Prisons & hostile for women

Studies on police discretion, suggest that the offenders demeanour and attitude, is a crucial factor which influences the decisions made by the police during interaction with them. This is applicable to both men and women, however because of the different socialisation processes, women are more likely to demonstrate behaviour which the police do not consider as offensive (Morris 1987). It has also been observed that girls see the police as people who will help them, whereas boys see the police in a more cynical light (Mawby 1980 in Morris 1987).

Women are categorised as non-serious and non-persistent offenders, and are therefore less likely to be arrested by the police because of this. However, research suggests that the main, factor influencing decisions made by the police are the nature of the offence, and the offenders demeanour, hence the sex of the offender is significant, but weak. There is evidence that women experience harsh treatment, for instance, prostitutes complained of not being treated seriously and being subjects of harassment. Police were criticised for not acting urgently when prostitutes were victims of homicide.

Rape victims complained about being disbelieved and being aggressively questioned by police officers (Heidensohn 1994). (Morris 1987) also found that race and class are influences on police decisions and attitudes with neither black or working class women experiencing leniency. The ideal feminine traits of remorse and passivity may not be reflected in their demeanour, therefore lenient dispositions may be extended to passive white remorseful middle class women because police attitudes are governed by traditional stereotypes of men and women.

Sentencing patterns for female offending also illustrate that they are treated harshly. A report published by the National Association of Probation Officers, found that in 1994 only 11% of men were jailed for theft compared to 23% of women. 35% of the women jailed had no previous convictions compared to 12% of men (cited in The Guardian 10. 7. 95). 53% of women prisoners had been convicted of two or less offences compared to 23% of men (cited in The Guardian 19. 9. 95). The number of female prisoners receiving immediate custodial sentences as opposed to probation or suspended sentences has risen by 24% to 2,952.

Due to many women being imprisoned for trivial offences, it is estimated that in 1994, many young women were jailed for non payment of their TV licences (cited in The Guardian 19. 9. 95). A case of a 30 year old mother of 6 children who was found guilty for non payment of a license and was consequently jailed for 11 days, and argues that it can cost upto 550 a week to imprison a woman for a minor offence such as this which offers very little benefit to the offender and the community.

Due to the sentence being so short, the prison staff do not attend to the womans needs and the disruption caused by the womans imprisonment is great to her children (Beatrix Campbell in The Gaurdian 12. 12. 95). (Edwards 1984 in Morris 1987) found that women in a study conducted in Manchester were refused bail because the crimes they committed were observed to be untypical of female offending, such as burglary. It was also suggested that many women are remanded in custody for their own good, and are more likely than men to be remanded in order to obtain psychiatric reports on them.

It is believed that by giving a woman a sample of imprisonment, such as remand, may prove to have a deterrent effect without compromising her traditional gender role. (Nagal 1981 in Morris 1987) suggests that marital status, a factor which is not significant for sentencing men, had a strong effect on a woman's likelihood of being imprisoned. The type of offence was also significant, therefore female offenders were dealt with more punitively if they were violent offenders, for example engaging in armed robbery, as opposed to property offences.

(Nagal in Morris (1987) uses the "evil woman" thesis, which suggests that the female has compromised her role expectations, when committing an offence which is not seen as appropriate to female offending, and is thus treated more negatively. Hence, it is not considered appropriate for women to engage in criminal activity such as armed robbery, presuming such women to be "evil" if prosecuted for non-female oriented crim8e. In court, women who had committed an offence with an accomplice, were treated more severely, than women convicted alone.

Divorced and separated women received relatively severe sentences, together with women who came from deviant family backgrounds, because these women were not considered respectable (Morris 1987). From statistical analysis of over 1,000 cases of female offenders, it was found that a woman received a less punitive sentence, if she could convey herself as respectable, in that she had no alcoholic or psychiatric history etc. Women who had previous offences were given lenient sentences compared to those who had no previous convictions and were not considered decent (Kruttschnitt 1982 in Morris 1987).

Barrister Helena Kennedy argues that " The Madonna is more acceptable in court than a whore" (cited in The Guardian 14. 9. 95). Hence if a woman can illustrate remorse and passivity, which are approved feminine traits, she will be treated more leniently than a woman who does not illustrate these characteristics. Studies also illustrate that explanations are always sought for by the Courts to see why the woman was compelled to commit the crime(s) she did. As a consequence, justifications for her crime(s) influence the way she is processed through he CJS.

It is common for the courts to assume that women are mentally ill when they commit an offence, and are treated in accordance to mentally ill patients as a result. Dell (1971) noted that many women in her sample had been remanded in custody for medical reports out of apparent concern for their physical and mental conditions. Some cases indicated that women were imprisoned "for their own good" (in PG 46 Heidensohn 1985). Many magistrates also took into account the womans domestic circumstances, and admitted they would be influences by the presence of the offenders children if she was responsible for childcare (Morris 1987).

Carlen (1983) in her study interviewed 15 Scottish sheriffs, and found that all individuals disliked imprisoning women and felt uneasy when a woman was accused, however to overcome these unsettled feelings, the sheriffs differentiated between "good" and "bad" mothers, stating "If she's a good mother, we don't want to take her away. If she's not a good mother it doesn't really matter"(Carlen PG 67 (1983). Therefore court room procedures illustrate and reinforce patriarchal ideologies, and it is not the sex of the offender which influences sentencing but the womans role within her family (Morris 1987).

