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Why women should choose to reintegrate into a society

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3677 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This major question raised in 2006 is perhaps one of the foremost concerns of Pat Carlen’s feminist support. Strongly opposed to women in prison state of affairs, she is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on crime, gender and punishment. [i] 

Carlen has put through career as a Professor of Sociology at Bath University [ii] and before was an Honorary Professor of Criminology of Keele where she was founded and was Head of the Department of Criminology as well as visiting Professor of Criminology at Westminster University, London. In addition to the above she was a member of both the Commissioning Panel and the Steering Committee of the ESRC Crime and Social Order Programme 1992-1997. Moreover, she is a founder member of the campaigning group Women in Prison created in1983. The group consisted of the first step to a long term and unfinished attempt to reduce number and theorize and balance specific needs of female prisons [iii] .

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Pat Carlen is a leading scholar in the area of women and punishment. In 1997 she was awarded the Sellin-Glueck Prize by the American Society of Criminology for outstanding international contributions to the domain [iv] . Carlen devoted her life in researching a wide range of criminological issues; however, she compassionately focused on analysing the penal control of women and matters surrounding their imprisonment. She found her inspiration in the unfair and striking features of women’s imprisonment determination [v] . True to her beliefs she illustrated the path towards the considerations for the abolition of women’s imprisonment. In formulating her ideas she discussed some of prisons abolition’s traditional and contemporary enemies after researching and interviewing people in the sector [vi] .

Adrion Howe argues that “the work of Pat Carlen have commenced a process which will eventually fundamentally transform critical analyses of punishment regimes”. However, processes in this direction have been slow and the work of Carlen on insisting that women prisoners be handled as a subject worth of study and change was exemplary [vii] .

In 1983 Carlen wrote a book, Women’s Imprisonment, about Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only prison for women. She did the research and as she said “wrote the book as one off” without expecting to do any further research on prisons. What really changed her mind was her meeting later in 1983 with an ex-prisoner, Chris Tchaicowsky, who at the time was the founder member of Women in Prison leading campaigns for women still locked up in prisons. She invited Carlen to join after reading her book. The task of the group was to raise public awareness of women in prisons via many ways. Carlen mostly helped in writing books and articles, helping the campaigning group to be born [viii] .

Classicists like Emile Durkheim approach the issue believing that the function of punishment is the promotion of social harmony with the exclusion of deviant persons from society and the transfer of moral identity to society. Women’s Imprisonment is, nowadays, characterised by discontinuities, contradictions, fragmentation and transformation. Modern approaches rooted to crime reduction. Carlen in Analyzing Women’s Imprisonment raised the question as to whether crime reduction will be achieved by increased use of imprisonment. Her approach on that issue was that sending a wrongdoer to prison may aggravate rather than ameliorate the psychological, economic and social factors which purpose woman to criminal activity [ix] . A radical prison critic is that it was never used for punishment of all serious crimes but also to storehouse the poor, unemployed and mentally ill.

In 1981, Carlen leaded a survey and questioned Scottish magistrates and judges about women’s imprisonment, receiving replies determining the reasons why a woman would go to prison. The answers consisted of whether she was a good mother, how ordered her life was, if she has a husband, if she has any children, whether she has abandoned her husband or her children are already in Care or if she was battered. Women like that are more likely to be sent to prison. However, these myths along with many other stereotypes about women offenders has had bad effects on prison regimes, [x] resulting to prejudice on sentence over women of the above categories [xi] . British Justice is supposed to be not only gender-neutral but also colour blind [xii] . Yet, this is not true when it comes to women imprisonment. People awarding sentence are more likely to convict women from ethnic minorities or young women. Thus, is racism the key to increase of female prison population?

Early reformers such as John Howard and Elizabeth Fry attempted to campaign for the segregation of female from male prisoners [xiii] and different prison regimes for women but at the end the results of their efforts were not satisfactory. Pat Carlen continues on the same path in order to ameliorate the conditions that surround women’s imprisonment in nowadays. Is it fair to start imprisonment reduction with women?

