Postcode lottery in arrest rates risks drawing vulnerable women into the criminal justice system

New research published by the Prison Reform Trust reveals significant variations in how police forces deal with women who come into the criminal justice system. Fair Cop? Improving outcomes for women at the point of arrest provides solutions and examples of positive work being delivered by police to tackle low level, non-violent crime committed by women. However, the report also found that opportunities are being missed to intervene early and reduce women’s offending.

A separate analysis of arrest figures shows that whilst the majority of police forces in England and Wales have seen some decline in the number of women arrested in the last year, in nearly two-fifths (37%) of police forces arrests of women rose. The largest increase was seen in Lancashire, where arrests rose by 46% between 2014/15 – 2015/16. Similar rises were also seen in Dorset (45%) and Hertfordshire (40%).

However, impressive reductions seen in other police force areas give hope that similar results are within grasp if dedicated efforts to intervene early, and tackle the problems that drive people into crime are provided.

In the last year the number of arrests of women in areas such as Leicestershire, Greater Manchester, and Avon and Somerset have fallen, dropping by 29%, 24% and 17% respectively.

Women are more likely to be serving a sentence in prison for theft and other non-violent crimes than men. In many of these instances an out of court disposal may be appropriate, however the use of out of court options for women who have committed low-level offences fell by over 45% since 2007.

Women represent a small minority of those in the criminal justice system — in 2015 there were 157 first time women offenders per 100,000 of the population, compared with a first-time offending rate of 439 per 100,000 of the male population. The drivers to and patterns of women’s offending are different so a distinct approach is needed. 57% of women in prison report a history of domestic abuse and 53% report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child, compared to 27% of men.

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