Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Corston Review

Baroness Jean Corston's recommendations regarding the situation of vulnerable women prisoners in the criminal justice system was published yesterday. Charles Clarke, then Home Secretary, ordered this review rather than a public enquiry into the deaths of women prisoners.

One of the recommendations is to close down existing women's prisons over a period of 10 years and replace them with a local network of small custodial units reserved only for those who are a "danger to the public". There is no mention about looking at the way women are currently sentenced.

Lady Corston: "A large proportion of the 4,300 women in prison in England and Wales could be better dealt with in community centres which could deal with their problems of mental illness, addiction and history of abuse".

And two of the worst jails for women are Styal (described to me once by a former woman prisoner as a "shit-hole") and Holloway (Grand Guignol of womens prisons).

Two women prisoners have already committed suicide since the start of 2007. There have been 71 suicides by women prisoners since 1997. In the past 10 years the number of women in prison has rocketed by 146%. Majority of women are in prison for petty crimes (shoplifting, theft and handling). And 41% are in prison because of drug offences.

70% of women in prison have mental distress
20% have been in the care system as opposed to 2% in the general population
50% report being survivors of childhood abuse and/or domestic violence.

I could go on with the statistics but won't. Whether New Labour will take Corston's "radical" recommendations seriously is another thing as they kinda contradict the "tough on crime" stance.

Something has to give or we will continue to see the number of distressed women being banged up for petty crimes. How many more women have to kill themselves?

Inquest have given their take on Corston.

There is an on-line petition as well.


AN said...

one assumes that much the same applies to men's prisons.

Louisefeminista said...

well yes, but there are specific problems regarding women in prisons. Such as self-harm and number of suicides. And the sentencing of women is different from men.
The prison system reflects the discrimination and oppression women face in this society.

AN said...

That would be interesting to hear more about if you have time to return to this topic

neprimerimye said...

The deal in society as I understand it is that if on commits a crime then if it is deemed a serious offence then one is subject to the loss of liberty for a period of time. Putting aside the question as to the justification of any given law this seems right and proper to me.

This report, inspired by feminism and drawn up by Guardian reading social workers one suspects, has no concern for what is right and proper in this society. Indeed only an idiot or a social worker could coment, as does the report, that women suffer more than men by the loss of their liberty.

It is time that so called socialists stopped attempting to justify the soft treatment of those who choose to prey on others as do the criminals this report is concerned with.

AN said...

mike - your disengagement with any interst in fighting oppression continues to amaze me.

Nor only feminists but also socialists recognise the opression of women and wish to fight against it. Socialists usually also recognise that crime is often a funtion of economic, social and cultural impoverishment, and recognise that imprisonment is no solution to crime.

It is perhasp possible that women may be affected more by issues of low sellf esteem in proison. due to their wider oppression in society. i don't know but i am prepared to hear the argument.

naturally i am generally in agreement with about the Guardian though ;o)

neprimerimye said...


Since when did feminists fight oppression? Surely they collude with it in that their goal is to ensure that bourgeois women are 'equal' with bourgeois men and working class women are equally exploited as working class men?

Certainly socialists recognise that crime is the product of an unequal and unjust society. But is that a justification fortheft? Or is it an argument for fighting oppression by fighting for the abolition of class society?

In the meantime I see no good reason why criminals of either gender should be granted their freedom when they have acted against the interests of working people.

AN said...

Well actualy mike, fighting for working class women to be equally exploited as working class men is fighting against dicrimination and oppression.

I am not sure how you conclude that all the women in prison are there for theft, nor how you conclude that someone who shoplifts from TESCO has acted against the "intersts of working people"

In any event even were we to accept that prison was the ost effective way of dealing with crime (and from the perosnal expereince of my close family members who have been inside it isn't), then that still doesn't mean that the prison system could not be usefully reformed which is what Jean corston is recommending.

But hey, why bother to improve anything as we can always wait for the abolition of cappitlaism, and then everything will be allright. bristol city will even win the FA cup under socialism.

neprimerimye said...

Well actually Andy fighting for the right to be equally exploited is an acceptance of exploitation. I always thought that socialists fought to abolish all exploitation and oppression.

Moving on I note that I do not accept that most working class women in jail are there for committing acts of theft. I did ask, rhetorically, if bad social conditions somehow justified theft which in my opinion they do NOT.

Nor mark you am I of the opinion that prisons cannot be usefully - useful to whom I might ask - reformed. In fact I'm strongly of the opinion that prisons should be eformed and that conditions should be made more bearable.

