UK Family Law Reform

Free information index

For every category of offence, men are more likely to be sent to prison than women

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121016/halltext/121016h0002.htm

16 Oct 2012

Sentencing (Female Offenders)

[Sandra Osborne in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Thank you, Mrs Osborne. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this debate to the House today.

One of the starkest examples of how politically correct this country has become is the issue of women in the justice system and, more specifically for this debate, women in prisons and in courts. About 5% of the prison population at any one time in recent history has been female. The other 95% has been male, yet much time, effort, concentration and brow-beating has taken place over the very small number of women in prison. There are countless groups and organisations calling for the number to be reduced. Far too many politicians—male as well as female—are willing to trot out politically correct nonsense on the subject, repeating facts that do not bear any scrutiny at all, and there are far too many calls for something to be done about a problem that, by anybody’s standards, is hard to see exists based on the actual evidence.

Let us imagine that the male population in prison represented just 5% of the total and that women made up the remaining 95%. Would there be an outcry on behalf of the men at the expense of the women? Of course not. There is absolutely no chance on earth that that would happen, so why is there all this concern over 5% of the prison population? How can normally thoughtful, intelligent people have taken such leave of their senses over the issue? The answer is simple. It is all about being politically correct, and not many people in public life like to challenge it, but I do, Mrs Osborne, and today I want to take the opportunity to scotch some myths about all types of sentencing for women. I want to bust five particular myths.

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. Everyone I have spoken to who is involved with the justice system confirms anecdotally that it is not the case, but let us not just take their word for it. Let us look at the facts. I asked the Library to provide evidence that more women

16 Oct 2012 : Column 33WH

than men were being sent to prison, as I had been told. Not only did it not provide that information, but it confirmed that the exact opposite is true. The Library stated:

“The published statistics show that 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). This has been the case in each year between 1999 and 2009...For each offence group, a higher proportion of males are sentenced to custody than females...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.”

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether the information he received from the Library also looked at statistics by type of offence?

Philip Davies: Absolutely. It looked at every category of offence. For every single category, women are less likely than men to be sent to prison.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I hope that at the end of it we will not be peddling myths, but facts. Will he comment on the fact that although 70% of men are in prison for a non-violent offence, 81% of women are, which suggests that although some statistics may favour women, that one most certainly does not.

Philip Davies: It does not mean that at all. The figures that the hon. Lady quotes, which groups are fond of quoting, show the exact opposite of what they think the figures show. They show that women are treated more favourably by the courts. If she will let me continue with the speech, it will become evident to her, I hope. If she still has queries towards the end, and if the figures do not make sense, I will happily give way to her again. I am sure that the figures will make perfect sense, even to the hon. Lady. I will continue with the quote from the Library:

“In 2009 58% of male offenders who entered a guilty plea for an indictable offence were given an immediate custodial sentence compared to 34% of women. For each offence group a higher proportion of males pleading guilty were sentenced to immediate custody than females.”

The Ministry of Justice’s publication, “Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System”, published in November 2010—it is produced to ensure there is no sex discrimination in the system—states:

“Of sentenced first-time offenders (7,320 females and 25,936 males), 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.”

People have had a briefing from the Prison Reform Trust, which tries to persuade them that women with no previous convictions are more likely to be sent to prison than men, but that is categorically not the case, as the Ministry of Justice’s own publication makes abundantly clear.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman for providing us with an opportunity to help him understand the issue. Women convicted of a

16 Oct 2012 : Column 34WH

first offence—the same offence as a man—are more likely to receive a custodial sentence. I do not think he has the figures for that.

Philip Davies: No, they are not. That is the whole point. For every category of offence, men are more likely to be sent to prison than women. According to the Ministry of Justice’s own publication, of first-time offenders, men are much more likely—not just slightly—to be sent to prison. That is a fact.

Jenny Chapman: May I explain again? I am talking about the first offence and the same offence. The hon. Gentleman has figures for first-time offending overall and for different categories of offence. However, if we take the same offence for men and for women—the first conviction—women are more likely to get a custodial sentence.

Philip Davies: No, they are not. For the benefit of the hon. Lady, I have every single category of offence. I have figures for the likelihood of men and women being sent to prison for exactly the same offence. What she is saying is simply not the case.

The Home Office undertook statistical research some years ago to try to ascertain the best comparison for similar situations. Home Office Research Study 170, “Understanding the sentencing of women”, edited by Carol Hedderman and Loraine Gelsthorpe, looked at 13,000 cases and concluded:

“Women shoplifters were less likely than comparable males to receive a prison sentence...among repeat offenders women were less likely to receive a custodial sentence. Women first offenders were significantly less likely than equivalent men to receive a prison sentence for a drug offence”.

The Ministry of Justice publication I mentioned earlier also covers the issue of pre-sentence reports and their recommendations for sentences in the courts. It says:

“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.”

Even probation officers, and we all know how soft on sentencing they are, recommend a higher number of custodial sentences than are actually given, and women again are on the receiving end of that particular benefit.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I am not sure, however, that I agree with the entire thrust of what he is saying. What he is driving at, and the argument behind his thesis, is that women are being treated more preferentially, but would he accept at the very least that one of the reasons why women should be treated more preferentially is that, as mothers, they are in the position of having to look after those who might, if their mothers are not present to support them, lapse into the criminal justice system? I am sure that that is one thing with which he would wish to agree.

