Myths regarding women in prison

All data on this page relate to England & Wales

Myth 1: Women’s Pattern of Offending is Very Different

No, it isn’t…the percentages of each sex sentenced is broadly similar across offence categories.


Note that the above histogram relates to all people sentenced (convicted), but not necessarily to prison.

Myth 2: Women Are Not Violent

No, actually the percentages of each sex arrested for violence is similar. In fact violence is the main reason why women are arrested – as well as men.


Myth 3: Women are more often sent to prison for a first offence

No, actually men are nearly twice as likely to be sent to prison for a first offence than women. Women are twice as likely to be given a conditional discharge.


Myth 4: Men’s harsher sentencing is due to their offending history

No, these are the facts,

  • 86% of women and 91% of men who were sentenced for an indictable offence in 2013 were repeat offenders – little difference;
  • 30% of women and 37% of men sentenced for an indictable offence had 15 or more previous sanctions – little difference;
  • 31% of women and 40% of men with 15 or more previous sanctions were sentenced to immediate imprisonment – rather more men.

Myth 5: Women are treated particularly harshly for minor shoplifting offences

No, the opposite is the case if anything…

  • In 2013, shoplifting made up the majority of theft offences for both male and female offenders
  • The two most common disposals for both genders were conditional discharges and community sentences
  • Males were far more likely to get an immediate custodial sentence

Myth 6: Most women offenders are caring for children when convicted Female offenders and child dependents, Ministry of Justice, October 2015


  • Between 24% and 31% of all female offenders have one or more child dependents (<18 years old)
  • Among the different disposal types, women receiving immediate custody were significantly less likely to have child dependents (between 13% and 19%).

Myth 7: Over 17,000 children are separated from their mothers by prison

You will read in many places, e.g., here, the claim that over 17,000 children are separated from their mothers by prison. With less than 4,000 women in prison, together with not more than 19% having dependent children, you will readily see how preposterous this claim is. (23 children per mother?). Even if the claim is meant to be interpreted as “17,000 children are without their mother for some period in a given year”, we are still dealing with only around 9,100 women imprisoned annually, so this would still require each mother to have 10 children.

Myth 8: A smaller percentage of women prisoners were convicted for violent offences than men 


  • The same percentage (28%) of male and female prisoners are inside for Violence Against The Person offences. [Gavin Berman and Aliyah Dar, “Prison Population Statistics”, House of Commons Library, Standard No SN/SG/4334, June 2013, see Table B]
  • Also in Scotland, the same percentage (35%) of men and women are in prison for violent offences [Commission on Women Offenders,]

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