Priorto the Corston Report (2007), attempts to define the ‘situation’ of femaleoffenders in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) have been predominantly confinedto feminist, theoretical accounts.
Indeed, like the women in (and out) of theCJS, such accounts have been marginalised in relation to the population of maleoffenders: of the 600 articles published by Probation Journal over a 30-yearperiod, fewer than 30 related directly to female offenders (Worrall andGelsthorpe, 2009). In contrast, the Corston Report placed the ‘situation’ offemale offenders, albeit briefly, on the political agenda (Justice Committee,2013). However, like it’s academic counterparts, it has predominantly remainedon the periphery of contemporary penal discourse, thus failing to ‘radically’ (Corston,2007:26) improve the ‘situation’ of female offenders. Indeed, exploration ofthe socio-political context of the last decade will conclude that the momentumgained by Corston has diminished and the ‘situation’ has somewhat deteriorated.Thus, the ‘situation’ prior to Corston will first, be defined using academicliterature and second, compared to Corston’s objectives. This will offer a’benchmark’ in which to assess development. Secondly, to provide an overview,the degree of progress made on Corston’s 43 recommendations between 2012 and2017 will be quantified and presented in graph format.
After expansion onselected recommendations, such as community sentences, reasons why penal policyhas not been based on the evidence provided by the Corston Report will beexplored. It will be suggested it is incompatible with the ideologiessurrounding ‘prison works’ and has been undermined by the TransformingRehabilitation agenda. To conclude, the premise of Corston’s ‘women-centred’approach will be evaluated. Historically,socioeconomic factors that can instigate entry into the CJS has been neglecteddue to the ‘medicalisation’ of women’s deviancy (Padel and Stevenson, 1988;Sim, 1990). Certainly, the demographic of women’s prisons supports such aperspective: one in five women on remand display symptoms of psychosis (Edgar,2004), half have experienced domestic violence (Hooper, 2003) and a third havebeen subjected to sexual assault (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002). Indeed, inversefrom the general population, women in the CJS are more likely to commit suicideand self-harm than men (Fossi, 2005).
However, while greater psychological caremay be necessary, the medicalisation of female deviance has been harmful in twoways. Firstly, labelling women as ‘mad’ rather than ‘bad’ (Genders and Player,1987) has led to over-prescription of antidepressants and sleeping medicationto account for the stress of incarceration (Scott and Codd, 2010:36). This isperpetuated by the perception that women in the CJS are ‘doubly deviant’ (Carlen,1988; Cavadino and Dignan, 2007). That is, committing an offense, especially aviolent one, breaks social expectations of feminine behaviour, as well as thelaw. Consequently, incarceration is suggested to have the ‘double aim’ ofpunishment and reinforcement of gender roles (Silvestri and Crowther-Dowey2008). Secondly, it individualises deviancy and neglects the impact ofsocioeconomic and cultural factors, such as physical and sexual abuse (Hollinand Palmer, 2006). This has prevented the formation of policy programmesaddressing the needs of women exposed to socioeconomic criminogenic factorsprior to custody (Kendall, 2002). Furthermore,the male-centric design of the CJS can be seen to disproportionately impactwomen (Carlen and Worrall, 2004; Kendall, 2002; Medlicott, 2007).
The sparselocation of women’s prisons, for example, results in greater dislocation fromthe local community and the family (Grimwood and Berman, 2012), leavingapproximately two thirds of women and their dependent children in greaterpsychological distress than their male counterparts (Annison et al., 2015:24).Additionally, disproportionate sentencing length and severity for non-violentcrimes (Gelsthorpe and Morris, 2002; Ministry of Justice, 2016) places women inan environment ill-equipped for rehabilitation (Corston, 2007; HM Inspectorateof Prisons 2010). Subjection to a ‘masculinist penalty’ (Scott and Codd, 2010:34)thus disproportionately exacerbates women’s psychological burden ofimprisonment in comparison to men, worsening their vulnerabilities (Carlen,1983; Gibbs, 1987; Liebling, 2007). As such, alternatives to custody, such ascommunity penalties, should be pursued (Corston, 2007). Onthe one hand, Corston’s recommendations could merely be interpreted as aninstitutionalised account of the observations proposed above (Hedderman, 2011).Indeed, Corston recognises that ‘many of the recommendations … have beenmadebefore’ (2007: 2).
