Mental Health, Autism & Learning Disabilities in the Criminal Courts

Information for magistrates, district judges and court staff

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a. Profile of women who offend

a. Profile of women who offend:

  • Mental health problems are more prevalent among women in prison than among men in prison. Women are nearly twice as likely as men in prison to have depression – 65% and 37% respectively, and are more than three times as likely to have depression as women in the general population (19%). Almost a third (30%) of women in custody had a psychiatric admission prior to entering prison.
  • Women in prison are highly likely to be victims of much more serious offences than the ones they are accused of committing. More than half (53%) report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child compared to 27% of men. 57% of women report having been victims of domestic violence.
  • Women can become trapped in a vicious cycle  of abuse and criminal activity. Their situation can  be worsened by poverty, poor mental health,  and substance misuse. Leaving an abusive relationship doesn’t guarantee that violence will stop. The period when a woman is planning or making her exit is often the most dangerous time for her and her children.
  • Women are more likely than men to report needing help with a drug problem on entry to prison –  49% and 29% respectively. Around 70% of women coming into custody require clinical detoxification compared with 50% of men. Women prisoners are more likely than men to associate drug use with their offending.
  • Alcohol is a significant driver to women’s offending. 56% of women prisoners who drank alcohol in excess four weeks before custody felt they had a problem with alcohol compared to 10% of the women in the general population.
“The greater energy with which the Government has begun to address the issue of women offenders needs to be… continued. [T]his applies to matters such as reliable funding of women’s centres, the effectiveness of rehabilitation provision for women by Community Rehabilitation Companies, and the potential of smaller custodial units.” House of Commons Justice Committee, 2015

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