Written evidence submitted by Women in Prison (POP0072)


Women in Prison (WIP) is a national charity which provides independent, holistic, gender-specialist support to women facing multiple disadvantage, including women involved in (or at risk of being involved in) the criminal justice system. We work in prisons, the community and ‘through the gate’, supporting women leaving prison. We run Women’s Centres or ‘hubs’ for services in Manchester, Surrey and London. Our combined services provide women with support and advocacy, relating to domestic and sexual abuse, mental health, harmful substance use, debt, education, training, employment, and parenting.


Our campaigning is informed by our frontline support services for women, delivered at every stage of a woman’s journey through the criminal justice system. The experience and knowledge of staff working directly with women affected by the criminal justice system enable us to see first-hand the effects of policy in practice and strengthen our recommendations for change.



The publication of the Government’s 2018 strategy for women in contact with the criminal justice system laid out a blueprint for change.[1] The strategy committed to reduce the number of women in prison and to focus on community alternatives. In doing so, it recognised that women should be given the support they need to address the root causes of offending and that early intervention, diversion and strong partnership working was key to achieving this. There are actions that the Government and agencies in the criminal justice system, including the police, can take to collectively strive towards achieving the aims of the strategy and create stronger communities as a result.

A modern police service, fit for the 2020s requires:

The police should prioritise:


1) What a modern police service, fit for the 2020s and beyond, looks like;

Redirection of resources with focus on prevention and early intervention

  1. A modern police service should not be responsible for responding to people who require support and specialist interventions to deal with areas such as harmful substance use, mental ill health, or homelessness. Estimates suggest that mental health issues account for at least 20% of police time and when including a broader group of people facing multiple disadvantages, such as experiences of harmful substance use, domestic abuse, sexual violence, discrimination and bias, this is reported to reach up to 40% of police time.[2] The National Police Chiefs Council, Police Federation of England and Wales, the Independent Office for Police Conduct and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary have said that the culture of over-reliance on the police service needs to change and that those in crisis must be given the most appropriate care at the earliest opportunity.[3]


  1. At Women in Prison, many women that we work alongside continue to come into contact with the police at crisis point and in a high level of distress, often due to the failure of state service and systems to respond to their needs, including children’s and adult social care, welfare and health services. A joint thematic inspection found that when these circumstances happen, police forces often have limited options available to them, due to high thresholds that must be met for accessing health care places, or unsuitability for a health assessment due to drug or alcohol use.[4] A modern police service requires a rebalancing of resources and capacity away from the police and towards specialist services that have the expertise to take a preventative approach to addressing the root causes of offending, and to ensure these services can provide appropriate crisis support when it is required, without criminal justice involvement.


  1. The reverse is currently happening. In 2019 the Home Office established the Police Uplift Programme which set out to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers in England and Wales by the end of March 2023 at an estimated cost of £3.6 billion.[5] The Home Office projects that the new officers could see 729,000 additional cases entering the criminal justice system.[6] The Government has also allocated £4 billion to expand the prison estate by 20,000 additional places,[7] of which 500 places will be for women at the cost of £200 million.[8]


  1. The Ministry of Justice indicated that the prison population will rise as a result of the combined impact of the additional police officers and measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act with the women’s prison population anticipated to rise by more than one third, to 4,300. It is concerning that the modelling for the projections explicitly omitted consideration of the impact of the Government’s strategy on women in the criminal justice system[9] and assumed that the additional police officers will be arresting and criminalising significantly higher numbers of women. Women in Prison has repeatedly requested the detailed modelling and analysis behind these projections, but these requests have not been fulfilled, preventing comprehensive external scrutiny. It is essential that additional police personnel and capacity is directed to ensuring women are diverted away from the criminal justice system and towards specialist support services in the community, as discussed further below.