For example, Corston emphasised the need ‘to do away withbig prisons that operate as social dustbins for vulnerable women’ (PrisonReform Trust, 2007) and make greater use of community sentencing as analternative to custody (Corston, 2007). Furthermore, Corston emphasised themarginalisation of women ‘within a system largely designed by men and for men'(ibid:2). In conjunction with many feminist theoretical accounts, Corstonconcludes that the equality of treatment between genders in the CJS does notnecessarily equate to equality of outcome and a ‘women-centred approach’ shouldbe adopted (ibid:3). Such an approach would ensure the needs of the mostvulnerable can be addressed, that is, those who have been exposed to extremesocio-economic criminogenic factors and histories of abuse, (Justice Committee,2013: para 41; Kendall, 2002). Indeed, this recommendation parallels theintentions of the ‘healthy prison’ agenda whereby custody should be utilised asan opportunity to address the needs of the most vulnerable, thus enhancing itsrehabilitative potential (Who, 2014: 92). Onthe other hand, in contrast to its academic counterparts, the Corston Reportdiffers in gravity due to greater government funding as well as clear, femaleleadership (Justice Committee, 2013: para 40).
Further, it provides astrategic, coherent approach to women’s penal reform (Justice Committee, 2013:para 44; WIP, 2012:1). For example, Corston advocates centralised management inthe form of an Inter-Ministerial group for governance and cross-departmentalcoordination, as well as a ‘Women’s Commission’ and ‘champion’ with authorityto drive momentum (Ministry of Justice, 2007). Perhaps most significantly, this’women-centred approach’ centralised the need for small, multifunctionalcustodial centres across the country to mitigate family dislocation and theanxiety of relocation (Corston, 2007:3; Grimwood and Berman, 2012). To makesuch a priority contingent on the establishment and coordination of manyinstitutions, however, may have been detrimental to its success. This will beconsidered later. Indeed,despite the 43 recommendations made and intentions for ‘radical’ reform (Corston,2007), quantitative visualisation of developments demonstrates that little hasprogressed and only in incremental stages (Player, 2014). I have presented ingraph format data from two reports published by Women in Prison (WIP, 2012,2017) which utilise a ‘traffic light’ system to follow the progress made onCorston’s recommendations (Fig.1 and Fig.
2). The legend is as follows: Atface value, it is optimistic that a further 12 recommendations have beenimplemented since 2012 (Fig.2). This is mirrored by fewer recommendations beingclassed as ‘no progress’, as well as an additional recommendation implementedwith the view of further development. As such, it is tempting to conclude thatthe ‘situation’ of female offenders in the CJS has improved incrementally sincethe publication of the Corston Report.
However, the threat of ‘U-turns’ and’warnings’ have remained constant between 2012 and 2017. Moreover, there arefewer viewpoints in 2017. Indeed, the extent to which Corston has ‘radically’transformed women’s experience of the CJS to become ‘holistic, individual andwomen-centred’ (Corston, 2007:2) is questionable and has led Moore and Wahidin (2018)to conclude that very little has changed: while some recommendations have beenenacted, nine warnings remain, and five U-turns are predicted. Nonetheless,celebrated accomplishments include the abolishment of mandatory strip searchingand the establishment of 45 Women Community Services (WCS) between 2009-2013which intended to improve holistic, community interventions and support (Hedderman,2010:495; Hunter and Radcliffe, 2013). Furthermore, The National ReducingReoffending Delivery Plan introduced two gender specific pathways in PrisonService Order 4800 to ensure the needs of women are met in prisons (WIP, 2012;HMP Prison Service, 2008). However,strategic coordination and provision of services are yet to be enacted (WIP,2017:7). As mentioned above, this has significant implications for theeffective organization and management of interventions across the CJS, limitingtheir potential.
For example, while a network of WCS remain, they have beenexcluded from mainstream funding and are being delivered by the voluntarysector (ibid). Limited economic support and a coherent strategy forcoordination across sectors has prevented the adoption of a ‘whole systemsapproach’ (ibid:13). This has been detrimental to the support offered by WCS asthey struggle to meet demand, rendering their future uncertain (Radcliffe andHunter, 2013).
