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BLOG: The imprisonment of women


The AIRE Centre launched its Women in Prison Project at the beginning of June. The specific vulnerabilities and needs of EEA national women in prison, despite an increase in their population over the last decade, have garnered little attention in research.

We hope to change this.

The central aim of our project is to provide adequate legal advice to EEA women through our advice line, outreach sessions and surgeries conducted in women’s prisons. We also hope to enhance the capacity of those working with EEA national women in prison and improve decision making by authorities through training.

Research has shown the majority of women in prison in the UK are serving very short sentences of six months or less and women often have more complex needs than men in the prison environment.

Many women in prison have been subject to abuse, violent partnerships and neglect and some have serious mental health issues. Research from the Prison Reform Trust notes that prostitution and poverty are inextricably intertwined[1]; many female offenders use prostitution as a means to support their children or drug dependencies.

Though the number of foreign national women in prison is on the rise and has been since 1997,[2] little research has been done to explain the reasons for this. As of 2012, one in seven women in prison were foreign nationals and the UK held women from seventy-seven different countries.[3] Out of the female foreign national population a significant number are either trafficked or forced into offending.[4] Victims of trafficking are incarcerated without the acknowledgment that they themselves are often victims of crime.

There are also a great many mothers in prison who fear removal at the end of their sentences, potentially separating them from their children. Free movement rights and integration, principles central to EU law are often difficult to specify once a prison sentence has come to an end. An example of the difficulties in interpreting immigration status once a woman has been convicted of a crime can be seen in the CJEU cases of C-400/12 Secretary of State for the Home Department v MG and C-378/12 Onuekwere v Secretary of State for the Home Department.

In MG, which The AIRE Centre was involved in, the issue of the 10- year residence period required under the increased protection from expulsion, Article 28 (3) (a), came under scrutiny. Here it was decided that periods of imprisonment or breaks in continuity of residence during the 10-year residence period do not necessarily prevent an individual from protection under this provision. Whereas in Onuekwere it was decided that time in prison does not count towards permanent residency. The cases taken together create uncertainty for those advising individuals facing deportation at the end of a prison sentence.

There is a significant number of EEA national women in prison, yet very little seems to have been done to address their particular vulnerabilities. We hope this project will identify the needs of marginalised EEA women caught up in our prison system and support them with accurate and accessible legal advice and representation.


This blog post was written by Amy Pertwee.

Amy is an LLB graduate and Legal Caseworker intern working on the EEA Women in Prison project. 


Find out more about the Women in Prison project

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[1] “Smartjustice for Women”, Prison Reform Trust, 2013.  Accessed on 2nd June 2015 at

[2] Berman, G & Dar, A. “Prison Population Statistics”, House of Commons Library, July 2013, p.8

[3] “No Way Out”, A Briefing Paper on foreign national women in prison in England and Wales, Prison Reform Trust, 2012

[4] “No Way Out”, A Briefing Paper on foreign national women in prison in England and Wales, Prison Reform Trust, 2012