Yesterday we posted a piece about an ideologically-driven “inquiry” by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (chair – Harriet Harman MP) aimed at reducing yet further the incarceration of women, by reducing the incarcerations rates of mothers – here. Latest update on the “inquiry” website here.
Next Wednesday, 20 February, the “inquiry” will be taking evidence from, among others, Dr Jenny Earle, Programme Director, Prison Reform Trust. The charity has a Women’s Programme devoted to female prisoners (fewer than 4,000). You will search the site in vain for recognition – let alone concern – that men are disproportionately handed prison sentences, or that conditions in men’s prisons are generally far worse than in women’s prisons.
Earle’s title is “Director, Reducing Women’s Imprisonment”. Four other women have the titles, “Senior Programme Manager, Reducing Women’s Imprisonment”, “Programme Manager, Reducing Women’s Imprisonment – Scotland & Northern Ireland”, “Research Officer, Reducing Women’s Imprisonment”, “Executive Assistant, Reducing Women’s Imprisonment”.
My Wikipedia page, which was started by “The Vintage Feminist”, contains the following, in response to the speech (“The Justice Gender Gap”) of Philip Davies MP at our 2016 conference:
Jenny Earle, director of Prison Reform Trust’s programme for reducing women’s imprisonment in response said, “The evidence is not that women are treated more leniently. (J4MB: Lie.] In fact they are twice as likely as men to receive a custodial sentence for a first offence, [J4MB: Lie.] and the main offence for which women are imprisoned is theft and shoplifting” [J4MB: We haven’t checked this out].
So, what sort of “evidence” is being presented to the “inquiry”? We turn to Ms Lucy Baldwin (as she describes herself) is a Senior Lecturer in Community and Criminal Justice at De Montford University, Leicester. Her personal profile page on the university website is here. She lists her interests as:
– Mothers and Prison
– Mothers and Sentencing
– Women and the Criminal Justice System
– Mental Health /Mentally Disordered Offenders
– Working with Domestic Abuse
– Equality and Diversity
– Sex Offenders
– Professional Practice /Professionalism
– Trauma Informed Practice
The deadline for written submissions to the committee has passed – it would have been an exercise in utter futility writing one, anyway, as we know from previous efforts – so I thought I’d open a written submission at random, to get a flavour of what “evidence” the “inquiry” will base its final recommendations on.
Lucy Baldwin’s written submission (“I am writing in a personal capacity as a Senior Academic and Researcher from De Montfort University, Leicester”) is here. Her recommendations, in full (emphases mine):
I note with cautious optimism the recent developments in relation to training for Sentencers as developed by Dr Shona Minson and the recommendations in the recently published Female Offender Strategy in relation to working more closely with the judiciary. However, I do not feel relying on ‘God and good fortune that we get a good judge’’, is sufficient. I echo and reiterate the recommendations of the PRT [J4MB: Prison Reform Trust] reports ‘Sentencing Mothers’ and ‘What about me’ .
I further offer;
– All Sentencers, being mindful of the rights of the child and safeguarding of children, ought to DIRECTED not to remand or sentence mothers to custody (in all but the most extreme of circumstances) and to justify their decision is based on risk of harm only if doing so. Given the vast weight of evidence that supports the view that women and children (and ergo society) are better served if women are sentenced to community alternatives. Better still and where appropriate not criminalised in the 1st instance (See Devon and Cornwall’s deferred Caution scheme for example of excellent model of good practice amongst others)
– As per the afore mentioned, and as per many previous recommendations when a mother is in court and may be remanded or sentenced to custody (as a last resort) , a, information must be sought (formally collated too) about her dependants and their care needs, b, all possible alternatives to custody should be explored by a FULL PSR, and c, sentencing should be deferred for a minimum period of 7 days ( but up to 3 weeks) to facilitate preparations being made for dependent children.
– Mandatory FULL PSR when sentencing women with dependent children – sentencing deferred for a minimum of 7 days if custody is being considered, PRS writers directed to find local alternative to custody options for women (potentially non-local too eg Trevi House)
– Community based non-custodial options must be the ‘go to’ sentence in all but the most serious of offences for women. I recommend following Scotland’s lead in relation to a presumption against short sentences, ideally of less than 12 months (which Scotland are considering, after the success of the presumption against 3-month sentences).
– The development of gender specific sentencing guidelines and training for Sentencers in relation to women and criminal justice. Player (2005) identified that ‘Treating offenders equally has often been interpreted as treating them uniformly, resulting in particular problems for the fair treatment of women because it is based on a presumptive male subject’. Gender specific sentence guidelines would be much more likely to ensure that women were sentenced appropriately and in consideration of their and their children’s best interest. Developing and implementing gender specific guidelines would potentially have a faster impact than the complete overhaul of the sentencing framework argued for above (and would perhaps meet with less resistance).
– I would also wish to see a presumption against pregnant mothers being sentenced to custody, in all but the most extreme of circumstances. That’s not to say I don’t feel that MBU’s play a valuable role in supporting vulnerable mothers and their babies, in contact with the CJS, (particularly mothers with addiction issues), I do, but we see no reason for such places to be located within a prison. Successful mother/child therapeutic communities exist, see for example Trevi House, and Coolmine, Ireland, both work with mothers who have substance misuse issues and are therefore vulnerable to becoming entrenched in the CJS).
– Importantly, consideration needs to be given to facilitate the permanent funding of organizations such as PAC, Children Heard and Seen, who clearly play a significant role in the lives of women who do end up in prison and supporting children on the outside. Prisons having devolved budgets may be the ideal opportunity for such organizations to be permanently ‘factored in’.
– A renewed investment into women’s center support. I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendations of the ‘Women in Prison’ Corston+10 report, which argues that women ‘not only do women need to be diverted away from custody, but also need diverting toward support in the community’. It is therefore vital that wise investment ensures that such support is indeed available. Models like Scotland’s 218 center in Glasgow, which has permanent funding and like Anawim need to be supported to exist, so they can become the ‘go to’ alternative to custody.
– Pursue all avenues of increasing child/ mother contact when a mother is in prison (where appropriate), via improved visiting spaces and quality of visits, and via technology (eg Skype, affordable telephone contact etc). Perhaps we can learn from Ireland where the prison service absorbs the cost of both phone calls and letters home, enabling women to speak to their children, sometimes daily, with at least one letter weekly (O’Malley and Devaney 2016).
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