Up to half of women arrested are released by police without any further action and are being taken into custody unnecessarily, says study for a cross party group of MPs and peers.
The research, by the Howard League for Penal Reform, found that victims of domestic violence were particularly susceptible to being arrested only to be released with no further action by the police.
In one force, almost three quarters of the women arrested had previously come to the attention of the police as victims of violence or sexual violence. More than half of them had been victims of domestic abuse.
The all party group on women in the penal system said the high arrest rate was not only a waste of police resources but also increased the distress of women who often needed treatment by other services.
“Diverting women to support services instead of arresting them is a smarter use of police resources that helps to reduce crime,” said Jackie Doyle-Price MP, co-chair of the group.
The data, obtained by the Howard League, suggested 40 per cent of women arrested for non-violent offences such as theft were released without charge and no further action.
Among the cases identified was a woman who was arrested for being drunk and disorderly after allegedly shouting and swearing in the street after her friend refused to let her stay in her house.
Another woman was arrested after she walked into a main road repeatedly while a third was arrested for trespassing on railway property. She was allegedly drunk and was known to have mental health problems
The all party group report said: “Police have operational discretion over the decision to arrest. There are still too many women being arrested when they do not need to be.
“Women who are drunk, behaving badly or putting themselves at risk could be sent – or even taken – home and do not need to be arrested or diverted to other services.”
Of more than 43,000 arrests for alleged violence in the year ending 31 March 2019, 19,000 resulted in no further action. More detailed research into five police forces found 163 of 317 arrests of women for alleged violence led to no further action.
The evidence provided by the five forces included details of cases where women had contacted the police to report a domestic incident but ended up being arrested themselves, and then released with no further action.
The report said: “Forces should investigate whether the duty to take positive action in alleged domestic violence incidents is unnecessarily driving up arrests of women.
“Officers do not have to arrest and can take alternative positive action, such as finding somewhere safe for the woman to go, where she is not in the same house as the other party.”