Philip Davies: I will come to the issue of women looking after children. As it happens, a large number of mothers who are sent to prison are no longer looking after their children when they are sent to prison. None

16 Oct 2012 : Column 35WH

the less, my hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. There may well be good reasons for women to be treated more favourably in the criminal justice system in the courts than men. That is a perfectly legitimate argument to follow. If people want to use the facts to prove that women are treated more favourably than men and then actually give reasons why that should be the case, I am perfectly content for them to do so. What I cannot allow to happen is for the myth to perpetuate that women are treated more harshly in the sentencing regime than men, because that palpably is not the case. If we can start having a debate along the lines that my hon. Friend suggests, I would be perfectly happy, but we are a long way from even getting to that particular point.

In addition to the undeniable evidence that women are less likely to be sent to prison than men is the fact that their average sentence length is shorter than that of men, too. Again, I refer to the Ministry of Justice’s own published figures of November 2010. “Statistics on Women and the Criminal justice System:”

“In 2009, women given an immediate custodial sentence for indictable offences received shorter average sentence lengths than men (11.0 months compared to 17.0 months for males).”

That is not a minor difference. The figures show that the average male prison sentence is over 50% more than the average female prison sentence. That is something that those who allege to be so keen on equality should think about.

Kate Green: It is important to understand some of the factors behind those figures. For example, a substantially higher proportion of women in prison are first-time offenders—29% compared with 12% of men. Naturally, therefore, we would expect the sentencing for first-time offenders to be set at a lower level than for those with a pattern of offending behaviour. I am not suggesting that that explains all the difference in the figures, but it is important that the hon. Gentleman gives us the full analysis and not just the headlines.

Philip Davies: It is equally important that the hon. Lady listens to what I am saying rather than wrapping herself in her brief from the Prison Reform Trust. We have all heard it once but I will repeat it for her benefit. The Ministry of Justice’s own publication, “Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System” says:

“Of sentenced first-time offenders (7,320 females and 25,936 males), 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.”

To suggest that more female first-time offenders are more likely to be sent to prison than men is not the case. The hon. Lady says that a higher proportion of women in prison are first-time offenders, but that is because they are less likely to be sent to prison unless they commit particularly serious offences and leave the courts no option but to send them to prison. It is a complete distortion of the facts, and the Ministry of Justice publication makes that perfectly clear.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): Will my hon. Friend clarify whether all those statistics take into account the type and gravity

16 Oct 2012 : Column 36WH

of offence, previous offending history and all relevant mitigating factors, which sentencers are required to consider? It would be an unjust system if they failed to do that.

Philip Davies: Yes, they do. I will happily supply the Minister with the relevant information from the House of Commons Library, which goes to show, beyond all doubt—I am sure that she trusts the figures from her own Department—that for every single category of offence, for all ages and in all types of court, men are more likely to be sent to prison than women. There is not one blip anywhere. For every single offence, for every age, in every type of court, women are less likely to be sent to prison than men.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): The point raised by the Minister is important. Surely these other factors that have to be taken into account on sentencing would not affect the statistics, because they would be taken into account whether it was male or female. In fact, one assumes that they would be taken into account for both sexes, so they will not affect the statistics.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point and he is right. Not only are women less likely to be sent to prison than men, and more likely to be sentenced to a lesser term than their male counterparts, but they are also more likely to serve less of the sentence they are given in prison. In its Offender Management Statistics, the Ministry of Justice says:

“Those discharged from determinate sentences in the quarter ending December 2011 had served 53 per cent of their sentence in custody (including time on remand). 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. This gender difference is consistent over time, and partly reflects the higher proportion of females who are released on Home Detention Curfew”.

Seema Malhotra: To what extent are family circumstances, especially circumstances of children, taken into account in sentencing? Every year, 18,000 children see their mothers go to prison and only 5% of those children stay in their homes during that sentence. There are also statistics to suggest that a third of women in prison are lone parents, and it is more likely that their children will lose their homes or be placed in care as a consequence of their mothers’ custody.

Philip Davies: The hon. Lady is right. That is a fact that is given in the courts, which is why women are less likely to be sent to prison than men. That was a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) made earlier. Let me emphasise my point with a case from earlier this year. Rebecca Bernard, who had 51 previous convictions for crimes including violence and threatening behaviour, led an all-girl gang that brought terror to her town. She has been the subject of two antisocial behaviour orders for making the lives of her elderly neighbours a misery. When this 23-year-old attacked two innocent men in a night club with a champagne bottle, it was thought that a custodial sentence was inevitable. However, she walked free from court after a judge decided that she was a good mother to her three young children. Bernard had smashed a bottle over one victim’s head and then stabbed the other in the arm with its jagged neck. A court heard that she had

16 Oct 2012 : Column 37WH

launched the attack because she believed wrongly that the men were laughing at her. Quite clearly, those factors are taken into account by the courts, which explains why someone such as Bernard, who clearly should have been sent to prison, and who, if she had been a male, would definitely have been sent to prison, was not sent to prison. That is the explanation. I am perfectly content for the hon. Lady to say that that should be the case, but at least let us argue from the facts, because then we will be acknowledging that men are more likely to be sent to prison than women.

Join us in campaigning for equality and justice.

http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/ukfamilylawreform/