  1. Despite the significant funding directed to the Police Uplift Programme the Home Office has not set out how it will measure the impact the new officers have on police forces’ ability to tackle crime, the public’s trust in policing or the wider criminal justice system.[10] We are concerned that the emphasis of resources and capacity is being funneled into the ‘end’ of the system to respond to harm, rather than preventing harm from taking place. The whole system should aspire to fewer police interactions as a result of an effective redirection of resources away from the criminal justice system toward health services, welfare, safe housing, youth services, education and social care that can support people to thrive.


Anti-racist and non-discriminatory

  1. A modern police service must be anti-racist and non-discriminatory in culture, policy and practice. This includes recognition of intersectionality and multiple forms of discrimination, for example where race discrimination intersects with and compounds other forms of discrimination due to other protected characteristics, such as age, disability, gender, religion/belief and sexual orientation.


  1. This currently is not the case. In the criminal justice system Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women experience “double disadvantage”[11] as a result of the combined impact of sexism and racism. For example, Black women simultaneously overpoliced and under protected. Figures show that in England and Wales, Black women are over twice as likely to be arrested than White women.[12] Yet when disclosing domestic abuse to the police, the charity Refuge identified from their own referral data that Black women are 14% less likely to be referred than White women, denying them swift support which can often be a lifeline.[13] The Inspectorate of Constabulary has found that there is limited information available on how police support victims with certain protected characteristics.[14] It should be mandatory for the police to collect data on victims ethnicity, as currently it is only a requirement to record a victim's gender. Data on people arrested must also be collected, disaggregated and published according to intersections of age, ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality and sexuality to develop intersectional understandings and ensure full scrutiny.


  1. To support the police services’ efforts to be anti-racist and anti-discriminatory, the Home Office must review the impact of legislation and policy decisions that are resulting in disproportionate outcomes for racially minoritised people. This includes recent extensions to police powers that disproportionately impact Black people such as the authorisation of Special Constables to carry and use Tasers if approved by Chief Constables, the introduction of Serious Violence Reduction Orders providing police the power to stop and search people without recent intelligence or other reasonable grounds for suspicion and the removal safeguards that were in place to limit the use of Section 60 powers which enable police to stop and search in anticipation of violence.[15] In reviewing these police powers it should be considered whether they are discriminatory by design or discriminatory through decisions that are made in practice. The Home Office must then explain or reform such policies or revise its application by police forces.


  1. To address unequal treatment and outcomes for Black, Asian, minoritised and migrant women in the criminal justice system, the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and police forces must work together to implement the 10-point action plan for change developed by a partnership of organisations and women with lived experience of the criminal justice system and proposes practical steps for meaningful change.[16] This includes actions to:


  1. Recent events have shined a light on shocking racism, misogyny, homophobia and discrimination embedded in the police. This includes the serious misconduct by officers following the murders of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer and the findings of Operation Hotton which exposed messages exchanged by police officers containing rape threats and jokes about domestic violence. An interim report by Baroness Casey on the internal misconduct system in the Metropolitain police has identified “systemic” racism and clear evidence of misogyny, finding that cases, including discrimination allegations and sexual assault and harassment claims, are taking too long to resolve, are more likely to be dismissed than acted upon and that White officers dealt with less harshly than Black or Asian Officers.[17] Police forces must urgently and fully address their professional standards and internal misconduct processes and ensure the implementation of Casey's recommendations for "radical and wholesale reform of the systemmet with accountability for achieving them at the highest level of the police.


3) What roles police forces should prioritise;

Partnership working and Whole System Approaches

  1. A core element of the delivery of the Government’s strategy on women was empowering local areas to develop approaches to women in the criminal justice system in a way that meets local needs and circumstances. The National Concordat, published in January 2021 set out a model for a Whole System Approach which promotes multi-agency working, based on collaboration and information sharing to respond to women’s distinct needs in a trauma-informed and gender-responsive way.[18] The Home Office was a national signatory to the National Concordat alongside other government departments. Police forces need to ensure that the key objectives of the forthcoming delivery plan are prioritised in their planning and localised targets are set.


