An estimated 741,000 women and girls are held in prisons around the world, and the female prison population is increasing at a faster rate than for the male prison population.
Many women are imprisoned for petty, non-violent offences. Their offences often stem from experiences of discrimination, deprivation and violence. Prison is an ineffective and often damaging solution for women. Prisons and prison systems, their architecture, security procedures, healthcare, family contact, work and training are designed for men. Women in prison are often at a disadvantage, with few prisons meeting their basic needs or adequately preparing them for release, and have faced increased hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of changes to prison regimes that fail to account of their specific needs.
Women in the criminal justice system are disproportionately likely to have been victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Throughout the criminal justice process they are at risk of further abuse, violence and humiliation from police, prison officers and other people in prison. For many women and girls custody can mean ill-treatment, the threat of rape, touching, ‘virginity testing’, being stripped naked, invasive body searches, and insults or humiliations of a sexual nature. In some cases, women are forced to provide sex for favours or preferential treatment.
Alternatives to imprisonment, such as community service, have been shown to be more effective in reducing re-offending and promoting lasting rehabilitation. But alternatives to imprisonment can fail to consider the specific requirements of women. Their caretaking responsibilities or potential histories of domestic violence are often overlooked There are gender differences in drug dependency and therefore their specific treatment needs are often not considered.
The United Nations Bangkok Rules adopted in 2010 by 193 governments at the UN General Assembly addresses the gender specific needs of women in criminal justice or prison systems. We work to ensure these vital standards are put into practice to both reduce women’s imprisonment, and improve their treatment while detained.
Alternatives to imprisonment
Rehabilitation and reintegration