Five sentencing myths of female offenders

Female offenders in the UK are not being discriminated against on the grounds of their gender according to the backbench MP Philip Davies who has outlined, in detail, what he calls five myths about the sentencing of female offenders.

The following article is an abridged version of the speech by Mr Davies and not written by The Men’s Network. For background on this story read the news item  Men Face Sex Discrimination In UK Justice System says MP.

Five Myths About The Sentencing Of Female Offenders

“There is an old political maxim that if someone tells a lie often enough, people will believe that it is true. I can only conclude that has happened in this case. I heard the lie that women are more likely to be sent to prison than men and that they are treated much more harshly by the courts, and I was taken in by it.

“I presumed it was true, because I had heard it so often, and I thought it was an absolute outrage. I was so outraged by the inequality in sentencing that I decided to do some research into it. As many people know, I spend a lot of time researching matters to do with prisons, sentencing and justice, and I wanted to get to the bottom of why women were being treated so badly.

“Imagine my surprise when, having looked at all the evidence, I found it was not the case that women are treated more harshly by the courts. The unequivocal evidence is that the courts treat women far more favourably than men when it comes to sentencing. I want to expose five myths today……….”

The first myth is simple: women are very likely to be sent to prison and are more likely than men to be given a custodial sentence. That is simply untrue.

  • A higher proportion of men are given a sentence of immediate custody than women, irrespective of age of offender (juveniles, young adults or adult) and type of court (magistrates or Crown)
  • In 2009 58% of male offenders who entered a guilty plea for an indictable offence were given an immediate custodial sentence compared to only 34% of women
  • For every type of offence group a higher proportion of males pleading guilty were sentenced to immediate custody than females
  • A greater percentage of males were sentenced to immediate custody than females (29% compared with 17%), which has been the case in each year since 2005
  • Women shoplifters are less likely than comparable males to receive a prison sentence
  • Among repeat offenders women are less likely to receive a custodial sentence
  • Women first-time offenders are significantly less likely than equivalent men to receive a prison sentence for a drug offence
  • In 2009, a lower proportion of women who had a pre-sentence report that recommended immediate custody went on to receive this sentence than men (83% compared with 90% for males)
  • For all other sentence options recommended in pre-sentence reports (Suspended Sentence Order, all community sentences or fines), a higher proportion of males received custodial sentences than females.
  • For offenders where probation officers have recommended custodial sentences,  a higher proportion of men are given a sentence
  • In 2009, women given an immediate custodial sentence for indictable offences received shorter average sentence lengths than men (11 months compared to 17 months for males)
  • The average male prison sentence is over 50% more than the average female prison sentence
  • On average, males served a greater proportion of their sentence in custody – 53 per cent compared to 48 per cent for females in the quarter ending December 2011
  • Women have 50% more chance than men of being released from prison early on home detention curfew

The second myth is that most women are in prison for petty or non-violent offences in fact 22% of female prisoners are in custody for up to 12 months, which covers all cases heard in magistrates courts and some cases heard in Crown courts. All other female offenders are serving sentences of more than one year, which means their offences were so serious that they had to be dealt with by a Crown court. 78% of the total female prison population, are not serving short sentences for not-so-serious offences, as people would have us believe, but are serving much longer sentences for the most serious crimes.

  • Just under 16% of female prisoners are serving sentences of less than six months
  • A further 6% are in prison for up to one year
  • 34% are serving between one and four years
  • 28% serving sentences of four years to life
  • 11% serving indeterminate sentences
  • 5% of offenders are in prison because after previously being released, they have either reoffended or breached their licence conditions

The third myth is that women are often remanded in custody but then are not sentenced to custody.

  • In 2009 80% of females were bailed, compared with 62% of males
  • 20% of women were remanded in custody compared with 38% of males
  • Of those remanded in custody, 66% of females were then sentenced to immediate custody in comparison with 75% of males

When people complain about women being more likely to be remanded in custody and then not sent to prison, it is solely due to women being treated more favourably when they are sentenced. It is not that they are more harshly treated when the decision is made to remand them in custody or give them bail.

The fourth myth is that prison separates mothers from their children:

  • It is said that 17,000 children are separated from their mothers
  • Two thirds were not living with mother at time of separation
  • An estimated 180,000 children are separated from their fathers

My understanding is that a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Justice has helpfully confirmed recently that two thirds of the mothers sent to prison who have children were not looking after them at the time. She apparently said of the women being sent to prison:

“Two-thirds of them didn’t have their kids living with them when they went to prison.”

If we are so concerned about the children of women offenders, what about the estimated 180,000 children who are separated from their fathers who are in prison? In this age of equality, what about that much higher figure? Should we not be more, or at least equally, outraged about that? If not, why not?

The five myth is that women are generally treated more harshly than men in the justice system:

  • Women are less likely than men to go to prison
  • Women less likely to be given a community order
  • 10% of women sentenced are given a community order compared with 16% of men
  • For domestic violence, the community requirement imposed on those who commit an offence in a domestic setting is imposed only on men and cannot be handed down to women
  • Women are more likely to receive lower level punishments such as fines
  • There is an imbalance in the number of women reaching court compared with men, as more women than are issued with pre-court sanctions

To read the full transcript of this debate see this link: Sentencing Female Offenders

Thanks to James Williams of Men’s Matters for bringing this speech to our attention. You can meet James at The Men’s Rights Networking Event and Discussion on the theme ‘How Do We Put Men’s Issues On The Political Agenda?’ on Thursday 1st November – click here to find out more now.

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