WOMEN in Hampshire are much less likely to be jailed than those in some parts of England and Wales, new analysis reveals.

But the Prison Reform Trust said the unnecessary imprisonment of women remained a "postcode lottery" with a significant north-south divide clear in the figures.

Analysis of court data by the charity found 126 prison sentences were given to women in Hampshire last year – equal to 16 per 100,000 who live in the area.

This was a decrease on the rate of 20 per 100,000 in 2018 and was much lower than elsewhere in England and Wales.

The rate of female imprisonment in South Wales was 62 per 100,000 inhabitants, meaning women there are around four times as likely to be in prison as in Hampshire.

Surrey had the lowest rate, with just nine women in prison for every 100,000.

The 10 areas with the highest rates of female imprisonment were in the north of England, the Midlands or in Wales, with almost all the lowest 10 in the south.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said progress is being made at the national and local level to reduce the unnecessary imprisonment of women, but described the statistics as evidence of a "postcode lottery".

He added: "The majority of women sent to prison are still being sent there for non-violent offences to serve sentences of less than one year. These sentences can have a devastating impact on women and their children without doing anything to address the causes of offending.

“Worryingly, the latest prison population projections suggest that recent progress could be undone with numbers of women in prison predicted to rise by 1,300 within six years.

"Sustained investment in community alternatives for women and a sharp reduction in the use of short sentences are urgently needed."

Overall, the rate of women’s imprisonment in England and Wales fell from 32 per 100,000 in 2014, to 25 per 100,000 in 2019.

And between 2018 and 2019, the number of prison sentences for women fell by 9% – from 6,464 to 5,876 – but it was not evenly spread between local areas.

Of the 42 police force areas, around a third (13) saw an increase in women sentenced to prison.

In Hampshire, the number of immediate prison sentences for women fell from 158 to 126 over this time.

The Prison Reform Trust said latest projections suggest that the number of women in prison nationally will climb from just over 3,200 at present to 4,500 by 2026.

But the Ministry of Justice said this forecast increase is due to the recruitment of 20,000 police officers.

A spokeswoman added: “While sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary, we remain committed to seeing fewer women entering the criminal justice system.

“That’s why we’ve invested £7.6 million in the Female Offender Strategy, which offers alternatives to prison, and seen the number in custody fall by 23% in the last 10 years.”