  1. Whole System Approaches are based around principles of strong partnership working and integrated service delivery between multiple agencies, such as the police, prisons, health services, the judiciary, probation, local authorities and voluntary sector service providers. In practice, this can involve strengthening systems to refer women to appropriate services or co-locating different services to improve access. Stakeholders involved in the Whole System Approaches have reported that it provides a more efficient and effective system with less duplication from other services and better outcomes for women.[19]


  1. Some local areas, such as London, Lincolnshire and Manchester, have led the way in developing strong partnership working and integrated service delivery between different stakeholders supporting prevention, early intervention and diverting to specialist support, such as Women’s Centres (more information about their approach below). However, the provision of established Whole System Approaches is geographically inconsistent. We welcome the £3.6 million funding allocated from the Ministry of Justice to address this geographic inconsistency and help local services such as mental health support and drug experts to work more closely together to and develop Whole System Approaches. Police should work in collaboration with these services to ensure effective responses to women’s needs and end the unnecessary criminalisation of women.



  1. Diversion can be an effective and proportionate way to support women to address the root causes of offending. Liaison and Diversion services identify people who have mental ill health, learning disabilities or harmful substance use when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system and seek to support, refer or enable them to be diverted into services that can meet their needs. The programme is run primarily in police custody suites and courts in England and involves health practitioners screening people to direct them onto relevant pathways.


  1. Transform Justice has reported that these services are underused, and their expertise is often overlooked in charging decisions resulting in people being criminalised rather than diverted from the criminal justice system despite their offences being connected to experiences of mental ill health.[20] They have also identified that police officer awareness of available diversion interventions is low. In five out of six police forces surveyed, less than half of respondents knew about their local alcohol and drug diversion schemes.[21] Police forces must conduct thorough mapping exercises to ensure full knowledge about the services available in their areas, how to refer to these services, and provide mandatory training on the purpose and benefits of diversionary approaches.


  1. Where Liaison and Diversion services are making onward referrals, an outcome evaluation found that the impact of the model was restricted by the limited availability of services to receive referrals for drug treatment, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programmes and specialist mental health provision.[22] This was also identified in a joint inspectorate report which found many pathways relied on referral to ’standard’ public provision which was limited due to capacity.[23]  A cross-departmental approach is required with the Government working together to reduce the pressures on the police by addressing the lack of capacity for specialist services, alcohol and drug services and mental health services through additional funding and provision.


  1. The 2019 National Liaison and Diversion service specification set out that all services will develop a gender specific pathway to holistically address the specific needs of women in the criminal justice system, led by a dedicated female practitioner.[24] The London Women’s Diversion Service has been delivered since 2019, in partnership with three specialist organisations providing support to women in the criminal justice system, including Women in Prison. Research by Advance, who are partners on the project, showed that 89% of women on the programme reported improved mental health and wellbeing, 100% felt safer from domestic abuse and 93% reported a reduced likelihood of reoffending due to the support.[25]


  1. In the past two and a half years, Women in Prison has supported 111 women through this diversion work. Women can be referred onto the pathway by the police as part of a conditional caution as an alternative to prosecution. The service has since been extended to include women voluntarily self-referring, although it has not been extended to offences that have no enforcement element, such as community resolutions and no further action. Advance found that in two areas in London, only 3% of women arrested were offered the Women’s Diversion Service, in part due to the limited referral eligibility criteria. We support Advance’s recommendation that the criteria for access to the Women’s Diversion Service should be widened to all women in contact with the criminal justice system at point of arrest regardless of the police action and outcome (such as no further action, released under investigation or charged) to provide all women who could benefit from this approach with effective community support. This needs to be accompanied with additional funding for specialist women’s services to enable them to increase the level of provision.


  1. The Lammy review found that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are more likely to plead not guilty to alleged offences.[26] Experience of racism and lack of trust in the criminal justice system can lead people to feeling that they will be treated unfairly if they plead guilty, or that the criminal justice system won't deliver on the promise of less punitive treatment in exchange for prompt admissions of guilt. Ensuring out of court disposals and diversion schemes do not require an admission of guilt can go some way to avoid the disproportionately harsh treatment for Black and minoritised women in the criminal justice system and to increasing confidence and trust. Police forces must work with partners to ensure that diversion schemes do not require an arrest or admission of guilt in order to participate in the scheme and receive tailored support.