A very small amount of violent crime is committed by women and females commit crime in very different circumstances to men. Carlen’s investigation showed that women mostly commit crime in relation to drugs, fraud or theft. The majority of British women prisoners have not been goaled because of the seriousness of their crimes but because of their abnormal domestic circumstances or less than conventional life styles. A strong argument over women’s imprisonment consist the failure of the non-penal welfare or health institutions to cope with their problems. Prisons are the only places that cannot refuse to take those women for whom neither the health nor the welfare services will take responsibility even if they had committed the most minor crime. As prison officers informed Carlen in her research, prisons are not equipped to cope with the problems from which every other agency is copping out. This leads to the increase of the prison population. Between the years 1993-2001 the population increased by over 145 % [xiv] . In the previous ten years the women population in prisons doubled and male increased by approximately 50%.

Additionally, women prisoners tend to be isolated from their families imposing significant pain of imprisonment with the loss of their role as mothers. Furthermore, women generally are badly treated by the officers and the prison staff, when it comes to gynecological requirements (handcuffed in labor and during transfer or treatment to hospital, drug virginal inspections). In addition, one of the prison’s roles is to help prisoners to cope with the new life they will come across after release, nevertheless only few rehabilitation regimes exist. An ex-prisoner told Carlen that “in order to keep them out (criminals) we should give them something outside. Otherwise, a life of surviving in there seems preferable to life out here where there is just nothing [xv] .” Clive Soley agreed with Carlen’s findings and added that if society actually wants to improve the situation, must set as its priority the preparation for release [xvi] .

Pat Carlen admits that women’s crime is less serious and not threatening to the public even after their release from prison, as well as the fact that only few prison escapes have occurred involving women and it is not unusual for most of them to voluntarily return to face their punishment [xvii] . After making a lot of research and analysing the circumstances under women get to live with in prisons has come to the conclusion that prison is not only damaging during the course of sentence, but once coming out it has other problems as well. Her research and findings made her develop the idea discovering possible alternatives. Pat Carlen, points out that the main cause of the crime is the relationship between the offender and the community and believes that the only cure also lies in the same relationship [xviii] . Alternatives to imprisonments should include any program of intervention likely to deter someone from future criminal activity. She continues to strongly analyse the possible future alternatives as her main contribution.

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Harris, a commentator, came to add to Carlen’s thought of alternatives by pointing out that “part of the problem is that it is unclear what the ‘better treatment of women’ actually means [xix] .” This is true as there are no gender specific sentences. Carlen also considered whether reform or abolition of women’s imprisonment would be appropriate. As the main intention of her book Sledgehammer she argues that women’s imprisonment in England and Wales at the end of the 20th century is excessively punitive; totally inappropriate to the needs of the women being sent to prison; and is ready for abolition in its present form. However, she came to argue that reform might be impossible to achieve and will always lead to the abandonment of imprisonment as punishment for minor offences. Eventually, is better to do something than nothing. Prison is to punish and within that context all reforms had to be thought [xx] .

In 1997, Carlen gave some politico-philosophical justifications for imprisonment in order to clear up the primary aims it should have. However, the following no longer apply. She starts stating that the government has an obligation to wipe state clean making wrongdoers pay for their offences in applying the ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy. Additionally, she expressed that prisons can be used to improve people’s characters and teach them useful and new skills that could be helpful to lead new lives according to the law after their release. Imprisonment also can be said to prevent criminals to recommit a crime in the future on top of deterring others tempted to commit a crime. In this manner crime rates lower and public is protected [xxi] . Carlen proposes an idea for a more productive reduction of the female population. In her point of view sentencers should be required to justify to a Sentencing Council all custodial sentences and remand of who appropriate the offence was in relation to the offender in addition to any pre existing criteria for the award after their examination. Other requirements are for sentencers to state what they hope to achieve by the custodial sentence awarded and finally to make the calculations of what the total costs are likely to be. The aim behind her proposition is to make courts to think twice before sending someone into prison as they should publicize what they are doing [xxii] . Moreover, there is still the need for gender-tested and ethnicity-tested regimes that will ensure that some groups do not have a greater impact. Other ways that reduction of population can be achieved is if the society took certain measures to battle poverty and inequality as well as diminishing sexism and racism that result in discriminating sentencing [xxiii] .

After considering the situation of the day the criminologist saw three possible future scenarios governing women’s imprisonment in Britain. Firstly, more of the same circumstances, however, getting worse as the female prison population will rise. The second scenario involves less of the same other than with more experimentation with progressive projects resulting to changeable number on women’s population. The last scenario that she encounters is the reduction on women’s imprisonment. This scenario contains close regulations for the women’s law breaking actions leading to the abolishment of the situation as it was known until then [xxiv] . She supported the view of abolishing women’s imprisonment for an experimental period of 5 years. For that period of time imprisonment should not be considered as one of the normal punishment for women and that a maximum of only 100 custodial places should be retained for female offenders convicted of abnormally serious offences. If accused so, they should only be imprisoned after their case was referred by a trial judge to a Sentencing Council who would make the final adjudication. Moreover, her proposition involved undertaking of fund and far-reaching examination of all sentencing.

