Prisonomics by Vicky Pryce - book review by Philip Davies MP

Review by Philip Davies MP

I opened Vicky Pryce’s new book “Prisonomics” with a great deal of trepidation.  I could practically feel the man-hating vibe just by looking at the cover and half expected her hand to come out and throttle me should I – a man (especially one in favour of prisons) – dare to go inside.

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND PRISON SYSTEM IS DEVISED BY MEN, RUN BY MEN AND DOES A GREAT DISSERVICE TO BRITISH WOMEN…” screeches the back cover.  Seriously?  From a woman who claimed she was the victim of marital coercion – a defence only available to women? 

I do not even get past the introduction before the next body blow.  She refers to “The custodial sentences mostly male judges enjoy imposing…”  and that “Britain is poorly served by an anachronistic, archaic network of male judges who send far too many women to prison”.  I do not know what planet she is on but if the judiciary sentencing people to custody in the numbers they currently do is apparently something they enjoy then I literally shudder at the thought of how few people they would send to prison if they really hated it!

Just for the record, it is judges and magistrates who send people to prison in almost equal numbers.  If you add up the number of Magistrates, District Judges and Crown Court Judges, you will find a virtual 50/50 split in terms of sex so Ms Pryce’s vision of nasty male judges sending all these poor defenceless women to prison is – just that – a vision. Unfortunately it is not the only imagined fact in this book.

I spent quite a bit of time in a debate in Parliament debunking some of the many standard myths surrounding the whole issue of women in our justice system.  It is a great shame Ms Pryce did not take note of more of the Ministry of Justice’s wide range of statistics before trotting out many of the figures cherry picked by those whose entire mission in life is to keep as many people – and certainly as many women – as possible out of prison. Of course, I realise that this is the whole point of the book.  The figures she has chosen to use fit the conclusion she had clearly already drawn before actually looking at them but, with a book called “Prisonomics”, you could be forgiven for hoping it would not be one that was too economical with the facts. 

The Vicky Pryces of the world seem to think it is highly offensive that many women are in prison.  In her book, she says “There is a strong argument that most women should not be in prison at all.”  I feel the need to introduce some reality into the lah lah land in which she, and some other people, clearly live.  Never mind the fact that for every 1 woman in prison, I can show you 20 men who are incarcerated – who are all these women she wants to let out?  Looking at snapshot prison population figures by offence to assist – is it those who have committed murder, manslaughter, wounding, rape or gross indecency with children?  Or the robbers, those who repeatedly burgle people’s homes, the drug dealers, arsonists, high value benefit cheats/fraudsters or those jailed for violent disorder? I, and most sane people, would certainly want these women in prison and, after you count up all of them, there are not too many others left to choose from.

It is a fact that the latest figures available show that around 80% of serving female prisoners have been sentenced to more than 6 months in prison.  Indeed, 75% are serving sentences of 1 year or over and 40% are doing 4 years or more (including those whose offences were so bad they were given indeterminate sentences to protect the public).  A further 5% have been recalled on licence after being released early from prison.  In other words, the vast majority of the sentenced female prison population at any one time are actually serving long sentences not short ones.

Ms Pryce says “Many of the women I later met in prison believed they were given custodial sentences for offences that a man may have been given a suspended sentence or a caution for instead.” She goes on to say “It is hard to prove this”.  Too right – it is going to be very hard to prove it as it is simply not true!  I was always being told that this was the case so I decided to research it.  The House of Commons Library analysed Ministry of Justice figures and concluded that “For each offence group a higher proportion of males pleading guilty were sentenced to immediate custody than females.”  The Ministry of Justice figures show that 34.7% of male offenders were sentenced to immediate custody for offences involving violence against the person compared to only 16.9% of women.  Similarly 44.9% of men went straight to prison for committing a burglary compared to 26.6% of women as well as 61.7% of male robbers compared to just 37.7% of female robbers.  The list goes on. 

Ms Pryce also mentions in her book about being separated from her children and grandchildren and quotes that “66 per cent of women in prison have dependent children”.  Yet what she fails to point out – or perhaps does not even know – is that of those women who have children who could potentially be dependent on them, over two thirds of them were not living with their children before they went into prison!  Furthermore, not only were most not looking after their children, many of those with their children were far from shining examples of motherhood.  Sarah Salmon of Action for Prisoners’ Families has said: “For some families the mother going into prison is a relief because she has been causing merry hell.”  We should also not forget those women who are in prison for abusing their own children or being violent towards them - not to mention those who are in jail because they are paedophiles.

The impression Ms Pryce would like to leave you with after reading this book seems to be a utopian image of the "girls" in prison – most of whom are downtrodden, completely innocent (despite having pleaded guilty) and are, in fact, only in prison because of men.  On this basis, this book really should be in the fiction section. Pure fiction at that.

I disagree with the whole premise of the book and the politically correct agenda that is pursued within it.  I despair at the number of people who will assume it is based on real evidence and believe it to be a worthy contribution to the justice debate.  I do not believe it is anything of the sort.  I implore people to be very wary indeed of the whole "equality - but only when it suits” movement which somehow manages to persuade normally intelligent people that the fact that less than 5% of the entire prison population is female somehow must mean that women are being discriminated against in the justice system. It not only defies all the statistical facts but it defies common sense too. 

 It is only a pity that my former colleague, Ann Widdecombe, is not still the Member of Parliament for Maidstone & The Weald.  In her book, Ms Pryce tells us about her lovely walks in the grounds of East Sutton Park open prison amongst the horses, sheep, lambs and the big lake.  This was during the 8 weeks she served in prison out of her 8 month sentence - with just 4 days spent in Holloway at the beginning.  I only wish Ms Pryce could have caught up with the former no-nonsense Prisons’ Minister over the country fence and made the mistake of testing the rambling theories put forward in this book on her.  That I would have paid good money to see!