Heidensohn (1985) holds that excessive harshness is practised against women within the courts. This is clear in the double deviant and double jeopardy arguments. Women offenders are very rare due to their low levels of crime and the rarity of ever being in court, therefore it is likely that more of them will be cautioned for their offences. Women are understood less than men by the courts both in terms of their culture and family structure, therefore assumptions lead to stereotypes about "appropriate" behaviour, and by offending against their sex roles, they are observed as both "rule breakers and role deviant" (in pg102 Heinsohn 1989).

Double jeopardy involves women who are frequently subject to extra informal systems of social control and social justice, having to also endure the formal apparatus of the courts. Hence the boundaries of the female role are always controlled by the CJS. Due to female offending being so small compared to male offending, women also suffer from not being given enough facilities to rehabilitate them. There are many centres which men can attend, however such facilities are not available for women. What meagre provisions are available are scant and under developed enough to cater for the needs of women, such as probation services.

The number of women in jail in England and Wales has risen by 37% over the last 2 years from 1,573 in December 1993 to 2,150 in December 1995 which has caused mass overcrowding (cited in The Guardian 24. 1. 96). The director of Howard League stated that women should not be sent to prison because of their minor crime patterns, and indicates that 1/3 are fine defaulters, 22% of women were jailed for theft and 37% who entered prison in 1993 were fin defaulters and 39% had no previous convictions (cited in The Guardian 24. 1. 96). In many ways female prisoners are worse off than males.

The majority of women in prison have been incarcerated for petty property offences and prostitution (Home Office statistics 1986 in Morris 1987). In England there are 12 prisons for women. Due to their being less prisons for women than men, female prisons are mainly situated in remote inaccessible locations, and as a result, women are often far away from their homes and families (Morris 1987). In Holloway which is the largest prison for women, visits are restricted to one every 14 days for upto 1 1/2 hours, with limited access to telephones.

There are restrictions in receiving and sending mail, and letters are subject to censorship except in open institutions. A prison called Eastwood Park in Bristol for women has been created by renovating a young offenders institution. There has been great controversy surrounding it because the cells are only 6ft by 8ft and are 30% smaller than the minimum size laid down by the Prison Services own official standards (The Observer 25. 2. 96). The prison is said to have a regime which only allows women to shower and socialise with other prisoners two days in the week, and stay in their cells for upto 14 hours or more a day.

Prison staff have illustrated concern, stating that many of the women have not been sentenced and due to many suffering personality disorders, they are likely to mutilate themselves, or commit suicide. "Inmates are usually given the opportunity to learn to cook, sew and do other domestic tasks" (cited in Smart in pg 163 Dobash & Dobash (1986). Womens prisons therefore, have little opportunity for work and education due to the great emphasis on the female domestic ideology, which is a dominant feature of female prison regimes.

Women also experience difficulty especially if they have children, because some provision is made within prisons to accommodate for women and children but this is not the case in all female prisons. Recently this year, prison inspectors visited Holloway and were appalled at the state of the prison. The inspectors reported that there was an "Overzealous Security " regime with a record of 2,100 inmates locked up for the majority of the day, with privileges such as education, time out of cells and other facilities being withdrawn, due to male inmates escaping from Whitemoor and Parkhurst prison.

The prisons sanitation was questionable with rats and cockroaches in cells and kitchens (cited in The Guardian 19. 12. 95). The notion of security mentioned in the Woolf Report, which indicates that all people working in a prison should have good relations for security to be effective, is not the case in Holloway, because they do not have the time due to being understaffed. As a result of this inmates are having to be locked in their cells for upto 23 hours a day without being able to wash or do any other activity, which can make prisoners very angry and as a result cause a riot.

The smooth running depends on prisoners making staff aware of any dangers and problems, and this can only be initiated by the development of trusting relationships. This is being threatened by cuts in the prison system and because the Home Office have decided to cut the prison budget by 15% (cited in The Guardian 20. 12. 95). Female prisons are also considered very difficult to run due to the high levels of tension and hysteria within them, compared to male prisons (Dobash & Dobash 1986).

Violent incidents are more frequent in womens prisons as opposed to male prisons, as (Moorhead in Morris 1987) quotes an inmate saying " It's sheer desperation. As if you've become a non-entity. You're nothing". (Morris 1987) cites a medical officer who states that women are not suited to endure imprisonment like males because they become anxious, restless and irritated, and as a result may mutilate themselves or commit suicide, such as the recent case in Holloway prison this year where an inmate suffocated herself.

Carlen (1983) argues that women have to conform to very rigid and trivial regulations, and any violation of them lead to "loss of pay and privileges which ensure that women never forget that they are in prison" (cited in pg 134 Carlen 1983). (Heidensohn 1985) argues that the prison system is designed by men to deal with men. Stereotypical assumptions have been made about female prisoners and as a result their needs have not been addressed properly. Lorrinda Margat a Criminologist has argued that female offenders should be given community based punishment, because of their childcare responsibilities, and jail should be a last resort.

Therefore female offenders warrant special consideration if they suit the CJS's stereotype of a woman. However, the police do not generally afford leniency to women, but they are influenced by a female offenders demeanour, together with her role within the domestic arena. Sentencing and Court practice illustrate that women are incarcerated for minor offences compared to men and as a result her family and children suffer, this is common when the evil woman thesis and the double deviant double jeopardy arguments are applied to her, when she is sentenced.

Prisons are hostile for women, due to the lack of facilities available to them. They are also harmful because of the number of women who self mutilate themselves and the succeeds that occur. Therefore, the stereotypical practices that dominate the British CJS must be eliminated for women to be treated equally to men, however these are so deeply entrenched that it is highly unlikely this will happen. More facilities should be available, within the community to help women rather than sending women to jail because their role also extends to the domestic sphere.