Why women in the criminal justice system should be treated differently

When it comes to the criminal justice system, the needs of women are different to men and need to be addressed in a different way.

One size does not fit all and the way in which men and women respond to interventions are not the same. Equal treatment of men and women does not result in equal outcomes.

Women are primary carers of children

Of course there are many exceptions to the rule, however the majority of women are still the primary carers of children.

  •  17,700 children are separated from their mother by imprisonment every year*
  • Only 5 per cent of children stay in their family home if their mother receives a custodial sentence*
  •  Women make up about 15 per cent of the sentenced offender population, commit less serious offences yet between 1995 and 2010, the number of women in prison increased by 114**

* The Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings

**Women and the criminal justice system, Ministry of Justice, November 2012

So when women go to prison, children are often the victims.

Women are vulnerable

In The Corston Report, Baroness Corston argues that there’s a need for a distinct, radically different, women-centred, integrated approach to women offenders.

So why is this?

She identified the ‘Toxic Trio’ of vulnerabilities that affect women who enter the criminal justice system:

  1. They have often experienced historic or current domestic abuse and/or sexual violence – their experience of trauma is therefore high
  2. Many have experience of mental health issues, low self-esteem, eating disorders and/or substance abuse, often triggered by trauma
  3. They are exposed to issues related to childcare, are struggling financially, are isolated and have higher levels of unemployment than men in the system

Baroness Corston argues that women experience a range of factors from these three types of vulnerabilities. What this means is it can lead to crisis point that ultimately results in prison. In order to address these vulnerabilities, and keep women with children out of prison – they need specialist help to overcome emotional trauma, develop resilience and improve their life skills and chances.

What are we doing about it?

Interserve is now responsible for rehabilitating 25 per cent of offenders in England and Wales.

Our Community Rehabilitation Companies supervise and work with low-to medium risk offenders, many of whom are women. The aim is to prevent them from re-offending and integrate them back into society.

We are striving to provide the right services to support our women who have offended to increase their self-worth, enable them to take control and take back their lives.

We do this through providing women’s centres. Women’s centres are women-only spaces that provide structured programmes of intervention and support. They allow women to understand their journey, practise new skills in a safe environment and make the connections and networks that will enable them to be safe, and stay safe.

The women’s centres make a difference. Local evaluation of our women’s centres suggests a 12 per cent reduction in re-offending against the expected norms. They enable women to understand that are not alone, access services that they otherwise were unaware of, try out new ideas and new skills and above all take positive steps into the future.

Watch how attending our women’s centre in Basingstoke helped Krystal change her life for the better.

Mary D'Arcy

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  • Robin O’Kelly

    Thanks Mary, great article

  • David Murphy

    So men should be punished and women should be ‘supported’? Very sexist, with no consideration that many male prisoners also were abused or otherwise had poor life chances.

    To put it simply, if they don’t want to go to prison don’t commit crimes.