Women in the Criminal Justice System: a better response to vulnerability

This paper discusses some of the issues facing women in the criminal justice system, and what policymakers can do to ensure a system that better responds to the circumstances and needs of female offenders.

  • There is widespread consensus that the criminal justice system does not at present work well for female offenders or wider society.
  • The Government’s female offender strategy, which promises earlier intervention, lower prison numbers and better conditions in custody, has been welcomed by experts and advocates as a step in the right direction.
  • However, the specifics and implementation of the strategy attract some disagreement, with questions over whether the system can:
    • Be more ambitious in its efforts to reduce the female prison population.
    • Do more to avoid criminalising abuse victims.
    • Reduce unnecessary arrests of women.
    • Better support upstream prevention.
    • Take more symbolic action to give the issue greater priority.


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