PhD Blog: The Disproportionate Increase of Female Prisoners within a Penal System Structured on Proportional Punishment

IMAG0937_c3The second submission in our PhD Blog series is  by Sharon Walker.

Sharon is in her fourth year of her PhD at the National University of Ireland Galway. Today she is writing about her PhD subject, which focuses upon the increasing number of females in the Irish criminal justice system.

If you are interested in hearing more from Sharon about her interesting research, you can email her  s.walker3@nuigalway.ie or follow her on  twitter@sharonjanie.

The Disproportionate Increase of Female Prisoners within a Penal System Structured on Proportional Punishment

The Irish criminal justice system is conflicted with the irony of a disproportionate growth within a jurisdiction which bases its sentencing practices on the principle of proportionality.  Whilst the number of female prisoners remains a minority within the entire prison population, the exponential growth of female offenders being committed under sentence is alarming.  Irish Prison Service statistics show that the proportion of female offenders sentenced to committal in 2007 was one to every twelve male offenders, rising to one in four by 2014[1].  Although sentencing in Ireland remains unstructured by formal guidelines, ‘proportional punishment’ is measured by the gravity of the offence committed and the particular circumstances of the offender.

This research began with investigating whether a change in female offence types and offender demographics were responsible for the enhanced punishment.  Improved crime data and recording techniques[2] showed that this was not the case. Committals have grown, despite offending remaining predominantly non-violent and acquisitive[3].  The research focus then shifted to examine the sentencing practices employed by the sentencers.    Was this the result of an attitudinal change, where judges were adopting a harsher stance within their wide discretion?

The difficulty with testing this particular hypothesis stems from the type of crime traditionally committed by the female offender.  Females generally commit lower level crime than their male counterparts and cases are often dealt with summarily.  This means that the majority of cases are heard in the District Court, where ‘conveyor-belt’ style proceedings makes decision analysis difficult.  Recent studies have used random sampling techniques[4] or judicial interviews using vignette studies[5] to gain insight into judicial attitudes. These appear to show that judges have not altered their sentencing practices but rather tend to adhere to their own ‘rule of thumb’.  While slight judicial variation has been detected in different District Court locations, for example between urban and rural locations[6], any wild fluctuation in sentencing practices would attract media attention and appeals would increase.  District Court proceedings might be hurried and noisy, but they are still public and subject to scrutiny.

Committal rates can be disguised behind very short term prison sentences combined with the use of full temporary release.  This has a deceptive effect on daily prison population statistics[7].  Closer inspection reveals a high turnover of both new and recidivist offenders. Where less crisis is felt at the front line by staff and inmates in relation to over-crowding issues, the growing problem requiring attention at policy level may be shelved in favour of ‘louder’ complaints.

Most females who are committed to prison are not sent directly from the District Court dock to the prison.  Instead, the majority of committals are the result of non-payment of a court-ordered fine.  The irony of a custodial sentence resulting from fine default is that the judge will have considered the original offence to be not serious enough to come within the custodial ambit in the first place.

Should the judge decide that the offence does fall within the custodial sphere, the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 2011 are designed to compel the judge to reconsider a sentence of twelve months or less and to check for the suitability of a Community Service Order (CSO).  However, given that the majority of offences committed by Irish women do not even warrant a prison sentence of more than three months, the legislation in fact only serves to protect a minority of female offenders whose crimes are more serious.

Where the crime is considered serious enough, the judge will usually assess the suitability of the offender for a CSO or refer the matter to the Probation Service for evaluation.  If the assessment is positive, the offender must then consent to the alternative.  The corresponding jail sentence in lieu of community service has been shown to have forceful ‘punitive bite’ in an attempt to minimise risk.  This could lead to up-tariffing, placing the offender higher on the penal scale should she consent and subsequently breach[8].  Studies have shown that the typical female offender is more likely to suffer with addiction, poverty or abusive backgrounds than her male counterpart [9].  Where the matter is handed over to the Probation Service for assessment, the female offender might be considered ‘unsuitable’ for community service, especially if her profile is plagued with such vulnerabilities.  The female offender might even acquiesce in this opinion.  Where she is living a chaotic lifestyle, a short term prison sentence might appear to offer respite.

