women hands prison

A long way from home

Date published: 
24 July 2018

Key facts

  • In 2017, 1,204 women were sent to prison in London, mainly for theft.
  • Around 15 per cent of the arrests made by the police in London each year are of women.
  • Many women are being sent to jail for less serious crimes.
  • Following the closure of HMP Holloway there is no women’s prison in London

Key findings

  • In 2017, around 22,000 arrests in London were of women. One in five cases in London’s courts involved the prosecution of a woman.
  • With no prison in London all must serve their sentences outside the capital.
  • Women who commit crimes are most often involved in low-level offences such as theft, common assault and TV licence evasion.
  • The reasons why women commit crimes are often closely linked to problems like financial difficulties, drug and alcohol addictions, caring responsibilities or violent and/or coercive relationships.
  • For over a decade there have been calls for radical changes to the way we deal with women who offend and those at risk of offending.
  • The Government’s new strategy provides an opportunity for London to create a system that improves rehabilitation and cuts reoffending rates.


Key recommendations

Recommendation 1


The Mayor should, by May 2020, be able to demonstrate how he has used his powers and influence to contribute to:

  • an increase in early problem-solving intervention and diversion by the police, where appropriate, of women who offend or are at risk of offending
  • an improvement in the quality and use of community sentences for women who offend
  • a reduction in the number of London’s women who are sent to prison for low-level and non-violent crime, where appropriate
  • the establishment of at least one residential women’s centre in the capital, or a guarantee from the Government that it will establish and fund at least one in London as part of its pilot programme
  • the establishment of a network of women’s centres specifically for female offenders and those at risk of offending, to ensure equal access for all women who need this level of support wherever they live


Recommendation 2


The Metropolitan Police should review its foundation training to ensure that officers are equipped to take a gender-informed approach to risk, vulnerability, and offending.


Recommendation 3


The Metropolitan Police and MOPAC should ensure that, by the initial stages of the police triage pilot, frontline officers have access to information about the services that are available for women in their neighbourhood or borough.


Recommendation 4


In support of the Mayor’s objective to increase early problem-solving and diversion, MOPAC should investigate the use of out of court disposals for women in London, to determine:

  • whether they are being underused and any reasons for this
  • the extent to which conditions attached to out of court disposals for women are addressing underlying offending behaviours
  • how the Met can be enabled to make use of out of court disposals where appropriate


Recommendation 5


The Mayor’s planned review of community sentencing should report on women as a target group, and assess:

  • the quality of the community sentences that can be provided to women
  • the effect of ‘speedy justice’ on the quality of sentencing decisions
  • the awareness among magistrates and sentencers of the range and effectiveness of community sentences available to them and how this can be improved
  • the potential for more creative sentencing, such as deferred sentences, to encourage engagement with specialist provision
  • the potential for alternative approaches for women, such as the use of problem-solving courts

Recommendation 6


The Mayor should consider using his adult education and skills budget to support women in contact with the criminal justice system, and in particular to help women offenders continue any education and skills training they have begun in prisons on their release.


Recommendation 7


As a first step towards developing a comprehensive network of women’s centres for London, the Mayor and the London Justice Devolution Board should attempt to secure from the Ministry of Justice the dedicated funding for at least one more non-residential ‘one-stop-shop’ women’s centre specifically for offenders in London, based on the two that already exist.


Recommendation 8


In the process for agreeing the development of the HMP Holloway site:

  • Islington Council, in its planning role, should ensure that a women’s building, including a women’s centre, and ideally community led, is specifically included in plans to redevelop the site, and that it can be funded through contributions by that developer.
  • The Mayor should challenge any proposal for the development of the site that does not include a women’s building of this kind.

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