Moreover, funding for Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) aidingvictims of domestic and sexual violence has also been threatened, resulting insupport offered only 12 weeks before release (WIP, 2017:12). So, while somealternatives to custody were implemented, uncertain funding limits theircapacity to support rehabilitation. Inaddition to closure and reduced centralised financial and managerial supportfor WCS (Radcliffe and Hunter, 2013), Corston’s recommendation for greatersentencing discretion has been curtailed (Satish, 2016:118). This objectiveaimed to reduce both the number of women suffering a ‘masculinist penalty’ andthe overuse of short custodial sentences. However, stagnation has been detrimentalto both women and recidivism. For example, the ungendered application ofcommunity punishments disregarding ‘gender variables, context and powerdynamics’ (Jordan, 2013:3) can exacerbate the stress of balancing domesticresponsibilities and sanction criteria (Hedderman, 2011:36). Further, use of alternativesto custody often result in lower recidivism rates: 55.
8% of women released fromprison reoffend within a year compared to 26% after community sanctions (Heddermanand Jolliffe, 2015). As such, discretion should be practised to ensure thatonly women committing offences that warrant custodial sentences (e.g.
violentcrimes) are incarcerated (Corston, 2007). However,although use of community punishments has marginally increased since 2007 (WIP,2017), three factors can be seen to have prevented the full implementation ofthis recommendation. Firstly, the ‘punitive turn’ (Garland, 2001: 142) towardsthe use of custody has seen the female prisonpopulation more than double between 1995 and 2017 (Allen and WatsonAM1 , 2017). Secondly, like theeffectiveness of WCS, failure to establish a network of services has preventedthe dissemination of information, creating a barrier to the use ofwomen-specific community orders (Gov.scot, 2015). Indeed, this may haverendered magistrates unaware of the options available for the effective use ofcommunity punishments (Birkett, 2016).
Lastly, community sentences have not’rebalanced the system by removinglow-level offenders from prison into the community’ (Corston, 2007: 50) butincreased the number of women entering. So,while there have been some developments made, many have not been sustained andmomentum has been lost (WIP, 2017). Moreover, many ‘warnings’ have been issuedthreatening further reversal of progression. In conjunction with thecontinuation of greater punitive treatment towards women in the CJS, it may beconcluded that the Corston Report has had very little impact despite thegravity of the ‘situation’. Thisbegs the question: why, despite the overwhelming evidence, has policy not beencentred on research (Corston, 2007:16, Annison et al., 2015:5)? On the one hand,the implementation of policies is often informed by additional factors otherthan evidence (Parsons, 2002). For example, Weiss (1998) and Player (2014)suggest that policies will only be implemented if they complement existingideologies.
In the context of Corston, there may be conflict between ideologiesof the report and the ‘Prison Works’ agenda. That is, the latter assumes themost effective method of reducing recidivism is incarceration, thusalternatives to custody, such as community sentences, are neglected (Grimwoodand Berman, 2012). Indeed, despite the change in terminology to ‘What Works’,the ‘punitive common sense’ of the public can be seen to have fortified theformer’s sentiment (Wacquant, 2012:162).
Furthermore,inherent to the ‘Prison Works’ (and neoliberal) ideology, is the belief thatindividuals are responsible for their deviance, neglecting socioeconomic andcultural determinants (Moore, 2015). This ‘responsibilization agenda’ hasprompted a rise in behavioural therapy, such as CBT, in women’s prisons (Annisonet al., 2015:5; Kendall, Shaw and Hannah-Moffat, 2004). The medicalisation ofdeviance and the disregard of criminogenic factors outside of the individual’scontrol thus continue to define the ‘situation’ of female offenders after thepublication of the Corston Report. Onthe other hand, evidence use in female penal policy may have been mitigated bythe Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda.
TR divided and privatised trustsinto a National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 CRCs. In a bid for efficiency,the responsibilities of CRCs were revised to include community penalties andsupport for low-risk offenders after prison (Howard League, 2016). However, asmentioned earlier, this has been detrimental to the quality of support offered(Radcliffe and Hunter, 2013) and conflicts with Corston’s recommendation for a’need’ led approach. Moreover, TR extended the length of short-term sentences:it became mandatory for an individual serving a sentence of less than a year toreceive CRC supervision for 12 months after release. Critically, failure tocomply results in return to custody. These reforms have had three significantimplications for women.
Firstly, the reform can be seen to disproportionatelyaffect women as they receive shorter custodial sentences than men (HowardLeague, 2016). On the one hand, this inequity may be interpreted simply as morewomen than men are experiencing the stress of 12 months supervision. On theother hand, it may be seen as a ‘masculinist penalty’ which women experiencemore extremely than men. For example, its confliction with domestic andchildcare responsibilities (Crook, 2014), in addition to the threat ofreturning to custody, reinforces the ‘double burden’ as punishment exacerbatesstress related to gender roles (Silvestri and Crowther-Dowey2008). Indeed, the implementation of this policy hasresulted in a significant increase in the number of women being recalled toprison for non-compliance with conditions (Annison et al.
