Prison does not work for women: Bea Jaspert
Bea Jaspert can be found at @hogotheforsaken.
“My prison experience was 33 years ago, but sorry to say, nothing has changed for the better. I hope we can turn that around.”
In 1988 I was remanded in custody in Holloway prison.
I was there because childhood abuse and trauma left me addicted to drugs and deeply vulnerable to predatory males. It was drugs that led to my arrest and imprisonment.
I was lucky – my family were able to take in my daughter, and when I was released on bail a few months later, to keep her while I went to rehab.
It took a year for my case to come to trial, but the rehab was close to home and allowed residents’ children to stay at weekends/holidays. I was able to keep up a close relationship with my daughter throughout the programme, which began with daily therapy and practical life-skills training and ended with preparation for moving on – education, jobs, housing.
No one left the programme without a home and an income sorted.
By the time my case went to trial I’d enrolled on a return to study course. I got a suspended sentence, and went on to get a first class degree and qualify as a teacher. My daughter came back to live with me.
I’m now 33 years drug-free and have never been in trouble again.
I am absolutely certain that going to rehab instead of prison is the reason I’m alive today, and the reason my daughter and I were reunited.
Prison does not work for women
Many of the women I met in Holloway had been sole carers of their children, but they didn’t all have families able to care for their children, and so most were put in care or fostered.
Most of the women were on remand or serving custodial sentences for drugs or minor offences – shoplifting or unpaid fines, including TV licence/library fines. It’s a lie that women turn to drugs for selfish self-gratification. Most women become addicted (often starting on prescription drugs) in response to trauma. Locking up drug-addicted women, and especially those with children, doesn’t stop them re-offending. Drugs are freely available in prison for anyone with money or connections. Separating mothers from their children, often permanently, punishes innocent children and pushes traumatised women further into drug dependence.
It costs a fortune to keep a woman in prison and, if she is a mother, add to that the cost of keeping her children in care. That money should be diverted to fund women’s support services.
Many women prisoners have drug problems, yet rehab provision has been drastically cut since my day. Nowadays, the 1-2 year programme that I so benefited from has been reduced to only 6 weeks.
Adequate rehab provision, including facilities for children, could keep so many women out of prison and prevent the break up of families.
Many women prisoners are inside because of poverty. Single mothers abandoned by the fathers struggle to support their families, and end up breaking the law to survive.
- Give single mums decent benefits.
- Raise universal credit.
- Raise child benefit.
And remove the rape clause, for god’s sake.
Many women prisoners are inside because of mental health problems, often resulting from male violence or sexual abuse.
- Increase mental health support for women.
- Fund rape and DV support services.
- Prosecute abusers and rapists and increase their sentences.
Take crimes against women seriously, and stop imprisoning women for defending themselves or cracking up after decades of abuse.
And why on earth are pregnant women imprisoned? What risk is a pregnant woman to anybody? Imprisoning pregnant women endangers both mother and baby. It is inhumane.
Only 3.2% of females in prison are considered to pose a high risk of harm to other people.
So keep women out of prison. It wouldn’t even cost the government. It’s cheaper than incarceration.
Single Sex Accomodation
Finally, women have a right to at least the bare minimum of safety and dignity afforded by single-sex prison provision. Single-sex prisons are a necessary human right, because women in prison are placed at risk if housed alongside males. Males who ‘identify as women’ are still males, many of them with fully intact male genitalia, and many with histories of sexual/violent abuse of women and children.
It is unconscionable to force women, many of them survivors of male violence/abuse, to share their prison space with males, and indefensible to threaten women with increased sentences if they refuse to call the males by female pronouns.
Women in prison are there for the most part because society doesn’t care, because their safety and dignity as female people was and is not respected, and because society tolerates and excuses violent and abusive males, and vilifies female victims.
My prison experience was 33 years ago, but sorry to say, nothing has changed for the better. I hope we can turn that around.
Three actions you can take to challenge the treatment of women in prison
1. Contact your political representative about the rights of women in prison. See this blog for information and links
2. Read our manifesto and raise these demands with your political representative:
- End the practice by the criminal justice system of allowing offenders to self-identify their sex – particularly in relation to violent and sexual offences.
- Implement the recommendations of the Corston and Angiolini reports and reduce the imprisonment of women.
- Effective resourcing and implementation of community-based sentencing for women offenders. Where women are housed in the prison estate, accommodation must be single-sex to protect their privacy, safety and dignity.
- End the detention of children and pregnant asylum seekers.
- Provide adequate levels of legal aid for criminal cases, restore civil legal aid as well as aid for all immigration and asylum cases.
3. Book for our next public meeting A Woman’s Place is NOT in prison
Other reading and actions
Prison Reform Trust: Too many women sent to prison on short sentences for non-violent offences
Level Up Petition: stop sending pregnant women to prison
We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.
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