Needs poorly understood and overlooked
This is a guest post by Sophie Wainwright, the Criminal Justice Policy & Campaigns Officer for the Traveller Movement on their new report on Gypsy, Roma & Traveller women in prison.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) women form some of the most vulnerable individuals in custody. Despite being grouped together in official data monitoring, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women are not a homogenous group. Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are often categorised together under the “Roma” definition in Europe and under the acronym “GRT” in Britain. It is also worth noting that ‘GRT’ is a policy specific acronym and necessarily something people will identify themselves as. These communities and other nomadic groups, share a number of characteristics in common: the nomadic way of life, a tendency toward self-employment, experience of disadvantage and having the poorest health outcomes in the United Kingdom. It is also worth noting that ‘GRT’ is a policy specific acronym, and individuals will identify not as ‘GRT’ but with any number of the distinct ethnic identities that make up this acronym.
Discrimination & marginalisation
The discrimination and marginalisation Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women face in broader society is replicated when they enter the Criminal Justice System. Gypsy/Traveller women are overrepresented in the Criminal Justice system, forming approximately 6% of the prison population, and 0.1% of the general population. This is higher in some prisons: 9% of women at HMP Foston Hall, 9% at HMP Bronzefield, and 10% at HMP Peterborough self-identified as Gypsy/Irish Traveller as part of HMIP survey responses. The population of Roma women in prison is again on top of this number. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people are over-policed and routinely discriminated against by the police and have poor outcomes throughout the justice system, contributing to this overrepresentation. Yet, their distinct needs are poorly understood and overlooked.
According to the 2011 census, Gypsy/Traveller women had some of the poorest outcomes of any ethnic group across all social indicators. Although Roma was not recorded as an ethnic identity in the 2011 census, Roma women in the UK experience similarly poor outcomes across health, education, housing and economic inclusion. The 2021 Census will include a tick box for Roma as well as for the combined categorization of ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’. Roma as a distinct category must be included in ethnic monitoring across the criminal justice system.
Most Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women will serve short term custodial sentences for non-violent crime, leading to continually poor outcomes and high rates of reoffending. We believe this is the wrong approach, and that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women, as with all women, are better served in the community as opposed to the often traumatising and disruptive experience of prison. In line with this, The Traveller Movement promotes, the increased use of Out of Court Disposals, community sentences, better sentence planning and trauma informed rehabilitation in the community.
Many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women will feel the severe pain of family separation, and they are often homeless on release, due to poor exit planning and a lack of appropriate housing assessment on release. These women will also have differing and distinct needs across a range of factors, due a lack of trust, poor health and poor language and literacy skills. This negatively impacts their ability to make complaints, access education programs and seek help for substance misuse and addiction, if the correct targeted support is not given.
Mental health concerns
Further, these barriers can have a negative impact on their mental health which, given the high levels of depression and suicide in GRT communities is a cause for serious concern. A study in Ireland found that Travellers were six times more likely to die by suicide than their peers while Gypsies and Travellers in the UK also report poor levels of mental health. Roma women also report poor mental and physical health problems. The compounding pressures on mental health during the pandemic, due to periods of isolation of up to 23 hours a day, no visitations and no purposeful activity is deeply concerning for these women, who were already at high risk of self-harm and suicide.
Well over 50% of women in prison are survivors of domestic abuse. This will be no different for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women, who will have differing needs when it comes to accessing support for domestic abuse. There is no reliable evidence to say that GRT women experience domestic abuse to a greater extent, or they are more likely to be subject to abuse, but we know their experiences and needs will be different. Domestic abuse workers struggle to reach GRT women and fail to understand their specific needs, while GRT women are often reluctant to report domestic abuse to the police, or to social workers, due to long held mistrust of the authorities.
We wanted to discuss all these issues in the context of ensuring prisons are trauma informed, but also, to ensure there is a targeted approach and outreach to GRT women’s, to overcome specific barriers to successful release planning and rehabilitation.
The report calls for policymakers to implement 12 recommendations, including:
- A call for increase in the use of Out Of Court Disposals (OOCDs) for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Women, and also for consistent ethnic monitoring to capture how these are implemented by the Police.
- A call for more integrated sentencing plans to better support Gypsy Roma and Traveller women upon their release.
- Prisons need to become trauma-informed spaces to inform best practice, and providers with expertise in Domestic Abuse and Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as bullying and discrimination should be commissioned by HMPPS to develop a better understanding of the intersecting needs of GRT women.
- Roma ethnicity must be introduced into ethnic monitoring by Criminal Justice organisations to allow the experiences of Roma women to be better recorded, and better included in calls for reform. This is essential to ensuing their voice is not overlooked.
The link to our report can be found here:
TTM GRT Women in Prison Report_final.pdf (travellermovement.org.uk)
The recording will shortly be made available on our YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1SnfRK7M7PGmnkghtGq4hQ/featured