Number of women behind bars in Britain up 20 percent

Posted 11:30 p.m. Nov. 30

By Alex Kingsbury
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

The number of women in Britain’s jails is up a record 20 percent this year to more than 4,000 and up more than 145 percent since 1993, according to numbers released by the British government’s Prisons Department.

The influx of female prisoners has been so great that three women’s prisons have had to be created by converting old male facilities. The crimes for which women are being jailed are disproportionately robbery, and so many are being imprisoned that the chief of the British prison system called on judges to incarcerate fewer females.

“I want the courts to think very carefully not only about, perhaps, not using custody but, if they can, issuing shorter sentence lengths,” Martin Narey, director-general of the British prison system, told the BBC. “That would quickly lead to a downturn in numbers.”

The problems of women in jail has been compounded by the fact that half of those in custody have children under the age of 16 and a third have children under 5 years old.

A September report by the Prison Reform Trust, which is fighting for a reformation of the penal system, said more than 90 percent of imprisoned young people “have at least one, or combination of, the following: personality disorder, psychosis, neurotic disorder, or substance misuse.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, Monday called on the Home Office (which oversees the prison system) to speed up reforms aimed at curbing the dramatic rise in female inmates. Lyon called the decision to convert a male facility to a female one, “a knee-jerk reaction.”

“We should develop more community sentences for women who do not represent a risk to the public and reduce the use of remand,” Lyon told the AP. “Locking up women is an admission of defeat.”

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