Public say: stop sending women to prison

A unique, UK wide ICM survey for Prison Reform Trust's 2003-08 campaign for alternatives to custody, SmartJustice, shows that most people do not agree with sending women to prison for non-violent offences.

This is the first time the public have been asked how to reduce crime committed by women. 

The poll, published exclusively in Best magazine, showed that over two in three (67%) said prison was not likely to reduce offending and almost three quarters (73%) did not think mothers of young children who commit non violent crime should be locked up. 

Instead there was overwhelming support (86%) for community alternatives to prison – for example, centres where women are sent to address the causes of their crimes whilst also having to do compulsory work in the community.  

The majority (77%) also thought it would be more effective for female drug addicts who commit non violent crimes like shoplifting to undergo drug rehabilitation treatment as well as doing compulsory work rather than being sent to jail.  

SmartJustice Director Lucie Russell said: 

Locking up women who are vulnerable and desperate does nothing to cut crime. If we are serious about reducing women’s offending we need to tackle the reasons they are committing crimes in the first place. The solutions lie in drug treatment, mental health care, jobs, housing and compulsory work in the community to payback for what they have done rather than putting them behind bars.

The government has commissioned a review on women in the criminal justice system. Baroness Corston’s report and recommendations are expected to be published very soon. If the Home Secretary had any hesitation that the public would not be behind sending fewer women to prison this survey will put him right.  The results of this poll should give the go ahead to cut back on women’s imprisonment, in favour of more effective alternatives which would make communities safer and do less harm to vulnerable women and their children.

Actress and celebrity supporter Michelle Collins said: 

Our prisons are overflowing with women who are mentally ill, drug addicts and victims of domestic violence and child abuse. Locking these women up doesn’t stop them offending and it’s very expensive. It's time the government took some action and invested in tackling the causes of women’s crimes. 

Download the poll findings here


ICM interviewed a random sample of 1006 adults aged 18+ by telephone across the UK between 9th – 11th February 2007. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at

Following the tragic death of six women at Styal prison, the Home Secretary asked Baroness Jean Corston to conduct a review of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. Throughout 2006 Baroness Corston and her team visited overcrowded women’s jails, local women’s centres and alternatives to custody for women across the UK.