UK Prisoners – The Genders Compared


[Note added February 2016: A pdf of the talk I gave at UCL is here.]

[Note added May 2016: An update on the analysis herein can be found here]

Original post…

The above graphic shows the prison population of England & Wales from 1900 to 2014. The persistent rise in the number of prisoners since the end of WW2 is due primarily to the rise in the number of male prisoners. One hundred years ago there were about five male prisoners for every female prisoner, now there are about twenty. To be precise, at the end of January 2014 there were 81,045 men and 3,932 women in prison in England and Wales: 20.6 times as many men as women, Ref.[1].


Most people would say that it is because men commit more crimes. And so they do. But twenty times more? Really?

The number of crimes committed by each sex can be gauged from the number of sentences passed each year – that is, the number of cases coming to court in which the verdict is guilty and a sentence is required. And the answer? In England and Wales there have recently been just over three times more men sentenced per year than women, and this ratio has been falling – see Table 1 for the actual data (taken from Ref.[2]).

Table 1: Numbers of Men and Women Sentenced per Year (England & Wales)

year Men sentenced Women sentenced Ratio Men:Women
2006 1,135,228 277,712 4.1
2009 1,046,281 314,627 3.3
2012 929,720 297,034 3.1


But if only three times more men are sentenced, why are there twenty times more men in prison?

Well, not all sentences are prison sentences. In fact, only a small percentage are. The rest are fines, community service, suspended sentences or enforced remedial treatments. There are three contributing causes to there being a disproportionate number of men in prison. These are,

  • A larger percentage of male offenders than female offenders are sentenced to prison;
  • Men receive on average longer prison sentences than women; and,
  • Men serve on average a greater proportion of their sentences.

We shall see that these three effects explain the factor of 6 by which 3.3 more men being sentenced becomes 20 times more men in prison (i.e., 6 x 3.3 = 20). But is this factor of 6 fair? Does it arise because men’s crimes are, on average, 6 times more heinous than women’s? Or is it simply gender bias?

Consider firstly the proportion of all sentences which are prison sentences. The data for a couple of example years are given in Table 2 (from Refs.[2,3]). In 2009, 8.8% of male offenders were sent to prison, but only 2.6% of women offenders. So, 3.4 times as many men are sent to prison than women (per 1000 offenders of each sex, say).

Does this disparity factor of 3.4 represent justice at work because men’s crimes are worse to a degree which justifies this disparity? This can be examined by looking at the disparity factor separately for specific categories of crime – see Figure 1 (data from Ref.[4]). This reveals that men are substantially more likely to be sent to prison than women for the same category of crime – whatever the category of crime (the only exception being drug offences for which there is negligible disparity). Thus, it is not the case that men are being sent to prison more often because they are committing more serious crimes (for example violent crimes as opposed to, say, minor shop-lifting). It does not matter what crimes a man commits – whatever it is, he will be far more likely to go to prison than a women committing the same crime. I conclude that the average disparity factor of 3.4 is predominantly due to gender bias.

Note also that this average disparity factor has been increasing (Figure 1) whilst men’s overall criminality, as judged by the number of men being sentenced, has been falling (Table 1).


Table 2: Numbers of Men and Women Sentenced to Prison as a Percentage of the Total Sentenced (England & Wales)

year Men sent to prison As percentage of total men sentenced Women sent to prison As percentage of total women sentenced Disparity Factor
2006 88,173 7.8% 7,844 2.8% 2.8
2009 91,762 8.8% 8,098 2.6% 3.4


Figure 1


For people who are sent to prison, how do the lengths of their sentences compare between the sexes? In 2009/10, over all crimes, and averaging only over cases where a prison sentence is awarded, men received on average a sentence which was 64% longer than for women (Refs.[2-4]). Again we can ask, is this justice or is it gender bias? Are women receiving lesser sentences because they are committing less serious offences? Again we can examine this by looking at the sentences awarded to men and women for the same category of crime. For 2009, Figure 2 shows a histogram of the ratio of men’s sentence length to women’s for the same category of crime over 42 different crime categories (data from Refs.[2-4], see Table S5.8). This shows that men receive substantially longer sentences than women for the same category of crime – for virtually all categories of crime, with only a few minor exceptions. Why should men receive longer sentences for, say, “theft from a vehicle”, or “false accounting” or “fraud” or “causing death by reckless driving”, etc., etc.? The disparity in sentence lengths is again clearly gender bias.

