Critically analyse the use of imprisonment for young females.
This essay will critically analyse the use of imprisonment, specifically for young female offenders, based on historical conditions, current prison provisions, the use of statistics and both the physical and mental well being of the girls. In order to contextualise the imprisonment of women today, some historical awareness is necessary.
Although prisons had been in existence for some time for both male and females, punishment from the seventeenth century in Britain relied less on imprisonment, and more on public shaming, and punitive approaches such as stoning, being put in the stocks and even death (Carlen 2004).
Historically, prisons were established for men. In the mid nineteenth century there were no provisions for female remand because the number of offending females was limited, and for those that were imprisoned, were imprisoned with men. The perception of female criminals was such that they were beyond redemption and even when they had committed the same or similar crimes as men, women were seen as much worse, as they were expected to have higher moral standards (Duckworth, 2002). The concept of women committing crimes as unnatural is further supported by Carlen, as she explained the notion of lawbreaking is most naturally associated with male activity, and women who committed crimes were seen as ???bad citizens??™ and ???unnatural women??™ (2004:2). Duckworth also explains that in the mid nineteenth century, away from the privileged classes, there were thousands of young female children being sent out to earn a living; either legally in factories or quite often illegally involved in activities such as pick pocketing and prostitution. Therefore despite perceptions of women criminals being anomalous, women were involved in crime from an early age. This was because the young women were expected to bring in a source of income in poor, working class families (Duckworth, 2002). It may be that because of the perception of women as morally superior and more innocent than men that women were placed in prison because the authorities found them more difficult to control effectively. It was easier to place them in prison because they were a nuisance rather than addressing the problem of their discipline.
At this time, Duckworth also identifies how confusing the prison system was for females. Although they were imprisoned with men, the terms of their sentences and the conditions they suffered were vastly different. The length of women??™s sentences were not made clear to them and because they were given no hard labour they were often confined to small spaces for long periods of time (Duckworth 2002). Carlen (2004) and Duckworth (2002) acknowledge that for young women the use of prisons historically were unfair and harsh. Conditions were particularly bad for very young women as they were treated as miniature adults (Aries, 1960).
Children and young people are viewed very differently today. The age of criminal responsibility in England currently stands at 10 years old, although it is argued that this is still too young as a much higher age limit is placed on other prescriptions within the law. For example; to buy a fire arm you must be 17, to buy cigarettes and alcohol you must be 18. To be old enough to vote politically you must be 18, yet to understand right from wrong you must be 10.
According to the Home Office figures, only 4% of young people dealt with through the police every year receive custodial sentence (Connexions Direct, 2010). However, this is only for young people who have committed severe or repeated offences, and only then as a last resort (BBC, 2011). Figures released by HM Prison in 2004 stated that 70 young females were being held in custody in Youth Offenders Institutes.
There are three different institutions in which a custodial sentence can be served depending on the individual age, circumstances, needs and the type of offence committed. (Bhardwa et al 2010). These are Secure Children??™s Homes, Secure Training Centres and Young Offenders Institutions.
Age is considered (as well as vulnerability) in deciding which institution is used. Secure Children??™s Homes are generally for those aged 12-14; Secure Training Centres for up to 17 year olds and Young Offenders Institutes can be used for those ages 15 to 21. Offenders over 21 years are sent to adult prisons.
The most common form of custodial sentence is a Detention and Training Order. This can be imposed upon a young person aged between 12 and 17. They can last between 4 months and 2 years, the first part being spent in custody and the second in the community under the supervision of the Youth Offending Team.
The custodial section of a sentence for girls aged up to 16 would most likely take place in a Secure Children??™s Home run by the local authority social services. The aim there is to work individually with the young women concentrating on their physical, emotional and behavioral needs. Comparatively, boys are only usually allowed to stay at a Secure Children??™s Home over the age of 14 if they are deemed to be vulnerable.
For older children, young offenders aged up to 17, there are Secure Training Centres, four of which are in the UK; Oakhill in Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire; Hassickfield in Consett, County Durham; Rainsbrook in Rugby, Northampronshire and Medway in Rochester, Kent. (YIB). They aim to create environments in which young people will be educated and rehabilitated into their community. They are overseen by the Department of Health and the Department for Education.
In both of these settings there is a high ratio of staff to young people (although staff levels are at the highest in homes) and the emphasis is very much on care and supervision.
The final step between youth and the adult prison service are Young Offenders Institutions. They are for young people aged 15 -21 although in reality for young women this age is higher 17-21 because they are most often kept in Secure Training Units until they are 17.
This shows that an inequality between the sexes has shifted historically from when women received more severe treatments. However in Young Offenders Institutions, the staff-child ratio is significantly lower than the other institutions, therefore not enough attention is focused on those who need that additional help (Connexions Direct, 2010).
When a young female is convicted of a crime, and on arrival in custody, an induction takes place which consist of; medical screening to ensure all health and other needs are catered for, and the receipt of a pack which includes a phone card or equivalent. They then are assigned to a personal officer whose role is to act as an adviser. Placing young female offenders into prison requires the implementation of a special system in order to maintain their welfare. Officers are required to pay special attention to every young person??™s physical, mental, and social development. They can be done through activities which obtain individual??™s needs, ability and potential through education and training during custodial sentences (HM Prison: 2004). Transition needs to be clear and safe in order to create stability for the young women in new surroundings.