Whilst the female offender rarely commits the type of serious offence that requires incarceration for public safety, more are finding themselves with prison records than ever before.  The rate of recidivism has been shown to be higher after custodial punishment and further offending will have harsher consequences.  Increased focus on prevention should target unnecessary prosecutions and more proactive diversions from custody.  The cyclical nature of women’s offending and its multi-generational impact is obvious.  The growth of female offenders within the penal system is obscured.

Bibliography

Corston BJ, The Corston Report: A Report of a Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System (Home Office 2007)

O’Nolan C, The Irish District Court: A Social Portrait (Cork University Press 2013)

Maguire N, ‘Consistency in Sentencing’ 2 Judicial Studies Institute Journal 14-54

O’Hara K and Rogan M, ‘Examining the Use of Community Service Orders as Alternatives to Short Prison Sentences in Ireland’ 12 Irish Probation Journal 22- 45

Annual Report Irish Prison Service (2007)

Annual Report Irish Prison Service (2014)

2016 JPS-IPSS-, An Effective Response to Women Who Offend (2014)

 [1] Annual Report Irish Prison Service (2007) & Annual Report Irish Prison Service (2014): All committals, including fine defaults.  The percentage of female committals for fine defaults more than doubled from 12% to 26% of the total from 2007 to 2014.

[2] The introduction of the Irish Crime Classification System by the Central Statistics Office in 2008 improved the recording of crime statistics and facilitates comparative research within the criminal justice system.

[3] Joint Probation Service – Irish Prison Service Strategy 2014 – 2016, An Effective Response to Women Who Offend (2014)

[4] Caroline O’Nolan, The Irish District Court: A Social Portrait (Cork University Press 2013)

[5] Niamh Maguire, Consistency in Sentencing’ 2 Judicial Studies Institute Journal 14-54

[6] Kate O’Hara and Mary Rogan, Examining the Use of Community Service Orders as Alternatives to Short Prison Sentences in Ireland’ 12 Irish Probation Journal 22- 45 at p25

[7] The number of committals to prison for both male and females as a consequence of the non-payment of a court-ordered fine has been increasing (8,121 in 2013 – 8,979 in 2014 – 9,892 in 2015), but the Strategic Review of Penal Policy report noted that the number of persons in prison on any given day for the non-payment of fine is low: ‘on 30 November 2013, of the 4,099 persons in custody, only 8 were committed for the non-payment of a fine’.  Final Report July 2014

[8] O’Hara and Rogan, Examining the Use of Community Service Orders as Alternatives to Short Prison Sentences in Ireland at p41

[9] Baroness Jean Corston, The Corston Report: A Report of a Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System (Home Office 2007)

PhD Blog: ‘Transitions from Juvenile to Adult Penal Custody’

To showcase the array of academic talent within our postgraduate community, the BSC postgraduate blog will regularly post contributions from criminology postgraduate students. This week our blog is an initial literature review by Jayne Price.

Jayne Price

Jayne is a first year PhD student at the University of Liverpool. She is completing a CASE studentship funded by the ESRC. This is collaborative project with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. Jayne’s PhD uses primarily qualitative methodology to examine the experiences of children and young people who are held within secure institutions; young offenders institutions, secure training centres, and secure children’s’ homes. Her research focuses upon their transition period to the adult penal system which typically takes place upon their eighteenth birthday.

Email: jayne.price@liverpool.ac.uk                 Twitter: @Jaynelprice

Transitions from Juvenile to Adult Penal Custody

The United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989 [UNCRC] outlines international standards of children’s human rights (Heath, et al, 2009). Signed and ratified by the UK Government, numerous articles within it provide guidelines on dealing with children in conflict with the law (United Nations, 1989). The vulnerabilities of incarcerated young people are well documented in academic research (Goldson, 2002, Beal, 2014) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (1997: 5) stated that the Young Prisoner estate gave them; “greatest cause for concern”. Within England and Wales, young people aged 18-25 represent one-third of the prison system, yet only 10% of the national population (Livingstone, Amad and Clarke, 2015).

