Women in the Criminal Justice System: Policies, responses and research need – Professor Pamela Taylor

This article appears in our latest newsletter which can be downloaded here.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System1 was convened to increase knowledge and awareness around women in the penal system and push for the full implementation of the Corston Report2 recommendations. The Howard League for Penal Reform ended its administrative support for the Group with the publication of a report in July 20223 . The Group continues with support from the organisation Women in Prison.

Much of this work follows from the Ministry of Justice’s 2018 Female Offender Strategy, with its main planks of:

  • reducing the number of women entering the Criminal Justice System (CJS) by intervening earlier with support in the community;
  • having fewer women in custody (especially serving short sentences) and a greater proportion of women managed in the community; and
  • creating better conditions for women in custody, including improving and maintaining family ties, reducing self-harm, and providing better support on release.

Prevention of women entering the CJS has focussed on police responses, calling for:

  • a more strategic approach to support women who come into contact with the police, whether as victims or alleged offenders
  • Every police service to have a lead for women and that
  • Police should receive training in gender and trauma-informed approaches and coercive control.

Although the number of arrests of women has fallen – by 5,677 since 2017/18 – even the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts4 describes the delivery of the strategy as ‘disappointing’, regarding the pandemic as an insufficient explanation for the slow progress. The National Audit Office5 makes clear a need for dedicated funding. More research is needed to inform best investment.

Reducing entry into the criminal justice system is important, but for those who do come before the courts, what is most effective in safeguarding and prevention of reoffending? Community Sentence

Treatment Requirements seem a potentially useful option6, but hardly any have been made when the need is for secondary mental health care – so those women with serious mental disorder are most likely to lose out, as is the wider community and, for some, the unborn too7.


  1. Women in the Penal System APPG (parallelparliament.co.uk)
  2. www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/corston-report-march2007.pdf
  3. APPG-on-Women-briefing-4-FINAL-2.pdf (howardleague.org)
  4. https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/22032/documents/164507/default/
  5. Improving outcomes for women in the criminal justice system – National Audit Office (NAO) report
  6. https://www.essex.pfcc.police.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Multlisite-Report.pdf
  7. Steer PJ (2022) DOI: 10.1111/1471-0528.17144

As a charity we would welcome donations however small. Please donate at https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/3520#!/DonationDetails