Women in the justice system: evidence review

A review of quantitative evidence, drawn from a range of statistical data sources across the justice system in Scotland, comparing findings for women against those for men.

This document is part of a collection

Executive summary

This paper presents a review of quantitative evidence on women in the justice system. It is drawn from a range of data sources, of which the most prominent are Official Statistics produced by the Scottish Government's Justice Analytical Services.

Whilst the analysis in this paper seeks to highlight (and quantify) the differences and similarities between women and men in the justice system, it does not by itself explain why these may exist. Social research and other qualitative evidence would be more appropriate in providing further context for this. For example, qualitative research with victims-survivors of rape and sexual assault as they journey through the justice system in Scotland is available from the Scottish Centre for Crime & Justice Research[1]. Qualitative evidence which provides an insight into the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions on people experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls is available on the Scottish Government website[2].

Key findings from these statistics are that:

  • Women account for a much smaller proportion of those involved across Scotland's justice system than men (for example prosecutions, convictions, people in prison). This pattern has been constant over time, and is similar to what is seen in other parts of the UK[3].
  • Women and men tend to experience crime in different ways, with a significant factor being the type of crime experienced, including violence. Women are much more likely to experience sexual victimisation and to be victims of partner abuse, while men are more likely to experience serious non-sexual violence (such as homicide and serious assault).
  • Feelings of safety have improved over the longer term for women, but have remained consistently behind those of men. This may, at least in part, explain why a greater proportion of women are worried about experiencing crime than men – despite actual experiences of overall crime victimisation being similar for both women and men in Scotland.
  • Women represent a minority of those convicted of a crime and of the prison population in Scotland, a feature that is consistent over time. Women also tend to be convicted of different types of crime when compared to men.
  • Women generally receive shorter sentences than men, are less likely to receive a custodial sentence and are reconvicted less often on average.
  • Looking at views on the criminal justice system, women are less confident in the system than men on a number of measures asked about in the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (for example, confidence that the criminal justice system allows all those accused of crimes to get a fair trial regardless of who they are).
  • Justice organisations in Scotland show a mixed picture in terms of their workforce composition. Generally, females continue to make up a minority of more senior roles across the board. While there is targeted effort within organisations in terms of improving diversity, some continue to have a widely male dominated workforce, while others have female employees as the clear majority of their staff.

Infographic showing a range of statistics on women in the justice system, compared to men


Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot

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