I am elated, because we now appear to have a consensus in Westminster Hall, which is an acceptance at last that men are more likely than women to be sent to prison. What we are now hearing from a variety of people are reasons why that should be the case. Those reasons may well be true—that is a debate for another day—but at least we are getting to the nub of the purpose of this particular debate that I have secured, which was to show that men are more likely than women to be sent to prison.
I will come on to discuss the women who are in prison and perhaps my hon. Friend might like to explain which of the women in prison he would like to see released; perhaps other Members could do the same. However, that is the second myth; I will just finish off on the first myth that I am discussing.
All other MOJ figures confirm that men are treated more harshly by the courts than women, and that there is quite a disparity. In the past few years for which the figures are published, women had 50% more chance than men of being released from prison early on home detention curfew. So it is perfectly clear that on the likelihood of being sent to prison, on the length of sentence being handed out and on the proportion of sentence served, women are treated more favourably than men, and that applies to all ages and all categories of offences, in Crown courts and magistrates courts. At least we have made that particular point clear.
The second myth that I want to discuss, and my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson may well be interested in hearing about it, is that most women are in prison for petty or non-violent offences, and are serving short sentences. Many campaigners say that far too many women are in prison and should not be there; that instead, they should be serving their sentences in the community.
We can take a snapshot of the sentenced female prison population at a moment in time. The last figures that I have are for June 2010. Let us just look at the detail of all these “poor women” who are serving prison sentences and who—apparently—should be out and about. Which of these women prisoners do those who advocate reducing the female prison sentence want to let out? Frances Crook, the director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, was quoted in The Guardian in 2007 as saying that
“For women who offend, prison simply doesn’t work. It is time to end the use of traditional prisons for women.”
Perhaps she might explain which of these particular women she would like to see out and about, and not serving a prison sentence. Maybe it is the 211 women serving sentences for murder; maybe it is the 135 women in prison for manslaughter or attempted homicide; maybe it is the 352 women convicted of wounding; maybe it is the 142 women convicted of serious assault or other violence against the person; maybe it is the 58 women imprisoned for cruelty to children; it could be the 83 women who are in for rape, gross indecency with children or other sexual offences; maybe it is the 272 women who are in for violent robbery, or the 151 women who are in for burglary; or maybe it is the 398 female drug dealers who should not be in prison. The total of those figures is about 1,800, or just over 1,800, which is a figure often bandied around as the target for women offenders in prison. Maybe people would say, “Those people should be in prison, it is the others who shouldn’t be in prison.” As I have indicated, there are some people who say that no women should be in prison at all, but that argument is just so ridiculous that I hope nobody here is in favour of it.