The Answer Is Not Prison

I should have been sent to hospital because I was mentally ill. I think that a high percentage of women in prison should not be there. They need help from services instead of prison.

— Katy (not her real name), a woman in prison

Prison is being used as the answer to abuse and mental ill-health experienced by women in the UK. The majority of women in prison report that they’ve experienced domestic abuse, and report mental health problems. Prison is not a safe or appropriate setting for women who need support and medical care.

Women in Prison's "The Answer is Not Prison" campaign calls on the UK Government to prioritise prevention for women rather than criminalising them and cutting them off from their community in prison. Our goal is to ensure that women facing mental ill-health, abuse, and other challenges receive the support they need within their communities.

Why This Matters

The statistics are shocking and deeply concerning:

  • 76% of women in prison report having a mental health problem.
  • 70% of women in prison have experienced domestic abuse.
  • Self-harm was at the highest rate ever recorded in 2023. It increased 52% in the year to March 2023.
  • 53% of women in prison have experienced abuse as children.
  • 72% of women leaving one prison faced homelessness or unsafe accommodation.

These numbers highlight the urgent need for change. Women like Katy, Anita, and Dawn, whose stories you can read below, illustrate the devastating impacts of the current system. The answer is support, not prison.

What do women say?

Katy's Story

Katy’s partner was abusing her. She was experiencing mental ill-health and misusing substances. When arrested, Katy was sent to prison on remand for three months. She believes, "I should have been sent to hospital because I was mentally ill." This is a common sentiment among women in prison, many of whom need help from services, not incarceration.

Anita's Story

Anita was recalled to prison after an incident on a psychiatric ward while she was pregnant. “In prison my anxiety and loneliness got even worse,” she said.

Anita’s mental health deteriorated rapidly in prison, exacerbating her anxiety and loneliness. The Royal College of Midwives has stated that pregnant women in prison face severe risks to their health and that of their unborn children.

Dawn's Story

Dawn grew up with parents who misused harmful substances and a father who abused her. She left home at 11 and continued to face abuse from a man she calls her husband, coupled with her own substance misuse and eventually a nine-year prison sentence. Writing about her experiences, Dawn said, “I lost everything.”

We have changed some of the women's names to protect their identities.

Take Action

The answer to women facing abuse and mental ill-health is NOT prison.

We need your help to drive this campaign forward. Here’s how you can make a difference:

  1. Share the Campaign on Social Media
    • Use the hashtag #TheAnswerIsNotPrison and share our stories and messages on your social media platforms to raise awareness.
    • Reshare our social media posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to amplify the campaign.
  2. Write to Your Representative
  3. Write a Letter to the Editor
    • Amplify our message to your local candidates and people in your constituency by writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper using our template.

Women in crisis need support, not prison. By raising awareness and taking action, you can help us push for a system that prioritises support over punishment. Together, we can ensure that no woman is harmed by the criminal justice system.