Women 'coerced into offending'
Too many foreign women are behind bars after being coerced or trafficked into offending, campaigners have said.
One in seven of all women held in custody in England and Wales were foreigners, with many serving sentences for non-violent crimes involving drugs or immigration offences, the Prison Reform Trust said.
It called for a greater effort by UK authorities to identify exploitation, saying many women have no option but to plead guilty before they can be assessed as potential victims.
A joint report by the trust and Hibiscus, which works with women in prisons, showed almost half (46%) of foreign prisoners were in jail over drugs, compared with one in five (21%) of the UK population.
While the number of women in jail had risen by 27% over the last 10 years, the number of foreign women behind bars rose 49%, according to figures from the Hibiscus caseload.
The report called for sentencing guidelines for drug couriers to "take account of the role that women play in this offence" and to ensure that any evidence of coercion, exploitation and duress is "integral to all sentencing decisions".
One African woman, whose son was kidnapped, needed money to pay legal fees to ensure his return. She was jailed for six-and-a-half years after she tried to smuggle five kilograms (11lbs) of cocaine into the UK.
The woman, quoted in the report, said: "I was scared, at that point, I have a baby... At that time we have no money, nowhere to live... I was with my son. I have to do this, it was a pressure. Big pressure on me. That person come to me and say "look I got a lot of money", ridiculous amount...".
Olga Heaven, director of Hibiscus, said: "High numbers of women are brought into the UK deceived and exploited. Many are young women with a dream of going to a first world country to achieve something, but what they are brought in for is either prostitution or some other kind of enforced labour."
Immigration Minister Damian Green has said that human trafficking is "a brutal form of organised crime" and "combating trafficking and looking after its victims is a priority" for the Government. "Having any number of people trafficked into the UK is unacceptable," he said.