April 1, 2004:Women Receive Rough Justice From ‘Man-Made’ System
The Fawcett Society’s Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System has launched its report, which finds that women victims, offenders and workers receive rough justice from a ‘man-made’ system. Women are failed by a criminal justice system designed principally by men, and remains principally for men.
The report is the result of the year-long Commission into women’s experience of the criminal justice system, the first of its kind internationally to look at women’s experience right across the system. The Commission is an independent inquiry chaired by Vera Baird QC MP. The Commissioners are senior experts from across the criminal justice system and other areas of public life. The Commissioners’ findings and recommendations based on 400 submissions. The following information is taken from the report, available from Fawcett:
Women victims face a postcode lottery
Conviction rates of rape and domestic violence – crimes experienced in the vast majority by women – are extremely low. The Commission heard:
- One woman in four experiences domestic violence at some point in her life, and 30% of domestic violence cases start or escalate during pregnancy.
- Domestic violence accounts for a quarter of all crime, and yet only 5% of recorded cases of domestic violence end in conviction.
- Less than 20% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police, and less than 6% of rapes result in conviction.
The Commission highlighted the continuing lottery of services facing rape victims. It calls for a Sexual Assault Referral Centre to be established in every police area and for specialist police officers to be made available to all victims of rape.
Women offenders are shoe-horned into a
Sentences are getting harsher and the number of women in prison has risen dramatically – at a much faster rate than imprisonment of men – even though there has been no equivalent rise in female offending.
Overwhelming evidence presented to the Commission highlighted that prison is rarely the solution for the complex issues faced by women offenders. As a minority population, women are being shoe-horned into a system that is not designed for their needs. Recent government figures show:
- There are now over 4,500 women in prison, up by 194% in the last ten years.
- Suicides in women’s prisons have increased from one in 1993 to 14 in 2003.
- Most women are convicted of non-violent offences, such as shoplifting; and 70% of women in prison are on sentences of less than 12 months.
Many Commissioners questioned whether women posing no serious threat to others should be imprisoned at all. The Commission calls for an urgent review of the alternatives to prison that could be used for women offenders.
Women workers face a glass ceiling in the
criminal justice system
Women are poorly represented in top jobs across the system. This means decisions and policies are ‘man-made’. Exclusion of women from the most powerful positions undermines the credibility of the system. Statistics show that there are:
- One woman out of 12 judges in the House of Lords
- Five women out of 43 police Chief Constables
- 18 women out of 42 Chief Officers of Probation
- Seven women out of 42 Chief Crown Prosecutors
- 31 women out of 138 Prison Governors
Commissioners also heard evidence of sexual harassment and discrimination experienced by women working in the system. Commissioners find that the single most effective way of redressing the poor experiences of women in the system would be to introduce a law which obliges public bodies to promote sex equality.
Commission Chair Vera Baird QC MP said:
“When we look across the criminal justice system, the figures really begin to stack up. As the Commission’s report today shows, only 6% of reported rapes end in conviction, there has been a 194% increase in the female prison population over the past 10 years and there are just 11 women among 156 of the most senior judges. This suggests that women experience systematic disadvantage right across the criminal justice system.”
The importance of the report was underlined by Solicitor General Harriet Harman QC MP, who commented that>
“The Commission’s work has made an invaluable contribution to the question of women’s involvement in the criminal justice system. It reminds us of longstanding concerns, makes new arguments and makes proposals which are worthy of serious consideration.”