However, campaigners for women have since pointed out that the existence of a local prison is more likely to encourage magistrates and judges to sentence women to prison, where they now impose non-custodial sentences.
This is against a background that in England and Wales:
- In the last decade the women’s prison population has more than doubled.
- Over one third of women in adult prisons had no previous convictions, which is more than double the figure for men
- The majority of the sentenced female prison population are held for non-violent offences.
- Much of the rise in the female prison population can be explained by a significant increase in the severity of sentences. In 1991 eight per cent of women convicted in the Crown Court of motoring offences went to prison. By 2001 that had increased to 42 per cent. A women convicted of theft or handling at the Crown Court is now twice as likely to go to prison as in 1991. At the magistrates’ court, the chances of a women receiving a custodial sentence have risen seven-fold.