Figure 2


Finally I looked at the effect of parole: what proportion of their sentence do men and women actually serve? Women serve rather less of their sentence than men, 48% versus 53% respectively on average (Ref.[5]), a disparity factor of 1.1. Again we can ask if this is fair, or is it gender bias? The key issue is the prisoners’ behaviour whilst in prison. You might think that women behave better in prison. But not a bit of it. Quite the opposite. Women prisoners are subject to between 20% and 50% more prison disciplinary actions (per 100 prisoners) than are men (Ref.[6]). This includes women prisoners being disciplined more frequently for acts of violence. So, the preferential treatment of women by parole boards would appear to be another case of gender bias.

We can now see why there are 20 times more men in prison than women. This factor of 20 is composed of four effects which numerically are: 3.3 x 3.4 x 1.64 x 1.1 = 20. Only the first of these (3.3) is fair, representing the greater number of crimes committed by men. The other three factors are all the result of gender bias. Men are 3.4 times more likely than women to be sent to prison for the same crime, men receive sentences which are 1.64 times longer than women’s for the same crime, and men actually serve 10% more of their sentence on average than women, for no obvious reason. So, all told, the discrimination against men is about a factor of 6. This leads me to the following staggering conclusion,

Men are subject to massive gender discrimination in the criminal justice system. If male offenders were treated in the same way as female offenders there would be only one-sixth of the number of men in prison. About 68,000 men would not be in prison if they were female, leaving a male prison population of only 13,000.

In passing I note that similar discrimination against men has been reported by studies in the USA, for example that of David B. Mustard, Ref.[7]. He too concluded that women were markedly less likely to be sent to prison than men. In terms of prison sentence length, Mustard showed that men’s sentences were double that of women after controlling for offense severity – see Table 3. In fact the discrimination on the basis of gender is substantially worse than the discrimination due to race, though that is bad enough (Table 3). It is also worth noting that Mustard concluded that 70% of the male-female disparity in sentencing is caused by departures from the sentencing guidelines, rather than differential sentencing within the guidelines.

Table 3: US Data on Sentences and Offense Level from Mustard’s 2001 Paper

White Black Men Women
Sentence (months) 32.06 64.09 51.52 18.51
Offense Level 15.48 19.01 18.30 13.11
Ratio 2.07 3.37 2.82 1.41
Disparity 1.63 against blacks 2.0 against men

A broadly similar picture emerges from the more recent paper by Starr, Ref.8, namely that in the USA men received 63 per cent longer sentences on average than women, and women were twice as likely to avoid incarceration if found guilty.

The Laughably Named “Equal Treatment Bench Book”

As if this staggering degree of anti-male bias were not enough, I make some alarming observations regarding the UK government’s Judicial College “Equal Treatment Bench Book”. This is the official guidance on how to treat people within the UK criminal justice system. The section on Gender Equality is headed by a summary of its Key Points, which are as follows,

  • Women remain disadvantaged in many public and private areas of their life; they are underrepresented in the judiciary, in Parliament and in senior positions across a range of jobs; and there is still a substantial pay gap between men and women. (Aside: one might ask what a remark about the so-called “pay gap” is doing in guidance on criminal justice. This document couldn’t have been written by feminists, by any chance?).
  • Stereotypes and assumptions about women’s lives can lead to unlawful discrimination.
  • Factors such as ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, disability status and age affect women’s experience and the types of disadvantage to which they might be subject; assumptions should not be made that all women’s experiences are the same.
  • Discrimination is often unconscious and based on a person’s own experience and perceptions; it is important to be aware of the wide diversity of women’s experiences.
  • Women may have particular difficulties participating in the justice system, for example, because of child care issues, and courts may need to consider adjustments to enable women to participate fully.
  • Women’s experiences as victims, witnesses and offenders are in many respects different to those of men.
  • As judges, we can go some way to ensuring that women have confidence in the justice process and that their interests are properly and appropriately protected.

