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.

18 thoughts on “Women in Prison – part 1

  1. ball buster

    My mother went to prison for five years for a man, years ago. It was drug related, among other things I can’t bear to talk about just yet. He ended up ratting her out to get a lighter sentence, and succeeded. She eventually got rid of the man and has been clean and law abiding since. He, the career criminal that he is, went back. Last I heard, he was almost beat to death in prison for ratting out another male. See how that works? Men are worth something, even if they are in prison. There’s punishment for ratting out a man. Women are never worth anything, especially in prison. No punishment for ratting us out.

    Thank god I’ve never been incarcerated, even for one moment. My heart goes out to women who have been.

    Thank you and Linda Radfem for posting about this.

    I agree with you that male guards should NEVER be allowed to oversee female inmates, and vice versa. My mother never relayed any incidents to me, but then talking about rape has never been either of our strong suits. Over here in the US, a prison guard was murdered by a male inmate, in the facility CHURCH of all places, even after she had asked for extra guards to help her with the inmates.



  2. Jilla

    I don’t have any useful perspectives on this subject. But will offer this story, and a link that will be very triggering, so don’t watch if you don’t want to be devastated at what can happen to a 15-yr old girl who threw snowballs at the postie. After 17 transfers done to keep her in solitary and medicated, she suicided while guards watched.

    “Convicted at only 15 years of age, Ashley Smith’s original 30-day sentence stretched to four years and included 17 separate transfers by Corrections Canada within a year. In the most in-depth examination of her tragic story yet, the fifth estate also examines the little-known 114 days she spent in early 2007 at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC) in Saskatoon. The only psychiatric hospital in the country with a therapeutic healing program designed for women offenders, RPC had Smith locked in segregation after clashing with guards and staff. Shocking revelations come from former nurses, one social worker and a former warden, all of whom stepped forward to share their stories for the first time. ”

    The timeline on the right if you can’t or don’t want to watch the vid. It’s hard to know, but essential. I think this program was the catalyst for system change announced today re solitary for women. Not much for a little girl’s life.



  3. Jilla

    Well, I guess it was a lot more than throwing snowballs, but still not reason enough to incarcerate, and that in solitary. As one commenter on the story said, she was a brat, not a hardened criminal.


  4. FAB Libber

    Thanks for contributing Ashley’s story Jilla. I think that with the subject of females in prison, to really get or understand what is going on behind the numbers, then items such as this one contribute a great deal.
    The video is only available if you have a Canadian IP address (god I hate that regional crap, so unnecessary).


  5. FAB Libber

    I am just trying to hide my IP to get around it, so far not working. This comment is really just a test to see if it really does fool the outside world (which I don’t think it does).
    ETA: No, this method does not work at all (nor was the Canadian vid fooled by my tinkering!)


  6. Jilla

    Prisons to end solitary confinement protocol for women.

    That’s why they moved Ashley so often, because the prison regs stipulate they can be put in solitary and injected against their will with anti-psychotic drugs for a period of time following each move. So they movedher after the end of each allowed period, so they could keep her in solitary, and keep injecting her.

    The women’s prison advocate said she believed Ashley was acting out so she could get human contact.


  7. FAB Libber

    A few things stand out from the timeline.
    From normal childhood, to sudden onset of disruptive behaviour, seems to coincide with the menarche. Some disorders are triggered by puberty. Even for regular girls, without an underlying disorder, the 13-16 age is usually a change in behaviour or a bit of a rollercoaster until hormone levels settle down again.

    The 2003 diagnosis sounds incorrect:
    doctor at the centre writes that Ashley has a learning disorder, ADHD, and borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality traits.
    For starters, the narcissistic personality traits are bullshit, when you see her journal from 2006:
    Being dead I think would just suit me fine. I wonder when the best time to do it would be. I’m not going to get locked because then I’m back on checks and they will expect me to act up then. I will call my Mom before bed and have one more chat. Somehow I have to let her know that none of this is her fault. I don’t know why I’m like I am but I know she didn’t do it to me. People say there is nothing wrong with me. Honestly I think they need to F***off because they don’t know what goes on in my head.
    She is aware of the effect her suicide will have on her mother, but sees no other way out. She knows there is ‘something’ wrong with her, even though she is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. She shows signs of real (perhaps high) intelligence (which disputes the learning disorder somewhat, she certainly can express herself emotionally). ADHD does not sound like a good fit either, particularly as the onset is usually evident earlier. Some of the later ‘tricks’ she got up to in her cell were quite ingenious actually. Frankly, it sounds like the doctor thought to himself “I dunno what is wrong with her, ADHD sounds close enough, and I will tack a few other things on to make it look like I’ve been thorough”.

    The threatened self-harm incident attracted a 15-day custodial sentence. Jeezus.

    Most of the behaviours she was doing should have put her into a (secure?) psychiatric facility, rather than pass-the-parcel of the various remand centres. Just before her death she actually requested to go to a psychiatric hospital.


  8. FAB Libber

    Jilla, we will start off another topic in the near future regarding ‘women who kill [their abusers]’ because it almost always is killing their abusers, and it is rare that they get away with it.


  9. Mary Sunshine

    Just put it on pause. It is 45 minutes. My video download helper refuses to grab it. When I come back I will google to see if there is a way around that.


  10. Jilla

    No way we can get the program unless in Canada. Regulations have changed since last time I checked. Who makes these regs I don’t know, but BBC and PBS have done this too as I’ve tried to watch programs there, and free viewing online streaming is blocked for out of country.


  11. FAB Libber

    Good idea Fabbity. I really put it in for *you*.
    Do I take that as giving me ideas to bump off someone, LOL. No need, I’m a separatist.


  12. FAB Libber

    so ya know, risk behaviour an’ all
    I cannot be held responsible if they choose to do risk behaviour near me. Of course, it will be an ‘unintentional accident’, even if I did sorta mean it.



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