Categorized | Criminal Justice

‘Criminal justice system institutionally sexist’

‘Criminal justice system institutionally sexist’

A new report published last week by the Fawcett Society’s Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System finds widespread discrimination in practices and attitudes towards women across the criminal justice system, claiming that institutional sexism is apparent even in the day-to-day operation of criminal justice agencies.

The report states that although there has been some progress since the Commission began its work in 2003, a gap remains between policy and implementation. The failure to target institutional sexism has resulted in a system which does not address the causes of women’s offending with the result that too many women continue to be imprisoned on short sentences for non-violent crime. It also fails to provide female victims of violence with support, safety and justice, and creates a glass ceiling for women working within the system. On staffing matters, the report states that only 12 percent of police officers at Chief Inspector grade and above are women, less than a quarter of prison governors are female and less than one in four prison officers are women. At the most basic level, Baroness Jean Corston, Chair of the Commission, says that “workplace practices and attitudes in the justice system are frequently failing to take into account the different needs of women. The police uniform in some forces is a telling example – designed for men by men, just like the criminal justice system.” Flexible and part-time working is not consistently accepted and the culture of long working hours disadvantages any individual with caring responsibilities, the majority of whom are women. In the legal profession, only 15.9 percent of partners in the UK’s ten largest law firms are women and there are only 42 female compared to 479 male silks. Just over 10 percent of the 109 High Court Judges and just 3 out of the 37 Lord Justices of Appeal are women. There is only one female law lord.

On female victims of crime, the report reflects the concerns detailed in our blog ‘Rape’, posted on 16 April. With regard to female offenders, on 3 April 2009 the female prison population stood at 4,309 compared to a mid-year female prison population of 2,672 in 1997. Too many women are being imprisoned for short sentences for non-violent crime, including the non-payment of fines and television licences. In 2007, 63.3 percent of women were sentenced to sentences of six months or less. Prison does not address the causes of women’s offending. More than one in three have histories of sexual abuse and over half have been the victims of domestic abuse. Self-harm among women in custody increased by 48% between 2003 and 2007, with women, just 5% of the total prison population, committing around half of all self-harm incidents.
The Commission welcomes the Government’s work over the past five years towards ensuring that the criminal justice system meets the needs of women but the pace of change has been disappointingly slow. “This final report sets out the Commission’s vision of a justice system which recognises and responds to the unique needs, experiences and skills of women and the institutional change which is needed to achieve this.” The full text of the report can be found at:

http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/documents/Commission%20report%20May%2009.pdf

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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