If you are surprised that an official government guidance document with “Equality” in the title is concerned only that women should be treated nicely – but shows no concern for men at all – then I can only assume that you have not read one previously.

In the 2013 edition of the Bench Book the following final bullet point has been added,

Of course, men can suffer from gender discrimination too; this section reflects the reality that this is rarer.

What? When the very criminal justice system of which this guidance forms a part is guilty of massive discrimination against men, as proved conclusively by the data presented above? That the authors of the Bench Book have the audacity to include such a statement can mean only one of three things. Either they have not noticed the issues discussed above, in which case they are incompetent (this is the most benign possibility). Or they are completely unable to make a balanced and fair judgment due to being blinded by an anti-male sexist mindset. Or, finally, the authors are well aware of the injustice and are happy to see it persist, or even worsen.

Worsen? Yes, it seems that the degree of discrimination against men (or preferment of women, if you prefer) is not yet sufficient. The Equal Treatment Bench Book includes the following infamous quote from Lady Justice Brenda Hale:-

It is now well recognised that a misplaced conception of equality has resulted in some very unequal treatment for the women and girls who appear before the criminal justice system. Simply put, a male-ordered world has applied to them its perceptions of the appropriate treatment for male offenders…. The criminal justice system could … ask itself whether it is indeed unjust to women.

Words fail me. A factor of 6 preference in favour of women is not enough for them, clearly.

This is “women’s equality”. Women’s equality means, not merely preferential treatment for women, but ever increasing preferential treatment for women. One really shouldn’t treat women like we treat men. That would be insupportable. That is a “ misplaced conception of equality “.

With 60% of law graduates in the UK now being women, it’s set to get worse.


  1. Prison population data for England & Wales are published weekly and can be found, for example, at and similar web sites.
  2. Criminal Justice Statistics, Quarterly Update to March 2012, Ministry of Justice Statistics Bulletin (and similarly for the other years).
  4. As [3], specific file “sentencing-stats-09-supp-tables”
  6. Ministry of Justice publication “Statistics on Women and the Criminal Justice System”, November 2010.
  7. David B. Mustard, “Racial, Ethnic and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the US Federal Courts” by, University of Georgia, in Journal of Law and Economics, vol. XLIV (April 2001).
  8. Sonja B. Starr, “Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases”, University of Michigan Law School, August 29, 2012

51 thoughts on “UK Prisoners – The Genders Compared

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  9. Omnia Incendent

    pay gap myth gets all the attention and a dogmatic view that it’s a like for like study, that women get paid less for doing the exact same job when it simply isn’t true.

    This study is an ACTUAL like for like study and the world’s response? …Meh

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  26. Anti_Femastasis

    Found your website via the article.

    But it seems you are an mra party, not an antifeminist party, right?

    1. Mike Buchanan

      William Collins is an anti-feminist blogger. The only men’s rights political party in the English-speaking world is Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them) which I lead. The party is anti-feminist because the struggle for men’s and boys’ human rights is inextricably linked with exposing feminism for what it undoubtedly is – a gender supremacy ideology driven by misandry.

      1. Anti_Femastasis

        The party is anti-feminist because the struggle for men’s and boys’ human rights is inextricably linked with exposing feminism for what it undoubtedly is – a gender supremacy ideology driven by misandry.

        But that’s not anti-feminist. You still support feminism’s biggest wins like marital rape laws, women’s suffrage, raising age of consent, women’s education and so on, correct? So you are a feminist, you’re a feminist masculist or a feminist mra.

