Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Women In Prison

by Chelsea McKinney and Althea Cribb from GLDVP

There are over 4000 women in prison – most should never have been sent there. Approximately two thirds are on remand awaiting trial or sentence – under half receive a prison sentence, while one in five is acquitted altogether...

The punitive environment can be damaging to women’s mental health and compound experiences of victimisation, while often doing little to support them or stop them re-offending. It costs £77,000 a year to keep a woman in prison, yet in 2003, 63% of women released from prison were reconvicted within two years.

Momentum is building behind a campaign to change this situation, and provide alternatives for women offenders – and those at risk of offending – who are often very vulnerable. Pressure comes from the Corston Report on vulnerable women in the criminal justice system, from a petition supporting her recommendations and calling on the government to implement them, and most recently from Cherie Blair , who highlighted the fact that 100 babies are born in prison each year.

Prison is inappropriate, unnecessary and harmful for most women offenders – as well as expensive and usually ineffective. It is worth quoting just some statistics, which highlight the many issues faced by women prisoners: only 16% have committed violent offences – most are imprisoned for theft or handling of stolen goods; more than 60% are mothers; 70% suffer from two or more mental health problems; 37% have attempted suicide; nearly a quarter have experienced self harm; and over 50% have experienced domestic violence – though other estimates put this figure much higher; there are a disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic women in prison; and around 20% of the female prison population are foreign nationals.

As Baroness Corston so rightly recommends, the solution is increased use of community punishments, and the development of holistic women’s centres. Such centres could then more effectively address women’s offending by considering their experiences of domestic violence and abuse, mental health problems, and drug and alcohol use, being aware of how these intersect and lead to criminal behaviour.

Appropriate interventions in the community would prevent the unnecessary and damaging situation where so many women who lose their homes on imprisonment, and have nowhere to go on release, leading to separation from their children, families and homes. Neither community punishments, nor a more therapeutic prison environment, are ‘soft’ options. They are not only more effective, but are much more challenging for women than interventions which do not require such personal exploration and development.


Corston Report: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/corston-report/

Petition: http://www.womeninprison.org.uk/index.php?option=com_mospetition&Itemid=83

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Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Barrister: Gang Rape Girl was "Glad of the Attention"

by Helen Jones

The Daily Mirror published a story - 'Gang Rape Girl was Glad of the Attention' by Robert Stansfield on May 18th 2007

"A TEENAGE girl who claims she was gang raped by three 13-year-old boys was overweight and would have been "glad of the attention", a barrister told a court yesterday. The schoolgirl and her friend, both 16, have told how the boys, two of whom have since turned 14, mugged them for their phones then raped them repeatedly in a park while filming the ordeal on a mobile. But Sheilagh Davies, defending the boy of 13, insisted the girls consented to sex. She told the jury one of the girls, who gave evidence by video link, had "slimmed down a lot" since the incident on November 23 last year."

The barrister, Sheilagh Davies, has made unsupported allegations about the character and the actions of the rape complainant. The complainants dress-size has no bearing on this case at all and this is little more than another example of the mobilization of rape myths to attack the credibility of a rape complainant.

With cases such as these it is little wonder that the conviction rate in rape stands at a pitiful 5.2% in England and Wales . It is our duty to complain about the treatment of women by agents of the (so-called) justice system if women are to ever receive justice through the courts. There is a complaints mechanism and we encourage everyone who feels aggrieved by this case to complain.

The Bar Standards Board was established in January 2006. They are the independent regulatory board of the Bar Council, with responsibility for regulating barristers called to the Bar in England and Wales . They take decisions independently and in the public interest. They publish a Code of Conduct that barristers must abide by, and takes action where there is evidence that the Code has been breached and/or professional standards have not been maintained. The Code of Conduct sets demanding standards for barristers to meet and they rely on members of the public to bring to attention any potential breaches. Making a complaint costs nothing.

The website has a downloadable complaints form and guidance notes about how to do this.

Further details:
Complaints Department,
The Bar Standards Board,
289-293 High Holborn,
London WC1V 7HZ
Telephone: 020 7611 1444
Fax: 020 7611 1342

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Responding to Virginia – Gender Matters

Posted by Helen Jones, Criminology teacher at Manchester Metropolitan University

As the world’s media retreat from Virginia, it is worth looking at how the tragedy of the campus shootings has been interpreted and how a feminist analysis can go beyond the reports of the past week.

Multiple shootings are not unknown in universities. Many know of the killings at Columbine in 1999 and at Monash University Australia in 2002. These incidents connect to a history that can be charted at least as far back as 1989 when, in Montreal Canada, 14 women were killed by a man whose suicide letter made reference to ‘the feminists who have always ruined [his] life’. In the aftermath of such events, the question that first emerges is: Why? Journalists, academics and politicians struggle for answers and as the past week has shown, the focus tends to fall on a narrow range of explanations including the culture of violence in US society, the availability of guns and the individual characteristics (and mental health) of the killer.

Few articles pay attention to gender. That the killer was a man is so obvious as to be un-noteworthy. Even though the earliest reports linked the first two killings to a possible romantic rejection of the killer, the subsequent reporting was gender neutral. When reports of the first shootings (at 7.15am in West Ambler Johnston Hall) were made to the police, they assumed it was a ‘domestic incident’ and that the gunman had left the campus. The assumption was that a man willing to kill two people over a ‘domestic’ was of no danger to the wider community. This assumption led to the deaths of another thirty people. Gender matters and it is important to make masculinity visible.

Schools and universities are important places for ‘doing’ masculinity. The construction and reproduction of masculinity is achieved in two main ways, male dominance of females and dominance by high-status males of low-status males. The killer was not a typical student and wasn’t part of the male world of frat houses and football. His was a subordinated masculinity which finally pushed back against the alpha males and the hegemonic masculinity that had subordinated him and silenced him. Raging against this, he responded by asserting his own manliness, taking up hyper-masculine poses in a video and then methodically destroying what he saw as a high-status elite who had challenged his masculine identity.

In Virginia, as in Monash, Columbine, Montreal and in many other such incidents, the violence is not gender neutral. In every case the killer is male, usually a young man who feels aggrieved by some (real or imagined) attack on his masculine identity, but we should not focus simply on individual psychopathology. The news media has argued that these men were ‘crazed’ individuals who ‘snapped’, resulting in rare and isolated events which do not require societal change. But the events are not so rare and the killers tend to put a lot of planning into their actions: they do not ‘snap’. A gendered approach takes us beyond the incomplete explanations of these shootings which do little more than blame the individual or the gun. If we can make the connections between these killings and the wider culture of violence which is part of many men’s masculine identity, we may be able to move towards effective policy responses to tackle the gendered nature of violence.

Helen Jones teaches Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University

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