The tiny female prison population, which makes up only five per cent of the total, differs radically from the male estate. Women are overwhelmingly incarcerated for non-violent crimes such as fraud, theft or failing to pay fines. They arrive in prison with higher levels of mental illness and physical disability, problems with drugs and alcohol, and anxieties about housing and children. They are more than twice as likely to self-harm and most have suffered domestic abuse.
What they are not, or only very rarely, is sex offenders; men are responsible for 98 per cent of sex offences, according to the Ministry of Justice. When the two prison populations display such widely different patterns of offending, it is hard to see why members of the sex that commits the vast majority of sex crimes should be locked up with women who are principally victims of male violence. But peers who spoke against Blencathra’s amendment seemed far more concerned with the rights of trans-identified prisoners than the female inmates forced to share bathrooms with them.
A Green peer, Baroness Jones, expressed her annoyance that “the majority of speakers have been male, and they have spoken against the amendment”. She said she supported her party’s policy that trans women are women but pointed out that “there are occasions when women in women’s prisons experience sexual predation by men who have falsely identified as trans”. To no avail: in the face of so much opposition, Lord Blencathra’s amendment was withdrawn, and the stealthy replacement of women’s prisons with mixed-sex establishments continues apace.