PhD Blog – How can we make sense of the experiences of a growing number of Eastern European women in English prisons?

1448056554235This new contribution to the PhG guest blog is from Magdalena Tomaszewska. Magdalena is a second-year PhD candidate at the University of Surrey. Her PhD explores the treatment and experiences of female Eastern European prisoners in England and Wales (particularly those from the A8 and A2 accession countries to the EU). Working across 3 prisons in England and a third sector organisation providing support for female foreign national prisoners, she examines the lived realities of incarceration for these women, taking into account their socio-cultural backgrounds, relationships with staff and other prisoners, and the effects of the penal policy shifts which have prioritised removal of ‘foreigners’.

This project builds on her Masters research which explored the experiences of female foreign national prisoners in one prison in the South East of England and has been awarded Howard League’s John Sunley prize. Magdalena’s broad research interests lie in the area exploring linkages between identity, imprisonment and immigration control, especially in the context of women’s imprisonment. Alongside her doctoral studies, she is working with the University College London and a user-led charity User Voice co-coordinating a large-scale trial testing the merits of mentalisation based treatment (MBT) for offenders diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

Contact: m.tomaszewska@surrey.ac.uk


How can we make sense of the experiences of a growing number of Eastern European women in English prisons?

Anna, originally from the Czech Republic, came to the UK at the age of 10 and has lived here ever since. After committing a drug-related offence, she was sentenced to just over 3 years imprisonment. In addition to her custodial term she was also informed that she was going to be deported from the UK on the completion of her sentence, since, as it was explained to her, as a ‘foreign criminal’ she had ‘no right to remain in the UK’. She was released from HMP Peterborough earlier this year having successfully appealed her case.

Anna is one of a growing number of Eastern European women currently held in prisons throughout England and Wales. Since 2004, when 11 countries of the former Eastern Bloc[1] joined the European Union, the number of female prisoners originating from these countries has risen dramatically (even though the overall proportion of foreign nationals in the female estate has remained at a 11%) (MoJ, 2016). Today, within a population which counts nearly 80 countries, every third inmate comes from Eastern Europe, with Poland and Romania as the top two. Overall however, these women have remained invisible, apart from a handful of third sector accounts which emphasize their vulnerability to exploitation through trafficking (e.g. Prison Reform Trust, 2012), or press reports which lump them together with men, portraying them under the label of ‘dangerous Eastern European criminals’[2], and with it fuelling the demands for more streamlined deportations.[3]

Both of these perspectives are problematic. For one, given the difficulty in identifying victims of trafficking via the National Referral Mechanism it is tricky to assess how big a problem trafficking is amongst the incarcerated East European women (Gelsthorpe and Hales, 2012). It would be difficult to deduce that from the nature of offences which predominantly land them in prison, which PRT (2012) reports as theft and handling or drugs offences. At the same time, violent offences among this population are lower than for their British counterparts. Majority serve their first and only prison sentences, with a ‘very low’ risk of reoffending. In this sense, there is also little to support the argument that these women are especially dangerous.

These discussions however divert attention away from the changes that have already taken root in the female prison system. When Anna arrived at HMP Bronzefield in 2013, it had been 5 years since the UK Borders Act 2007 came into power, requiring all EEA nationals sentenced to more than 2 years imprisonment to be – in line with section 32 (5) of the Act – mandatorily deported from the UK[4]. This, as Kaufman (2012) has shown, was further accompanied by broader logistical arrangements between the Prison Service and the Home Office under the ‘hubs and spokes’ agreement, whereby non-citizens (especially those under deportation orders) are to be concentrated in specific foreign national ‘hub’ prisons which are furnished with full time immigration staff who are to facilitate a more efficient deportation process.

In 2013, on the recommendation of the NOMS Women’s Custodial Estate Review (2013), this system was adopted in the female estate. As the report advised, a female foreign national hub was to be created at HMP Peterborough, ‘taking into account best practice from the male hub and spoke system’ (p.6). Much like in the male estate then, the female prison system took it upon itself to systematically identify and segregate women who ‘do not belong in the UK’.