Appropriate responses to allegations of abuse

  1. The police have been found to be repeatedly failing to meet the needs of victims and survivors of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that that victims have reported having a poor experience due to officers’ lack of empathy and understanding and feeling as if they are the ones under investigation, rather than the perpetrators.[27] Imkann has highlighted how racially minoritised women are more likely to be viewed as complicit in violence towards them and less likely to be considered ‘victims.’[28] It is vital that the police fully consider the impacts of violence against work and girls and have a better understanding of the dynamics of abuse and its impacts.


  1. We support Agenda’s Ask and Take Action Campaign.[29] There should be a statutory duty on all public authorities, include the police, to set as a minimum standard that all staff are fully trained to make enquiries into abuse, in a trauma-informed way, and develop appropriate responses where experiences of abuse are disclosed. This includes personnel in the police, courts, social services, health and probation. It is essential for all allegations to be taken seriously to ensure survivors are not retraumatised and blamed, and that there is a clear understanding about coercive control across the system. This is particularly important for police and prosecution so they are consistently able to weigh up the public interest to prosecute in cases where women may have been victims of domestic abuse.


  1. Research has found that women are three times more likely to be arrested than their male partners in cases involving counter-allegations of domestic abuse.[30] Over 60% of arrests of women for alleged violence flagged as domestic abuse, or an alleged incident involving a partner or close family member, result in no further action, indicating widespread inappropriate use of arrest.[31]There must be a recognition in police guidance that when attending call outs there may be counter allegations of abuse which can form part of the abuse as a method of coercion and control. Police should avoid the practice of “dual arrest” in domestic abuse situations which can exacerbate violence and itself be used as part of the abuse and result in the unjust criminalisation of survivors.


  1. There must be equal protection from abuse. We support the submission by Latin American Women’s Rights Service and echo their calls to end the practice of data-sharing with immigration enforcement to ensure equal treatment for migrant survivors of violence against women and girls. 


Specialist support through Women’s Centres

  1. Women’s Centres have a proven track record of working alongside women and providing effective, therapeutic and practical support in the community. They provide access to specialist advocacy, advice and support on housing, debt, substance misuse, mental and physical health, domestic abuse and family and parenting - all under one roof, through in-house specialist staff or multi-agency partnerships. Women's Centres have a key role to play in delivering early intervention, diversion and preventative services and reducing long-term or crisis point demands on services such as health and housing.


  1. Our new research shows that investing in Women’s Centres brings a threefold return on taxpayer funds by keeping women out of prison and easing demand for other services.[32] The research shows that a typical Women’s Centre receiving £1m in a given year can support over 650 women and generate £2.75m in public sector savings, while providing a lifeline for vital services and significantly improving wellbeing for women and their children. The savings would go to local authorities (47%), the Ministry of Justice (17%), the NHS (15%), the Police (10%), the Department for Work and Pensions (9%) and HM Revenue and Customs (2%).


  1. Nearly half (9/19) of Women’s Centres that we surveyed said they were concerned about their survival. In September the Ministry of Justice announced £21m funding for women’s services working in the criminal justice system across three years.[33] This is a step in the right direction but is not sufficient to safeguard the future of Women’s Centres and pales into insignificance compared to the £200m for 500 addition prison places for women. 


  1. To ensure the sustainability of these services, government departments including the Home Office must commit to a cross-departmental fund in the next spending review to ensure long-term funding for Women’s Centres that covers the breadth and depth of their work. The cross-departmental fund must include ring-fenced funding for specialist services led ‘by and for’ women with protected characteristics, including Black and minoritised women, deaf and disabled women and LGBTQ+ women.


