Magistrates in South Yorkshire are almost twice as likely to send women to prison as courts in other parts of England and Wales, new figures have shown.
The Howard League for Penal Reform has released data for the first time which shows how sentencing rates for women vary.
The figures suggest that, while many magistrates’ courts are making use of community sentences, other benches are imposing prison terms.
Courts in South Yorkshire imposed custodial sentences in 1.2 per cent of the cases they heard in 2011 – almost twice as often as benches in criminal justice areas such as Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Northumbria and Wiltshire.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We are concerned that it remains the case that a woman convicted of a non-violent offence is more likely to go to prison than a man.
“Women who find themselves in court often need a lot of support. They are often victims of crimes themselves, such as domestic abuse or pimping.
“Sending these women to prison for a few weeks is not the answer to the complex issues in their lives.
“We are concerned legislation currently going through Parliament may make the situation for women worse. The Offender Rehabilitation Bill extends short prison sentences with a year of supervision in the community, but it is unclear how specialist services for women will survive.”