But the Corston review is not concerned with equality of sentencing and conditons of imprisonment it is concerned with making the conditions applied to those convicted less equal. In other words female criminals would if these recommendations were accepted be teated better than male criminals.

Frankly I'm of the opinion that if one does not wish to go to prison one should not engage in criminal activities. It follows that criminals once convicted should be punished first and reformed second.

AN said...

Well actualy Mike, we will never acheive the overthrow of capitalism if we don't fiht against inequality now. the fight for equal pay during the 1970s was one that involved thousands of working class women organised at the workplace, and required solidarity from their male colleagues.

It is unfair to Jean to criticise her report for not looking at all prisons when her remit was speciifically women prisons.

I would be intersted to know more about the background, and obvioulsy at some opint there was a special concren about women's prisons, and there may well be greater incidences of suicide and self harm.

If that were the case - and i am writng from a position of ignorance here - then it would simpy be responsible care on the part of the givernment to invetsiigate womwn's prisons to see why.

None of this means that men's prisons aren't also needing reform.

Good to know that the Daily Mail can count on your support over issues of crime.

Louisefeminista said...

Majority of women prisoners are imprisoned for petty crimes (shoplifting and handling). And 41% are locked for drug offences. For starters, legalising drug industry (Angela Davis has written an extremely informative piece on this in regards to the prison system in the States)and do we, as a society, want to lock up women (men as well) for committing piddly crimes? I think the answer is no.. What about people (majority women) who are locked up for NOT paying their telly licence fine..?

I have worked with women who were imprisoned (prisons and the "special" hospitals)and the number of women who self-harmed was extremely high (we campaigned for various measures to be put in place like educating the staff and a mini A&E in some of the specials) and suicides.

The treatment of women within the prison system (and the "specials") reflects the power relationships and oppression women face in society. Families and friends who may be looking after the kids of women locked up have to travel miles to visit and it is very very expensive. They get no money from the state to help them with this and many women don't get to see their kids that often. That's a disgrace. If you want more information then look at WIP (

And now with privatising prisons and the probation service things will only get worse..

Louisefeminista (blogger thing not working for me)

AN said...

I am not yet convinced louise.

Women suffer in prison, and you are right that this reflects power relations is wider society.

BUt it is not powerful men who get sent to prison, but predominantly young men who are socially excluded, cultural impoverished, etc.

All of the indignities you describe also apply to men prisoners, and i could add moving prisoners the day before a visit so that their wives/girlfirnds and children travel half way accross the country to find them not there; and moving prisoners just befoe they complete vocational training courses so they never et the qualifications.

To convince me that woemen suffer more in prison i need some facts. For example are suicides and self harm in women prisons higher than in Feltham?

And as many more young men end up in prison than women, doesn't that imply that the criminal justice system generaly doesn't discriminate against women?

I don't say this to be provocotive, but becasue i don't know.

Louisefeminista said...

"Between January 1993 and December 2003 there were 54 self-inflicted deaths of women in prison. Our monitoring of women’s deaths in prison has shown that women are continuing to die in an unprecedented number. Although the number of deaths corresponds with an increase in the numbers of women being sent to prison it is still disproportionately high. The deaths of women in custody have always been one of our priority areas"

Quote from Inquest.

I suggest you look at the stats on their website. Check out women in prison as well (

Yes, there are high levels of self harm and suicide in prisons/young offenders units but I cannot find (as yet) a break down of gender. But I would advise to look at Inquest.

Also, what about the treatment of Black prisoners, for example. Again, have a look at Inquest re: deaths in custody for example. And issues around MH as if these changes are implemented re: Mental Health Act then it will impact on a disproportionately high number of Black people. Racism is endemic within the prison system and the mental health system. Well, the whole criminal justice system.

Louisefeminista said...

I would also advise you to look at various feminist writings on the subject of criminal justice system and the significance for women. From Helena Kennedy's Eve was Framed, anything on women and crime by the excellent Carol Smart to Angela Davis. Or actually any text bk on Criminology and social policy. That will give you a good grasp of the area as it includes statistical data.

That's if you are seriously interested in finding out more about the subject.

AN said...

Well in 2005, the last year figures have been published for (or at least i could find) there were - according to the howard league.

2 women suicides
12 suicides of youth under 21(all male), including two children
78 suicides overall. a drop of 17 from 2004.

so 2 women suicides out of 78 suicides overall.

women comprise 6% of the UK prison population, which suggests that in 2005 - the only year i am looking at - male prisoners were twice as likely to commit suicide as women prisoners.