Guidance issued by National Offender Management Service (2012) advised that young people can transition from the juvenile secure estate to the adult penal system upon turning eighteen. An establishment may also request discretion from the Youth Justice Board to retain responsibility for the individual for the reminder of their order (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, 2016). Offender managers within the adult probation service reported receiving approximately two transition cases annually (Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates, 2012) although the exact number is not published and it is therefore difficult to identify the number and experience of those affected.

Although children are considered such until the age of eighteen, maturity is more difficult to define due to; “a range of complicated variables, including biological changes, social transitions and life experiences” (Maruna, Coyle and Marsh, 2015: 158-159). Life-stage experiences that guide the passage from ‘childhood’ to ‘adulthood’ such as education to employment (Roberts, 2009: 13) are extended and stretched in contemporary society. Upon speaking to the House of Commons Justice Committee (2016a: 32), within their investigation into young adult offenders, Lin Hinnigan, the Chief Executive of the Youth Justice Board, stated an “extended adolescence” is taking place. Such transitions are more difficult to negotiate whilst incarcerated.

The Transition to Adulthood alliance acknowledged that numerous support services fall away at this time of increased vulnerability; “a poor youth to adulthood transition can exacerbate existing problems and increase the risk of involvement in crime.” (Cited in Youth Justice Board, 2012: 3). Harvey (2005:232) examined the experiences of young adults aged 18-21 entering and transitioning an establishment. Prisoners experienced; “uncertainty, losing control and freedom, separation and loss, and a preoccupation with safety”, which led to increased psychological distress. Young people sampled within a joint inspection report of transitions reported feeling under-prepared for the change in service expectation in them (Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates, 2012).

Young people who have previously been in care (‘looked after’) are over-represented in the secure estate. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (2011) and the Transition to Adulthood alliance reported previously looked-after young people are particularly vulnerable during transition as they tend to have had experience of trauma and poor or limited family support (Livingstone, Amad and Clark, 2015). A report specifically designed for practitioners working with girls and young adult women by Beyond Youth Custody (Bateman and Hazel, 2014) stated that due to the small population their age specific needs were often neglected.

The House of Commons Justice Committee (2013: 63), called for earlier planning and better information sharing; “reforms […] will never reap their full potential benefits unless the transition from youth to adult provision is managed more intelligently.” The decommissioning of Ashfield young offenders institute [YOI] in 2013 gave good insight into concerns that occur during transition. Inadequate planning left young people agitated and unsure and transitional plans were not focused on the best placement for the individual. Information sharing was also lacking between the Youth Justice Board and the establishment (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, 2013).

The importance of adequate planning and supporting an individual through transition was highlighted within the National Offender Management Service (2012) protocol, however only 52% of children and young people in secure training centres reported having a care plan. Within YOIs’ 41% of young people reported having a training, sentence or remand plan, the lowest figure in five years, (Redmond, 2015). Within the adult services, only one-third of plans were considered adequate; which could leave interventions incomplete (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, 2016: 160).

The limited data on transitional experiences reflects wide variation across establishments of staff training, planning and information sharing. This demonstrates a failure to adhere to the principles of the UNCRC and the need for service provision to go beyond the age of eighteen to support the individuals’ through the transition. The vulnerability of young people who experience incarceration leaves them vulnerable to wider negative outcomes (Beal, 2014) and it is clear that a poor transitional experience stands only to exacerbate this. Whilst the number of individuals scheduled for transition may be small, they are also a very vulnerable group. Arguably the current approach demonstrates that due to the small numbers of young people affected their needs are being overlooked resulting in a lack of preparation for this significant moment in their experience of secure custody.

Bibliography

Bateman, T. and Hazel, N. (2014) Resettlement of girls and young women: research report. [Online] Beyond Youth Custody. Available from: http://www.beyondyouthcustody.net/wp-content/uploads/421_research-report_04_8_w-front_cover.pdf (Accessed: 18th April, 2016).

Beal, C. (2014) ‘Insider accounts of the move to the outside: two young people talk about their transitions from secure institutions’, Youth Justice, 14 (1), pp. 63-76. [Online] DOI: 10.1177/147325413520362. (Accessed: 26th April, 2016).

Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorates. (2012) Transitions, an inspection of the transition arrangements from youth to adult services in the criminal justice system: A Joint Inspection by HMI Probation, HMI Prisons, Care Quality Commission, Ofsted, Healthcare Inspectorate Wales and Estyn. October, 2012. [Online] Manchester: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation. Available from: http://www.cqc.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/cjji-transitions-thematic.pdf (Accessed: 21st December, 2015).

Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2007) General Comment No. 10: Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice. CRC/C/GC/10 25 April. [Online] Geneva: United Nations. Available from: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/CRC.C.GC.10.pdf (Accessed: 15th April, 2016)

Goldson, B. (2002) Vulnerable inside: children in secure and penal settings, London: The Children’s Society.

Harvey, J. (2005) ‘Crossing the boundary: the transition of young adults into prison’, in Liebling, A. And Maruna, S. ed. The effects of imprisonment, Devon: Willan.

Heath, S., Brooks, R., Cleaver, E. And Ireland, E. (2009) Researching young people’s lives, London: Sage.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. (1997) Young Prisoners: A thematic review. October, 1997. [Online] London: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. Available from: https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/08/young-prisoners-rps.pdf (Accessed: 15th January, 2016).

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. (2011) The care of looked after children in custody: a short thematic review, May, 2011 [Online]. London: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. Available from: https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/08/Looked-after-children-print.pdf (Accessed: 8th April, 2016).

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. (2013) Report on an unannounced inspection of the decommissioning of HMYOI Ashfield 11 – 14 February 2013 [Online]. London: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons. Available from: http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/prisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/03/ashfield-inspection-report-feb-2013.pdf (Accessed: 19th April, 2016).

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation. (2016) Transitions arrangements: a follow-up inspection January, 2016 [Online] Manchester: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation. Available from https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2016/01/Transitions-arrangements-follow-up-report.pdf  (Accessed: 20th January, 2016).

House of Commons Justice Committee. (2013) Youth Justice: Seventh Report of Session 2012-13. [HC 339] February, 2013 [Online]. London: The Stationary Office. Available from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/339/339.pdf (Accessed: 19th February, 2016).

House of Commons Justice Committee. (2016) Oral Evidence: Young Adult Offenders, [HC 397] January 2016 [Online]. London: House Of Commons. Available from: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/justice-committee/young-adult-offenders/oral/27782.html (Accessed: 20th January, 2016).

Livingstone, I, Amad, S. And Clark, L. (2015) Effective approaches to working with young adults: a guide for probation services [Online]. London: Transition to Adulthood. Available from: http://www.t2a.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Probation-guide_Web-Ver4.pdf (Accessed: 11th January, 2016).

Maruna, S., Coyle, B. And Marsh, B. (2015) ‘Desistance from crime in the transition to adulthood’, in Goldson, B. and Muncie, J. ed. Youth crime and justice. 2nd edn. London: Sage.

National Offender Management Service. (2012) The transition process: guidance on transfers from under 18 young offender institutions to young adult Young Offender Institutions London: Ministry of Justice.

Redmond, A. (2015) Children in custody 2014-2015: an analysis of 12-18 year olds’ perceptions of their experiences in secure training centers and young offender institutions [Online]. London: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Youth Justice Board. Available from: https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/12/HMIP_CP_-Children-in-custody-2014-15-FINAL-web-AW.pdf. (Accessed: 18th January, 2016).

Roberts, K. (2009), Youth in transition: Eastern Europe and the West, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

United Nations. (1989) The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [Online]. New York: United Nations. Available from: http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx. (Accessed: 9th December, 2015).

Williams, H. (2012) Repairing shattered lives: brain injuries and its implications for criminal justice policy [Online]. Transition to Adulthood and University of Exeter. Available from: http://www.barrowcadbury.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Repairing-Shattered-Lives_Report.pdf (Accessed: 17th March, 2016).

Youth Justice Board. (2012b) Youth to Adult Transitions Framework: Advice for managing cases which transfer from Youth Offending Teams to Probation Trusts, Youth Justice Board for England and Wales.