In my research I explore the experiences of currently the largest regional group within the female foreign prison population – Eastern European women – who ‘do time’ under these conditions. Taking inspiration from the scholarship which looks to questions about identity at the intersection of gender, race, and class to cast light on the prison as a space ‘permeated’ by broader social inequalities (e.g. Phillips and Earle, 2011; Bosworth and Kaufman, 2012), I am interviewing currently and formerly incarcerated Eastern European women as well as a range of practitioners working with them (prison officers, legal case workers), documenting accounts like that of Anna, who shortly before being transferred to HMP Peterborough was told by one prisoner that this was a place where “all you Russian prostitutes go to”, and where she could, according to one prison officer, “find the support of those with the same “culture”. Politics of identity, as Kaufman (2012, p. 18) observes, ‘are central to the practice of punishment’.

Stories such as Anna’s can offer new insights into this work, especially when it comes to documenting the relationship between imprisonment and nationality. Authors such as Emma Kaufman and Mary Bosworth have led this effort, developing illuminating accounts on how the practice of deportation and treatment of many non-citizens caught up in it (especially those originating from former British colonies) implicates the British prison in the exercise of ‘collective [postcolonial] amnesia’. The positioning of East European prisoners like Anna clearly doesn’t fit this frame. Instead, it seems to speak to anxieties about more recent, ‘suspect white’ migrants from poorer parts of Europe, who, although conform to racialized understandings of what it means to be European, are subject to gendered, classed and racialized framing as ‘other’, based on language and cultural difference (Bhui, 2016).

Thinking more broadly about the emerging themes, many important changes are currently taking place in the arena of British immigration policy. As the fieldwork for this project gathers pace, the British government is set to start the process of taking the UK out of the European Union. Although it seems that for now, the topic of foreign national prisoners as well as the specifics of immigration policy where it crosses paths with the prison system remain lower down the list of negotiation priorities for Theresa May, it is yet to be seen what effect Brexit will have on the carceral lives of the growing ranks of female prisoners from Eastern Europe (as well as those from wider EU) held in British penitentiary institutions. For Anna, one thing was clear: “Learn to live with uncertainty”.

References

Bhui, H. (2016), ‘Place of Race in understanding immigration control and the detention of foreign nationals’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 16 (3), pp. 267 – 285.

Bosworth, M. and Kaufman, E. (2012), ‘Gender and Punishment’, in Simon, J. and Sparks, R. (eds.) Handbook of Punishment and Society, London: Sage.

Gelsthorpe, L. and Hales, L. (2012), ‘Criminalisation of Migrant Women’, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, UK, available at: http://www.crim.cam.ac.uk/people/academic_research/loraine_gelsthorpe/criminalreport29july12.pdf.

Kaufman, E. (2012), ‘Finding Foreigners: Race and the Politics of Memory in British Prisons’, Population, Space and Place, 18 (6), pp. 701 – 714.

Ministry of Justice (2016), Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2016, London Ministry of Justice.

National Offender Management Service (2013), Women’s Custodial Estate Review, available at: http://socialwelfare.bl.uk/subject-areas/services-client-groups/adult-offenders/nationaloffendermanagementservice/155762womens-custodial-estate-review.pdf.

Phillips, C. and Earle, R. (2011), ‘Cultural diversity, ethnicity and race relations in prison’ in Crewe, B. and Bennett, J. (eds.) The Prisoner, London: Routledge.

Prison Reform Trust (2012), ‘No way out: A briefing paper on foreign national women in prison in England and Wales’, (online), available at: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/portals/0/documents/nowayout.pdf.

Footnotes

[1] The 2004 A8 accession countries include: Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia. The 2007 A2 accession countries include: Bulgaria and Romania. In 2013 Croatia also joined the EU.

[2] See for example: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2614279/Poland-tops-league-foreign-inmates-UK-jails-ahead-Ireland-Jamaica.html.

[3] See for example: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3622924/EU-killers-rapists-ve-failed-deport-UK-s-inability-expel-thousands-foreign-criminals-undermines-case-EU-say-MPs.html, https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2291020/more-than-130-polish-criminals-jailed-in-the-uk-should-have-been-deported-in-past-four-years-bungling-officials-admit/, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-referendum-more-than-13000-foreign-criminals-awaiting-deportation-from-uk-a7063026.html.