        1. Mike Buchanan

          Thank you, but I’ll decide if I’m a feminist, a non-feminist, or an anti-feminist – not you. You’ve fallen for feminist propaganda e.g. that women’s suffrage was a feminist ‘win’. You need to read another of William’s pieces, also Steve Moxon’s ‘The Woman Racket’ (2008) which describes how the Suffragettes delayed female emancipation. And finally a book written over 100 years ago by a Marxist philosopher, Ernest Belfort Bax, ‘The Fraud of Feminism’ (1913). Downloadable at no cost through a link on the website of The Anti-Feminism League

          1. Anti_Femastasis

            Thank you, but I’ll decide if I’m a feminist, a non-feminist, or an anti-feminist – not you.

            Sounds like “feminism is what I want it to be”.

            which describes how the Suffragettes delayed female emancipation.

            So you even admit that you consider female emancipation as something good?

            And I think you misunderstood my position. I am an anti-feminist. I am against feminism, I am against women’s voting rights, against child support for single mothers, against marital rape laws and so on. Your position seems to be very in line with feminism. You seem to be the usual MRA: Someone who has all the facts on his side yet fails because he fights an imaginary opponent (feminists). There’s a reason why MRAs have not achieved anything in 100 years:

            Look, if you support women’s suffrage and all the other things, then so be it, but then don’t call yourself anti-feminist.

          2. Jim

            Yes, I know the truth is hard to accept but becoming an ostrich isn’t going to change reality. Maybe one day when the west is totally destroyed by this silly notion of equality (which has led to total misandry as AE has pointed out) then some of you guys will get it. Until then I’ll just get my bowl of popcorn and watch the show you guys (going on a century now) try to achieve “equality” in vain.

            IMO you’re heart’s in the right place but your head isn’t.

          3. Jim

            “Sounds like “feminism is what I want it to be”.

            I noticed that too. The silly idea of equality has led us to this: total misandry. As much as I hate to say it, equality is impossible. Believe me, it can be really hard to let go of that concept.

            And you’re right about MRAs not achieving anything in a century. In fact, things have gotten much worse.

        2. William Collins

          @Anti_Femastasis: I am an anti-feminist. Since feminism is not about equality it is logically consistent to be an anti-feminist and to be pro-equality. That is my position (where ‘equality’ is interpreted as equality of opportunity and a default position of equality of respect). I think I can say that that is also the position of J4MB. You, on the other hand, are anti-equality. Such as position is not logically required by being anti-feminist – and my impression is that the bulk of people self-identifying as anti-feminist are pro-equality in the above sense. This is virtually inevitable in the case of female anti-feminists. Whilst you are entitled to your own view, I personally find your view distasteful – and, perhaps worse, horribly reminiscent of the early days of feminism when the ultra-radical lesbian feminists stole the equality movement from the moderates.

          1. Anti_Femastasis

            Since feminism is not about equality

            Feminism is about equality and that’s the whole problem with feminism. Women and men are different, yet feminism tells us they are the same. That feminism is not about equality is one of the biggest intellectual mistakes that MRAs make.


            After MRAs are confronted with the fact that feminism is about equality (of outcome) they then resort to “Oh, but I am for REAL equality. I am for equality of opportunity” and thereby ignoring that equality of opportunity is also another term for equality of outcome:

            MRAs essentially claim that they are the real feminists and that “original” feminism has been “abducted” or “perverted” by the third wave or similar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Feminism was always about equality and being for equality therefore furthers feminism.

          2. Jim

            Yup. It’s funny how many places I’ve been banned fr trying to promote reality. We live in an “egalitarian delusion” which only leads to people who don’t agree with the PC Gestapo getting forcibly silenced and even having their careers destroyed.

            If women are so equal why do they always need the protection of men (this can be either from one man, a mob of men, or the government)? Does anyone really think the suffragettes would have gotten anywhere if the men had the balls enough to just say no to their ungrateful screeching? Who protected them for centuries against a neighboring tribe or kingdom?

