Women in Prison – part 1

Following on from Linda’s post about women in prison in Australia, I thought I would hunt around for some UK data and make some comparisons. This will be an ongoing series, exploring various issues. I don’t profess to be an expert in all areas of this, so discussion would be good.

Firstly the basics. In Linda’s post she notes that female incarceration has risen 60% whilst male incarceration has risen only 15%. This trend (thankfully) has not been reflected in the UK. From the HM Prison Service website, I obtained population data back to 2004 to present. I used the second week in March each year (except for 2006 where there was a huge gap in data, so I used August 2006 in its place). There may be seasonal changes to the prison population, and the 2006 figure looks like this may be true.


Note that female data is on the second axis and at a slightly different scale to the rest.

The male/female population ratio is approx. 95% male, 5% female, and has been that way for quite a few years, the data range above also bears this out. I won’t delve too deeply into types of sentencing at this point, but it is worth mentioning the sentence lengths before going on to the main subject matter.


As you can see, the majority of women are incarcerated for up to six months (67.2%), the next being one to four years (16.9%), followed by six to twelve months (12.2%), and the minority of the female population are incarcerated for over four years (3.7%).

The top two reasons for women’s incarceration were “violence against the person” and “theft & handling stolen goods”. More detail later in the series.

So far, in reading the Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System from the Ministry of Justice website, one particular paragraph stood out from the report:

Men and women’s behaviour in prison also differed. In 2009, the rate of
punishment in prison establishments was higher for women (150 adjudications per 100 prisoners) than for men (124 adjudications per 100 prisoners). More than one in three female prisoners (37%) self-harmed compared with fewer than one in ten males (7%). As in previous years, men accounted for the majority of self-inflicted deaths in custody (57 of the total 60 recorded in 2009).

To give some context to the 37% of women in prison who self harm, “1,844 reported incidents of self-harm at Holloway alone – an 86 per cent increase since 2004.” Holloway is I believe, the largest of the women’s prisons and is located in London. (I believe some of the Suffragists were imprisoned in Holloway.) In counting off the prison map, there appear to be seven women’s prisons throughout England (none in Wales). Note that none of the data from the report includes Scotland.

Given so few female prisons throughout England, probably makes regular visitation of family and friends difficult. This certainly would not help the women’s mental health. Many women would have children, and separation from the children would be stressful.

Most unwisely, some (all?) of the women’s prisons include male guards. Given that male guards leverage favours/threats in order to sexually abuse or rape inmates, it really should be forbidden to have male guards in a women’s prison.

Referring back to the extract from the report; “the rate of
punishment in prison establishments was higher for women (150 adjudications per 100 prisoners) than for men (124 adjudications per 100 prisoners)”. This is indeed unusual for the women to have more adjudications for unruly behaviour compared to the men, given that males are notoriously more violent than females, I really cannot imagine they are choir boys in their cells. My hypothesis is that perhaps there is higher intolerance for bad behaviour in the females, perhaps unjustly, when some incidents could perhaps be overlooked? Some could be acting out due to stressful conditions, but I would not have expected this to be a higher figure than for the males.

I will leave this here, with two additional stories.
The story of a young woman’s failed suicide in Holloway, leaving her permanently brain damaged.
A protest a few years ago outside Holloway, following the death of an inmate.

It seems that Holloway Prison is not the warm-fuzzy place the Prison Service make it out to be.


Related graphic, from here:



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