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Women in prison

The Prison Reform Trust has long called for a reduction in women’s imprisonment in the UK and a step change in how the criminal justice system responds to the needs of women.

About the project

Our five year ‘Transforming Lives: reducing women’s imprisonment’ programme, supported by the National Lottery Community Fund, came to an end in 2020. But our work on reducing women’s imprisonment continues. On these pages you will find a range of resources relating to the policy and practice of women in the criminal justice system.

What’s the issue

  • Women were sent to prison on 5,164 occasions in the year to March 2023 – either on remand or to serve a sentence.
  • Women are much more likely than men to self-harm whilst in prison. In 2022, women made up 29% of all self-harm incidents despite making up only 4% of the prison population.
  • Many women have dependent children – an estimated 17,000 children are affected by maternal imprisonment every year.
  • Many women in prison have been victims of much more serious offences than those they are accused of committing. Over half the women in prison report having suffered domestic violence with 53% of women reporting having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child.
  • Only half of women left prison with settled accommodation in the year to March 2023.

Latest news & updates: Women

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Women’s voices

For many years, the insights of people with lived experience of the criminal justice system have been at the heart of PRT’s work.

Throughout the Transforming Lives programme, we worked with partner organisations to provide a platform for the voices of women with lived experience of the criminal justice system.

In April 2019 we convened a Women’s Summit in London, bringing together ministers, senior police representatives, government officials, women’s services and women with experience of the criminal justice system. Read our press release here, and the Twitter roundup of the event here.

Over 150 women engaged, as well as children with experience of maternal imprisonment. Their comments and stories are included in our publications and form an essential part of our advocacy.

Find out more about our collaboration with women with lived experience of the criminal justice system.

Local data resource

We have produced a range of local resources to help inform understanding of local trends in the use of imprisonment for women in England and Wales.

These resources are intended to encourage informed debate about the operation of the criminal justice system at a local level and the steps all decision-makers can take to reduce re-offending, protect the public and improve outcomes for women in their area.

They include:

  • An interactive map showing the rates of imprisonment for women in England and Wales by Police Force Area.
  • ‘At a glance’ data tables summarising the use of custody for each local Police Force Area between 2014–2019.
  • Fact sheets for every police force area of England and Wales.

Click here to explore the resources.

Child impact assessments

PRT Associate Sarah Beresford is leading a project, funded by the Churchill Fellowship Activate Fund, to pilot and evaluate the use of a Child Impact Assessment for children with a primary carer (usually a mother) in the criminal justice system (CJS).

Several recent reports have highlighted the fact that children with a mother in the criminal justice system are particularly vulnerable, yet very few receive support. This project will explore whether Child Impact Assessments are a helpful tool in building children’s resilience to cope with the trauma, grief, and stigma that they often experience.

Click here to find out more about the project.

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