This piece takes a look at Phil Scraton and Linda Moore’s article in the Spring 2008 issue of Criminal Justice Matters on this issue.
One of the big problems with imprisoning women is that not that many get sentenced to imprisonment. By that statement I don’t mean that we should imprison more women, but that female prisoners are only a small proportion of the prison population and this has meant problems in terms of facilities for women prisoners.
The piece details the effects on women prisoners of being held in wings of male prisons. The truth about such imprisonment are shocking – there are limited facilities for recreational activities, education and workshops, prisoners in the two cases they discuss are locked up for a minimum of 17 and 18 hours a day. However, the most horrifying cass they cite refer to prisoners held in solitary and punishment cells, and I shall quote some of the examples they give:
“We found deeply disturbed young prisoners held with adult women and a child, flesh torn and cut from her ankles to her hips, hands to her shoulder, dressed in a canvas gown, no underwear, lying on a concrete plinth, no blanket, no pillow, in a punishment block strip cell… Also down the block was a grandmother, epileptic, diabetic, colostomy bag, weeping varicose veins, held in solitary for abusing officers. Prisoners stated that she was taunted by officers who openly refused to give her tea unless she complied. This was how self-harming and ill women were ‘managed’. During the research, a second woman, Roseanne Irvine, took her own life, having been held in the punishment block, deeply distressed and tearing her own hair out…”
Due to them being held within another prison facility, the women were escorted everywhere and were even forbidden to acknowledge other prisoners – which led to ridiculous instances where women were punished for speaking to their sons. Furthermore women were being humiliated by being strip searched when they were menstruating, for example. Prisons, and especially those for women, are, to paraphrase a former Home Secretary ‘not fit for purpose’. They don’t actually deal with the problems that offenders have and actually serve to aggravate prisoners problems. I agree with the line they take at the end of the article – arguing before for reform of the existing system to meet these needs, but also arguing against prison expansionism and for alternatives to sentencing altogether (although I suppose that would depend on the ‘content’ of these alternatives).