Ending unnecessary criminalisation

  1. Criminalisation can have long-lasting and devastating impacts on a person's circumstances and life chances and can often exacerbate the circumstances that brought them into contract with the police in the first instance. Involvement with the criminal justice system at any stage can impact mental health, income, housing, care of children, and for people without British citizenship, can lead to deportation.


  1. The APPG on women in the penal system analysed data from five police forces in England and Wales and found that 40% of arrests of women resulted in no further action, concluding that there are still too many women being arrested when they do not need to be.[34] Arrests may be shown on an enhanced Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) check, even when it does not result in a caution or conviction. This can have a disproportionate impact on women who are more likely to work in sectors that require an enhanced DBS check, such as working with children or in health and care settings.[35] The charity Unlock has identified that formal out of court processes such as conditional cautions can be accepted by people without full understanding of the consequences, explaining “our helpline regularly receives calls from people who have accepted a caution believing it wouldn’t affect them in the future, only to be disappointed when they’ve been refused a job or college/university place due to their caution being disclosed on a criminal record check.”[36]


  1. In 2023, police forces will be introducing a revised, ‘two tier’ framework for out of court disposals, replacing the current system of six out of court disposals. Both tiers of the new statutory framework (Community Caution and Diversionary Cautions) will require an admission of guilt and agreement to complete the conditions attached to the cautions. There are concerns that by removing lower-intensity statutory out of court disposal options, such as simple cautions, some people will have to complete more interventions than they otherwise would have which will essentially result in up-tariffing by design[37] pulling more women into contact with the criminal justice system. There should be a greater drive on non-statutory disposals such as community resolutions which can reduce the negative consequences of formal criminal justice processing and reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of women.


  1. For example, Cambridgeshire Police has ensured that Liaison and Diversion services are able to receive referrals without the need for arrest, instead requiring women to attend a voluntary interview.[38] West Yorkshire Police have piloted a retail triage scheme which sees local retailers call a dedicated police phone line if a woman is held in store for shop theft. Women who are eligible for the scheme are not arrested by the police but instead diverted to a specialist practitioner based within a Women’s Centre to support any needs that may be contributing to shop theft. Once an intervention is completed, the police are notified, and no further action is taken.[39]


  1. The police should follow these examples of good practice and take steps to avoid the unnecessary criminalisation and stigmatisation of women who require support, not punishment. To support early intervention and minimise negative consequences of criminal justice system involvement, arrests and cautions should not be a criteria in order for women to access or be referred to support.


  1. De-escalation techniques are designed to reduce the intensity of a conflict or a potentially violent situation through the use of non-threatening body language, active listening, compassionate responses and calm speech. De-escalation is especially important where someone might have mental ill health, where physical contact could be interpreted as hostile and threatening and receive a negative response. It is essential for police to have at the forefront of their minds that coercive interactions or restraint may trigger a trauma response in women who have experience violence, abuse and discrimination. The charity Agenda explains ‘a trigger’ is a stimulus that can prompt a survivor to recall previous traumatic experiences. The way in which an individual responds to a trigger or trauma itself is often involuntary and can result in a temporary loss of the ability to process information, plan and take appropriate action.[40]


  1. Since the offence of Assaults on Emergency Workers was introduced in 2018, we are concerned that the arrests of women for this offence is criminalising women during circumstances of heightened stress and trauma. For example, an analysis by the Howard League found that incidents of alleged assault on an emergency worker were often related to incidents of alleged domestic abuse.[41] Transform Justice have identified that many cases of assaulting an emergency worker that appear in court involve defendants with mental health conditions, cognitive impairments and/or who are neurodivergent with lawyers estimating the proportion could be as high as 80%.[42] Police forces should prioritise teaching and learning about identifying trauma and responding to people in distress or displaying challenging behaviour and how to effectively resolve conflict through de-escalation techniques and reduce the use of arrest.