, 2015). Lastly,understanding of a ‘women-centred’, ‘needs-led approach’ (Corston, 2007:2) inthe Offender Rehabilitation Act (2014) was restricted to narrow interpretations(Howard League, 2016:3). Indeed, the original TR document dedicated only oneparagraph to the specific needs of female offenders (Birkett, 2017). Thus, withthe introduction of TR, the momentum for reform of the ‘situation’ of femaleoffenders can be seen to have diminished.
Certainly,since the implementation of TR, Corston’s recommendations have been subjectedto a consistent number of warnings and more U-Turns (See: Fig.1 and Fig.2). Inconjunction with the ‘responsibilization agenda’ and continuation of ‘masculinistpenalties’, it seems the ‘situation’ of female offenders has hardly changed:women continue to be marginalised and subjected to subtle forms of oppressionin, and out of, the CJS.
That is, it may be said that the ‘situation’ of femaleoffenders offers an exaggerated microcosm of the ‘situation’ of women in thegeneral population: both are marginalised in a masculine environment thatreinforces gender roles. Thus, for the ‘situation’ to improve, the environmentin which the CJS operates must actively prioritise the needs of women to thesame degree, although not necessarily in the same way, as men (JusticeCommittee, 2013: para 41; McDermott, 2014). Incontrast, Feilzer and Williams (2015) suggest that for the ‘situation’ toimprove, a gender-neutral approach should be adopted. In this case, limitedprogression and use of evidence in policy is explained by Corston’s inaccuratetheoretical foundation. That is, both the literature summarised above andCorston’s report assumes that a ‘women-centred’ approach should be adopted.
However, as Feilzer and Williams (2015) suggest, this agenda diminishes thepotential for reform in the CJS, and thus the practice of evidence-basedpolicy, as the evidence base itself is incorrect. However,the practice a gender-neutral approach has seen significantly higher rates ofsuicide and self-harm among female prisoners in comparison to men (Fossi,2005). Interestingly, after the rise in self-inflicteddeaths that prompted the Corston report in 2007, there began a decrease (Fig. 3).Indeed, this may be said to correlate to the initial ‘women-centred’ effort tochange the ‘situation’ of female offenders (Justice Committee, 2013:7).However, between 2012 and 2016 the number of self-inflicted deaths in custodyamong women increased dramatically (Fig. 3). Similarly, this may be said tocorrelate to the implementation of the TR agenda that provoked the reduction ofcare given by CRCS and WCS and progression on Corston’s 43 ‘women-centred’recommendations (Radcliffe and Hunter, 2013).
Accordingto these statistics, it may be concluded that the recent ‘reforms’ have notonly been detrimental to development, but regressive to the ‘situation’ offemale offenders. Moreover, the abandonment of a woman-centred approach can beseen as a contributing factor. In conjunction with increasing penal populismand rising prison populations (Scott and Codd, 2010; Gelsthorpe and Morris,2002), the CJS may thus be conceptualised not as a passive observer ofcriminality, but as an active participant in the degradation of mental andphysical health. Indeed,when compared to the ‘situation’ prior to Corston, the CJS seems to haveactively maintained the wholly inadequate ‘situation’ of female offenders.Firstly, the medicalisation of deviance can be seen to continue with the ‘responsibilizationagenda’ of TR. Secondly, women remain marginalised in a system designed formen.
Indeed, this has resulted in their exposure to ‘masculinist penalties’which are disproportionately detrimental to women, and their families, wellbeing.Thirdly, while ‘penal populists’ may maintain this is their ‘just deserts’, thesocioeconomic factors contributing to their deviance has continued to beneglected. This has prevented the ‘particular vulnerabilities’ of femaleoffenders from being addressed both in, and out of, the CJS, thus perpetuatingtheir suffering. Indeed, in conjunction with reduced financial aid andcentralised managerial support, this can be seen to correlate directly toincreased rates of self-harm and self-inflicted deaths. It is for thesereasons, a women-centred approach remains crucial in the reform of the’situation’ of female offenders.
However, while the Corston Report has been asignificant cornerstone in placing women on the agenda, it has been argued thatwider cultural reform is essential in the revaluation of gender roles and the representationof women in the CJS. AM1file:///C:/Users/Alex%20McMahon/Downloads/SN04334.pdf