A major Parliament inquiry is being launched into the sentencing of British women.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System will investigate concerns courts often resort to custodial sentences and overlook evidence women’s centres may help deter female offenders from reoffending.
Currently 4,000 women are held in prison - less than five per cent of the total prison population.
More women, particularly non-violent offenders, should be redirected away from prison in favour of rehabilitation, the group argues.
Baroness Corston, co-chairman of the APPG, said: “As we mark International Women’s Day, there is compelling evidence that many women are being sent to prison unnecessarily, and these sentencing decisions can have disastrous consequences.
“Seven in ten women entering prison are sent there to serve sentences of six months or less. One in four is jailed for 30 days or less and almost 3,000 women last year were given sentences of two weeks or less.
“The need for a rethink on sentencing could not be clearer, and I hope that this inquiry will help to encourage and enable the magistracy to send fewer women to prison.”
According to the Baroness, female prisoners account for 20 per cent of reported self-harm incidents and one in five women is released with nowhere to live.
MP Kate Green said: “It is scandalous that thousands of women are in prison for non-violent offences.
“Even a short spell in prison can be so disruptive that a woman loses her home, her job and contact with her children.”
It is hoped the inquiry will replicate the success of a previous APPG investigation held from 2011-2012 which prompted a reduction in the number of girls entering the criminal justice system.
Next week the group will start hearing evidence for its inquiry, starting with chairman of the Magistrates’ Association John Bache.