November 2022




[1] Ministry of Justice (2018) Female Offender Strategy

[2] Adebowale, L (2017) Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing

[3] The National Police Chiefs Council (2020) National Strategy on Policing and Mental Health, Police Federation of England and Wales (2021) Government must end the police plugging mental health service gaps, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (2021) Oversight Team July 2021 Newsletter; HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (2018) Policing and Mental Health Picking Up the Pieces

[4] Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, Care Quality Commission and Healthcare inspectorate Wales (2021) A joint thematic inspection of the criminal justice journey for individuals with mental health needs

[5] The National Audit Office (2022) The Police Uplift Programme

[6] Public Accounts Committee (2022) The Police Uplift Programme

[7] Ministry of Justice (2022) Thousands of new prison places to rehabilitate offenders and cut crime; National Audit Office (2022) Improving outcomes for women in the criminal justice system

[8] National Audit Office (2022) Improving outcomes for women in the criminal justice system

[9] Ministry of Justice (2020) Prison Population Projections: 2020 to 2026

[10] Public Accounts Committee (2022) The Police Uplift Programme

[11] Hibiscus Initiatives, Muslim Women in Prison, Zahid Mubarek Trust, Criminal Justice Alliance and Women in Prison (2022) Tackling Double Disadvantage: 10 point action plan for change

[12] Gov.uk (2022) Arrests

[13] Refuge (2022) Refuge data shows Black women experiencing domestic abuse less likely to be referred for specialist support by police

[14] HM Inspectorates of Constabulary (2022) Interim report on inspection into how effectively the police engage with women and girls

[15] Criminal Justice Alliance (2022) Response to the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing’s draft Police Race Action Plan

[16] Hibiscus Initiatives, Muslim Women in Prison, Zahid Mubarek Trust, Criminal Justice Alliance and Women in Prison (2022) Tackling Double Disadvantage: 10 point action plan for change

[17] Casey (2021) Baroness Casey Review – interim report on misconduct

[18] Ministry of Justice (2021) Concordat on women in or at risk of contact with the Criminal Justice System

[19] Ministry of Justice (2018) A whole system approach to female offenders

[20] Transform Justice (2022) Protecting the protectors? Do criminal sanctions reduce violence against police and NHS staff?

[21] Transform Justice (2022) How can police forces make better use of diversion and out of court disposals?

[22] Disley, E. et al (2021) Outcome evaluation of the national model for liaison and diversion

[23] Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, Care Quality Commission and Healthcare inspectorate Wales (2021) A joint thematic inspection of the criminal justice journey for individuals with mental health needs

[24] NHS England and NHS Improvement (2019) Liaison and Diversion Standard Service Specification

[25] Advance (2021) London Women’s Diversion Support

[26] Lammy, D. (2017) An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system

[27] HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (2022) Interim report: Inspection into how effectively the police engage with women and girls 

[28] Imkaan (2020) Reclaiming voice: minoritised women and sexual violence

[29] Agenda (2022) Ask and Take Action

[30] Hester, M. (2012) Portrayal of Women as Intimate Partner Domestic Violence Perpetrators

[31] APPG on women in the penal system (2021) Briefing 3, arresting the entry of women into the criminal justice system.

[32] Women in Prison (2022) The Value of Women’s Centres

[33] Ministry of Justice and HMPPS (2022) Millions invested to support female offenders

[34] APPG on Women in the Penal System (2020) Briefing 2: Arresting the entry of women into the criminal justice system

[35] Unlock (2021) The impact of criminal records on women

[36] Unlock (2022) Implications of accepting a police caution

[37] Centre for Justice Innovation (2020) Delivering a smarter approach: reforming out of court disposals

[38] APPG on women in the penal system (2021) Briefing 3: Arresting the entry of women into the criminal justice system

[39] APPG on Women in the Penal System (2020) Briefing 2: Arresting the entry of women into the criminal justice system

[40] Agenda (2021) House of Lords Briefing for the Second Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

[41] APPG on women in the penal system (2020) Briefing 2: Arresting the entry of women into the criminal justice system

[42] Transform Justice (2022) Protecting the protectors? Do criminal sanctions reduce violence against police and NHS staff?