            We can see what happens when women think they can do it without men. Even though you can see (in the article) they still had to use technologies and tools invented by men to do it.

            Who builds and maintains civilization? It isn’t women. Even a lesbian like Camille Paglia admits that women would be living in grass huts without us. Yeah….so equal. It’s so obvious but everyone is so scared to admit it. I understand why. Been there myself. But there comes a time when you just have to recognize that being an ostrich makes things worse. Of course this will all just be written of as “extremism”.

            Grab the bowl of popcorn and enjoy the decline.

          3. Andy C

            I like that one poster “feminists love equality and if you think otherwise you have the wrong definition of equality” .. Yup, mine doesn’t include a dissonant more equal position.

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  28. Paul Jackson

    An excellent and very thorough analysis, which deserves a wide airing.

    Yet despite the facts that you have laid out, we have the Fawcett Society lobbying for the closure of women’s prisons, or rather their re-purposing as men’s prisons, and proposing that female criminals should be given community sentences.

    Is there a clearer demonstration of the mendacity behind the claim, that feminism seeks equality for women?

  29. Herbert Purdy

    This amazing, astonishing, chilling analysis leaves me lost for words.

    Thank you for your thoroughness, for your guts to say these things, and for your sheer erudition at a time when they need to be said. Never be in doubt that even in the current social-shriek of women’s privilege that is feminism, the truth will out – one way or another – sooner or later. Your voice is being heard.

    One day people will look back on this feminist era with astonishment that a society could become so unbalanced, so ethically and morally corrupt, so blind to the unhealthy focus on women that has clearly penetrated even our judiciary – once our sole bastion against the totalitarianism of political bigots, but no longer it seems.

    A society that so belittles and devalues men, and unhealthy and unreasonably exalts women, will pay a price. Men are our only bastion in war: in defence of the very freedom that allows a judiciary to function by the consent of the people.

    The words of Edmund Burke come to mind:

    ‘People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much to hope and nothing to lose, will always be dangerous’

    I fear a time of great danger is at hand when men finally rise up against the appalling iniquity that is being nakedly perpetrated against them by the very nation their fathers and grandfathers defended with their blood. I fear that men, with no hope from power, will turn even more against women, and worse, rise up against society in defence of their freedom asking, we are either equal or we are not. Which is it?

    1. Ed

      I do not think you know what feminism is. There is a large misconception regarding the word.

      It is about equality for both men and women. Feminism will fight for this so men and women are more equal. It is not solely about women being better than men. There have been many a times feminism has helped men.

      Feminism in this case would increase women’s sentences to be proportional with men’s or decrease men’s sentences to be in proportion with women’s.

      FYI: I am a man who is a feminist. Please learn what feminism really means and ignore those who think feminism is about women becoming better then men. They are not feminists. They are merely delusional and discriminating against men.

      1. Herbert Purdy

        Ed. If I may say so, I believe it is possible it is you who has the misconception? Feminism has been very successful in sowing the ideas you hold, but underneath it are some very questionable premises. If you care about fairness, which is the principle underpinning equality, might I, with honest respect, offer you my take on this here?

      2. Xbillion

        LMAO! This clichéd response has been debunked more times than… Actually I can’t think of a good comparison other than more feminist nonsense and outright lies like the wage gap and rape culture, etc, etc, etc.

      3. Chris Malone

        Its like a script they all have…

        They literally say the same thing over and over.

        You don’t understand Feminism. It just means ‘equality’. Those aren’t true feminists. You must accept feminism. Resistance is futile…

        Dude. I know you might not even have the capacity to comprehend my words, but its powerful groups of feminists who CREATE these new policies. You are a nobody feminist. THEY are the real feminists. They are the ones actually having an impact. The only effect you have is serving as a sycophant to the lies that feminism spreads to perpetuate its existence.

        How could you even make it through this article without seeing the CLEAR bias that men experience…


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