I cannot account for the discrepency betwwen the howard league claiming 2 women suicides and Inquest claiming 4, but 4 would bring the number as still slightly lower than the suicide rate among male prisoners.

I am not saying that women don't suffer in prison, but the evidence so far doesn't suggest they suffer worse than men, and men are 20 times as likely to go to prison than women.

i don't have the time to read all the literature, is there a comparative study of expereinces of men and women in british prisons? i assume Angela davies writes about the USA - so it is not really relevent)

AN said...

To clarify i assume that when Inquest say the suicide rate is "disproprotionatly high" they meansd coompared to the suicide rate in the general population, rather than compared to the male prison population.

neprimerimye said...

Fascinating that the sources Loisefeminista refers to are bourgeois feminist in political character. Interesting too that the 'solutions' put forward by these anti-working class elements is to pressure the state through bourgeois parties or state financed NGO's and charidees.

In plain English what is excluded is a socialist transformation of scciety and what is offered to us is the opportunity to support their political parties and their charidees. The role of suckers like Loise is to act as footsoldiers for the great and the good who make a dman good living running their inquiries and writing their reports. All increasingly fianced by us through general taxation too I note.

What I do not find in any of Louise's comments is any hint of a socialist conception of womens oppression and the need for class struggle against that oppression. In fact there is nothing that sounds egalitarian in her remarks with their pleas for special treatmnt of criminal elements who are, lets be clear, a threat to the working class. In short her posts can be characterised as sub-reformist Guardian reading silliness.

AN said...

Whereas your remarks, Mike, could be described as "sub-reactionary daily mail reading silliness". But only if we were being more polite than we really felt.

Quite apart from issue such as whether comrade Angella Davis could be described as bourgeois feminist by anyone except a bug eyed sectarian, do you dispute that bourgeois social scientists and commentiators can in fact both produce accurate infoormation, but can also suggest improvements that benefit working people, women and men.

Naturally a socialist transormation would solve many social problems, but until then should we do nothing at all?

What is more, while I don't agree with lloiuse 100% over this issue, the recommendations of Jjean Corston's report would improve the lot of many working class women and it would be progress if they were implemented - we could then argue for them to be extended to mens' prisons.

certainly given the sorry state of the unions and socialist politics in this country, then it seems utterly utopian to suggest that prison reform can be won by class struggle.

Yet is was only prison rerom that louise was writing about, so how you extrapolate that to the conculsion (quite wrongly0 that she has no conecpt of class struggle is beuond me.

Unless you want to go back to the 1980s Socilaist workker school fo journalism, where every single article whatever the subject concluded "This shows the need for a revolution led by a revolutionary party".

You are quite wrong by the way about the tradiational socialist attaitude towards oppression politics, which has always been to support strugle for improvement by any means necessary - and if gains can be made via reforms and conventional politics than all well and good. that does not mean that other, perhaps deeper reforms cannot be won by class struggle.

What your attitude represents here Mike is a throwback to the crap politics where male trade unionists discusssed "impotnat stuff", while the little wife made the tea.

AN said...

And mike, why has this issue got you going?

i would have thought my call for a vote for the SNP would have offended you more.

neprimerimye said...

Speaking as a bug eyed sectarian, read principled communist, I believe it is the case that Angela Davis who belongs to a sect which backs the Democratic Party and is obviously a bourgeois intellectual.

The idea that such people as he and Helena Kennedy have the best interests of working class women at heart is a bad joke. In reality they want the state to treat the less useful members of the workforce that end in nick more humanely the better to exploit them later and keep costs down now.

Not that it much matters anyhow the prisons aren't actually going to be reformed unless large savings can be identified. Which is why the endorsement of this daft feminist report by Louise is reactionary as it endorses a particular approach to reform that excludes working class people from the issues that touch their lives.

The point of these reviews is to give the appearance that the great and the good are doing the right thing on your behalf. No need to organise just vote for them and watch as they do nothing but write reviews and reports.

What is for certain is that such a form of politics will not deliver any real reforms and is aijed at defusing any actual struggle for reforms. Other than passing resolutions at ill attended Labour Party conferences.

Frankly it would be better if trade unionists discussed real, class, politics and let their boyfriends make the tea. And yes One Solution Revolution is a very good idea.

PS Voting for the SNP is not much better than voting BNP.