceedings than men. According to the Ministry of Justice, “women may be less able (due for example to mental health issues) to conform to prison rules.”

Deaths in custody

  • There have been 100 deaths of women in prison since 2002.

Women prisoners, drugs and alcohol

  • In 2010, 24% of women in prison were serving sentences for drug offences.
  • 48% of women have committed their offence in order to support the drug use of someone else.
  • 59% of women in prison who drank in the four weeks before custody thought they had a problem with alcohol.
  • 52% of women surveyed said that they had used heroin, crack, or cocaine in the four weeks prior to custody. However, practitioners report that women may hide or underplay substance misuse through fear of losing their children.

Imprisoned mothers and their children

  • It is estimated that more than 17,240 children were separated from their mothers in 2010 by imprisonment.
  • Only 9% of children whose mothers are in prison are cared for by their fathers in their mothers' absence.
  • At least a fifth of women prisoners are lone parents before imprisonment, compared to 9% of the general population.
  • Only half of the women who had lived with or were in contact with their children prior to imprisonment had received a visit since going to prison.
  • Maintaining contact with children is made more difficult by the distance that many prisoners are held from their home area. This is particularly acute for women given the limited number of women’s prisons; the average distance from home is 60 miles for women.
  • One Home Office study showed that for 85% of mothers, prison was the first time they had been separated from their children for any significant length of time .
  • Imprisoning mothers for non-violent offences has a damaging impact on children and carries a cost to the state of more than £17 million over a ten year period.

 On release

  • Around one-third of women prisoners lose their homes, and often their possessions, while in prison.
  • A Prisons Inspectorate survey found that 38% of women in prison did not have accommodation arranged on release.

Reconviction and reoffending

  • Figures for 2010 show that 45% of women leaving prison are reconvicted within one year. For those women who have served more than 11 previous custodial sentences the reoffending rate rises to 75%.

 Community Solutions

  • In 2011 a higher proportion of women than men completed their community sentence successfully or had their sentences terminated for good progress on both community orders (70%) and suspended sentence orders (76%) versus 65 and 67% respectively for men.
  • A report by NEF has found that for every £1 invested in support-focused alternatives to prison, £14 worth of social value is generated to women and their children, victims and society over ten years.   

 Women on remand

  • Women on remand make up 16% of the female prison population.
  • Women on remand spend an average of four to six weeks in prison.
  • Less than half of women remanded by magistrates’ courts and subsequently found guilty are given a prison sentence.

Indeterminate sentences for Public Protection (IPP)

  • In June 2014 there were 95 women in prison serving IPP sentences.
  • Nearly 80% of IPP sentences for women were for offences of arson, which is often an indicator of serious mental illness or self-harm.

Foreign national women

  • Foreign nationals make up 13% of the women’s prison population.
  • Some foreign national women in prison are known to have been coerced or trafficked into offending.