Her proposal for abolition was greeted with a certain amount of skepticism. One radio interviewer asked if male burglars should retire knowing that their wives or girlfriends could carry on the business with impunity. This is clearly ironical; however, is it entirely a false approach? As a Senior Official in the Home Office added to Carlen’s proposition; “What we want is smaller open prisons in the community and in an urban context”. Over this point, the courts support an anti-feminist approach; “if you women wanted equality, you’ve got to take it [xxv] .” The criminologists, Deborah Baskin and Ira Sommers, acceptably, point out that Carlen does not explain how women’s criminal careers are “circumscribed specifically by gender [xxvi] .” Furthermore, they add that she does not distinguish the gender specific ways in which women are exploited and controlled by familialism and consumerism. Baskin and Sommers also argue that Carlen’s repetition of the ‘timeworn and functionalist rhetoric that only women experience dual exploitation’ in the public and private spheres adds little to the analysis. On the other hand, they furthermore continue to disagree that Carlen fails to see that working class men also have to make ‘class gender deals’ which include being regulated within family. Briefly, Carlen’s analysis does not address the precise ways in which social reactions are gender specific and thus affect women’s lives differently from men’s [xxvii] .

Pat Carlen characterise herself as not a prison abolitionist in the sense that she can easily envisage a time when it will not be considered necessary to have prisons and lock up certain offenders as a matter of public safety [xxviii] . Abolition is not a thread to the public. The whole situation leaves the state with the choice to continuingly misuse millions of pounds on prisons or taking daring steps to stop legislators and sentencers seeing prison as being the absolute panacea for all political and social ills and instead consider it as an abnormal and unusual punishement [xxix] . Joe Sim added to the abolition argument that “abolitionists’ ideas should not be dismissed as idealistic and utopian but rather should be understood [xxx] .” In the 1990’s Carlen thought of some further developments including educational initiatives, personal officer scheme, introduction of sentence planning, opening up prisons. Nonetheless, many of these already exist only in name on paper or defunct [xxxi] . In 2006 she returned to the argument of abolition and noted that abolitionists have a number of enemies, and populist politicians are the greatest. Women imprisonment should be abolished as an experiment that will later follow in being applied to men as well. It started its test on women as they are considered to have non-threatening criminal profiles [xxxii] .

Even if researches have taken place, nowadays, women’s imprisonment involves as many inhumanities as ever. This occurs as there is a serious lack of attention from research. Carlen emphasized on the differential experiences of criminal justice and criminality encountered by females in comparison to males [xxxiii] . She is puzzled to know what more can be done to make changes needed in order for women’s imprisonment in 21st century to stop being the disgrace that used to be in the 20th century. During most of the 20th century women in prison tended to be invisible prisoners, the women whom nobody wanted and almost everyone had forgotten. At the beginning of the 21st century the prison is as much a set of all kinds of social production as it has ever been. Although, they still represent a very small proportion of the prison population, there is no rational reason why that proportion should not be even smaller. Instead, it is slowly but surely increasing and this is not a problem being limited in England and Wales. The criminologist insisted in her diary that there must be an alternative and that the women’s system has no management strategy and no structure to hold on [xxxiv] . The best regimes can do is ameliorate the worst effects. Thus, as Worrall also confirmed, crime will be broken by a government honest enough to admit that prison does not work and sufficiently courageous to accept that prison is itself “part of crime problem rather than part of the solution [xxxv] .” All the above ideas can be dragged from the historical idea that “prisons make bad people worse [xxxvi] .”

In conclusion, Pat Carlen’s contribution to criminology was enormous in relation to female offenders and their imprisonment. Her main aim in the sector was to ameliorate the present circumstances affecting women’s imprisonment. She devoted her work in researching and interviewing people the area considering prisons in order to find the roots of the problem. This would later make her able to combat the obstacles and reach a more compromising situation. Many found her work inspiring. Nonetheless, others found that it lacks focus on certain areas. Her contribution marked the beginning of slow and steady developments in the field. On the other hand, the study of women’s imprisonment has still a long way to go.


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