Between 2001 and 2004 the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation founded a project; ???Rethinking Crime and Punishment (RCP)??™. (Esmee Fairburn Foundation, 2010) It included over 50 projects that conducted research into the appropriateness, successes and failures of prison sentences and aimed to raise awareness of conditions and understanding of what is involved within the criminal justice system. One of the specific projects focused on the increase in young females being held on remand. This tripled between 1993 and 2003 (Page: 2003). They concluded that women were being remanded for less serious offences than men but the duration of women??™s sentences was significantly shorter than the men??™s.
Today there are a number of legislative frameworks to follow with regards to the care of young offenders including The Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Bailey 2001:166) The idea of providing support, care and the rights of the convicted are by no means new. John Howard began a campaign in 1866 for a more effective justice system with fewer crimes and custodial sentences and a higher emphasis on community service, amends and making people aware of consequences to their actions. This lead to the creation of the Howard League for Penal Reform that is still in existence today.
For young female offenders, there are a number of dedicated units in the UK; Downview, Eastwood Park, Foston Hall and New Hall, which take a child centred approach to the needs of young females (HM Prison Service: 2004). These are commonly known as specialist units in prisons. The Howard League for Penal Reform believes that is is wrong to place young females in specialist units living in adult conditions.
The Howard League for Penal Reform believed that the imprisonment of young women was not acceptable and needed to change. The report explains that the use of specialised units in adult prisons failed to detach the young females from the wider prison population (2004).
???Young females who are held specialist units in prison are still living in a punitive adult culture with high levels of self-harm, suicide, poor staff training and low staff ratios. Prisons are simply no place for children??™ The Howard League for Penal Reform (2004:24).
The statement implies that prison culture is unacceptable for young females. The project slogan states ???Less Crime, Safer Communities, Fewer People in Prison??? this can have both positive and negative connotations. On a positive note, society could be working together to reform offenders and prevent future offences. Negatively it could be argued that custodial sentences are necessary in reforming young female offenders.
Further research has been conducted into the lives of female inmates over the last 10 years. The conditions in young women??™s prisons were researched by Douglas and Plugge who identified prisoner dissatisfaction with the heath provisions. There were complaints from an individual interviewed that treatments were delayed and application to see a professional needed to be repeated before an appointment was made (Douglas, 2006). Douglas also obtained information from professionals within the institutions who recognized that heath care was unacceptable and that better quality of care should be given (2006). Cripps??™ later research and analysis of the experiences of 15??“18-year-olds in prison, found that 79% deemed the health service provisions that they had received to be ???good or very good??™ (2010:78). She also considered that an important aspect of health is good hygiene and found that 96% of those females claimed that they were able to shower on a daily basis (2010). Although health care appears to have improved, it is worrying, that only 37% thought that the food was ???good or very good??™. This could mean that the nutritional value of the food may be inadequate and consequently increase chances of health levels dropping during their sentence.
An important part of any rehabilitation program would rely on participants feeling safe and secure in order to develop. Research among young females placed in four different institutions; the Toscana, Josephine Butler, Rivendell and at Mary Carpenter units revealed that overall 75% felt safe. Cripps found that overall 77% of the young females interviewed were able to turn to a member of staff effectively in case of any problems arising; also 81% indicated that the staff treated them with respect (2010). The approachability of staff may be increased by the fact that officers and staff within youth institutions are able to take a softer approach to uniforms, meaning they may dress less formally than in traditional prisons (HM Prison: 2004). Also, staff are trained to be approachable and act as role models. Cripps??™ found that views from professionals within the prison system; was staff within prison settings should receive training so they can attain valuable skills in working with those who are vulnerable (2010). Therefore, Cripps found from firsthand opinion from experts who that staff should be trained in order to deal with those who are at risk effectively.
There is an overlap with regards to alcohol and drug problems within establishments, as 23% of young females had reported that they had problems with alcohol and of those young females; only 54% said they had received help for it. Cripps also documented that 30% of young females reported to having a problem with drugs, which 77% received help for it (2010). Cripps??™ findings could indicate that not enough support and help is being provided to those females who have problems regards to drugs and alcohol.
The Halliday Report on the responses from the gender and justice policy network identifies a lack of facilities in the south of the country, meaning the majority of young female offenders are relocated further north. This may have harmful effects on the offender as they are moved to a strange part of the country distanced from their family. (Diduck 2007:181)
Activities within institutions are planned in accordance with individual needs, abilities and potential. Similarly to the current education system a reward scheme is promoted to encourage good behaviour. Activities may vary between centres but may include academic courses as well as extra-curricular activities such as drama, dance, computer clubs etc. The Office of Standards of Education found that the length of sentence was often too short to enable completion of formal education credits; nevertheless, 78% received some sort of certification for participation in a range of short courses (2004).
This study also concluded that young female offenders had a poor educational past and low previous attainment. The study found standards of education to be satisfactory although a number of faults were identified. Disorderly young women gave staff difficulty in teaching groups, inadequate resources also impacted educational standards as well as levels being set too low by teaching staff (The Office if Standards of Education, 2004). Further research by ???Rethinking Crime??™ found that a quarter of school age children in prisons had literacy and numeracy skills similar to that of a seven year old (2004). This could indicate that the education provided is not allowing young women to attain a standard that prepares them for re-entry into society.
Historically imprisonment and punishment may appear horrific and inhumane compared with the justice system of today. It could be argued that prison conditions are unacceptable for children, regardless of age, race or gender but it is evident that gender inequality is in existence today – as discussed earlier HM Prisons state that there are approximately 2,600 young males and only 70 young females serving custodial sentence in Young Offenders Institutes (2004). Is this because females are committing fewer crimes than males or is this because females are not perceived to have the same criminality as young males and are therefore treated differently