UK prisons are holding hundreds of women from home and abroad for drug-related offences. In June 2013, there were 3,817 women and girls in prison in England and Wales, of whom 553 were imprisoned for drug offences. Of these, 80 were on remand, and 473 sentenced; 14 were under the age of 20. Females imprisoned for drug offences account for 14.5% of the female prison population – the same proportion as the male prison population.
This proportion is much higher for foreign women in UK prisons. A briefing by the Prison Reform Trust on this group of women indicated that in 2011, 46% of the 650 non-UK national females in custody were being held for drug offences. The majority were sentenced for importation of class A drugs, compared with 21% of the UK population. Research by the Sentencing Council indicates that those who are in custody for drug importation are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by those who are using them as drug mules. The financial reward for these women is tiny in comparison with the profits made by those controlling them, and coercion and intimidation are often used. Organisations such as the charity Hibiscus have worked tirelessly to raise awareness in women in countries such as Jamaica and Nigeria of the dangers of bringing drugs into the UK, and where they can get help and support if they are approached to be a drug mule.
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