This is a guest blog by Dr Natalie Booth, Dr Isla Masson and Lucy Baldwin who are criminology lecturers in universities in Leicester. The blog is based on their published critical review of the Female Offender Strategy in Probation Journal and available from – https://doi.org/10.1177/0264550518808363
In June this year, the Ministry of Justice published the much-awaited Female Offender Strategy. This was first promised over 18 months earlier in the Prison Safety and Reform white paper, published in November 2016, but was subject to several frustrating postponements thereafter.
In our comment piece, published recently in the Probation Journal, we suggest that these delays may have occurred from the political instability that has followed Brexit referendum (June 2016), the snap election (June 2017), and the three different Minsters assuming the role of Secretary of State for Justice in such a space of time. We contend that this unrest would have likely inhibited consistency and a continued vision required for the strategy.
Looking to the evidence
Our comment piece draws attention to the shared vision for reform with the rich body of literature citing similar and overlying concerns, struggles and remedies for women in the criminal justice system. For over forty years, we have seen all corners of the sector – from academics, international legislation, reform organisations, to charities and political parties – agreeing on the ‘distinct’ approach which is needed to best respond to the particular needs and vulnerabilities of women. These shared sentiments have arisen out of an awareness that many women come into contact with the criminal justice system after experiencing a number of adversities beforehand, and that their pathways and experiences significantly differ from their male counterparts.
Looking to the future
We are pleased that the Female Offender Strategy attempts to consolidate many of the recommendations and knowledge found in existing literature. For instance, we welcome one of the key aims of the strategy which is to reduce the number of women who are in prison, particularly those in for short periods. The strategy also announced plans for a second Farmer Review focussing on women’s family ties and a new Women’s Policy Framework to replace Prison Service Order 4800 with the aim of providing gender-specific guidance for working with women in the criminal justice system. These developments indicate some recognition of the specific needs of women, and are a clear step in the right direction. However, caution is required, and in the paper we question whether the female offender strategy can actually deliver.
Can the Female Offender Strategy deliver?
We express concerns that the strategy is worryingly vague in crucial places, especially with regard to how the ideas communicated in the strategy will be made possible in practice. In particular, we are dismayed at the lack of financial investment in the promises put forward. By not allocating appropriate financial support for this group, women are once again side-lined and marginalised. Women in the criminal justice system deserve informed action and so assurances within the strategy would be much more credible through permanent, ring-fenced funding. Without financial resources and top-down accountability “the female offender strategy will be unable to deliver any of the promises and they will become broken promises”.