[4] This rule also applies to all non-EEA nationals sentenced to more than 1 year in prison.

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PhD Blog – The police and domestic abuse crime: positive steps but much more to be done

larissaThis weeks PhD Blog is from Larissa Povey, final-year PhD Candidate within the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research and Associate Lecturer in Criminal Justice at Sheffield Hallam University. Larissa’s PhD explores the impact of changes in UK criminal justice and welfare policies on the everyday lives of women at the social margins. Using a mixture of qualitative interviews, visual and ethnographic methods her study examines the lived experiences, perceptions and sense-making narratives of women who have been subject to multiple interventions from state agencies spanning both welfare and penal systems. Larissa hopes to make a contribution through using a feminist lens to explore the gendered character of social control and disciplining, texturing theoretical debates which often focus on men.

Larissa’s broad research interests lie in the areas of women and criminal justice, punishment beyond the prison, welfare policy, labour markets and social control.

PhD funding: Sheffield Hallam University Vice-Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship. This PhD is linked to the ESRC-funded “Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change” project (http://www.welfareconditionality.ac.uk/).

Contact: larissa.j.povey@student.shu.ac.uk

The police and domestic abuse crime: positive steps but much more to be done

As a PhD candidate researching women’s experiences of the criminal justice system and welfare reform, I was recently invited to take part in a Domestic Abuse Crime Scrutiny Panel for a national police agency. This got me thinking about the way we deal with this type of crime in England and Wales; alongside small steps in the right direction there are contradictory developments which thwart such advances, particularly broader shifts in social policy under austerity.

Based on efforts by the Crown Prosecution Service to show transparency and engage the local community in examining police work, the earlier scrutiny panels focused on hate crime; the first, piloted in West Yorkshire in 2004 focused specifically on race hate crime. The development of domestic abuse crime scrutiny panels followed and more recently we have seen panels focusing on cases of violence against women and girls.

Efforts such as these indicate that across the criminal justice system agencies are attempting to take domestic abuse (DA) crimes and violence against women and girls more seriously. Indeed, statistics from a recent Crown Prosecution Service report (2016: 1) show that it is “prosecuting and convicting more defendants of domestic abuse, rape, sexual offences and child sexual abuse than ever before”. Importantly, there has been an 11% rise in convictions for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crimes, a trend that has been seen over the past three years. Prosecutions of this nature currently account for almost 20% of the Crown Prosecution Service’ total case load.

While new panels provide encouraging indicators that the police want to improve the way that they handle DA and VAWG crime, things are not entirely rosy. For example, the Home Office does not gather official statistics on the number of women and girls killed through domestic violence, a vast oversight. We do know the number of women killed by men in the UK because of the work of one individual Karen Ingala Smith, CEO of nia (a domestic violence charity) who began Counting Dead Women in 2012, her efforts are now supported by Women’s Aid and has developed into the Femicide Census to record all cases of ‘the murder of women because they are women’ (Women’s Aid, 2016). These efforts show a year on year increase in the number of women dying, averaging two women per week, at the hands of a partner, ex-partner or family member.

On the one hand we have the highest recorded reporting and prosecutions for DA and VAWG crimes. On the other, we have an increasing number of women dying from this type of crime. So what are some of the reasons that might be contributing to this? Since 2010, we have seen swinging cuts to services under austerity. This includes large cuts to women’s refuges resulting in the loss of 17% of specialist refuges and a third of referrals being turned away. Police guidelines outline refuges as a key intervention in the effective protection of victims, so with fewer refuges and places for vulnerable women and children it is a no brainer that this may have a detrimental effect on victims’ ability to get themselves to safety.

Though prosecutions are up, these cases reflect a small proportion of the overall number of incidences reported. And there are new ways of committing these offences as seen in the proliferation of online abuse specifically using social media as a tool for stalking, harassment and control. Policing these new mechanisms of abuse take investment and resources, there is much work to be done and things are likely to get worse as we see continued cuts to police budgets meaning fewer specialist police.

Other reforms such as changes to legal aid have been felt particularly acutely by women, who will have little recourse to free legal aid. According to this report such changes “raise disturbing questions about the state’s failure to protect women, especially those at risk of – and those who have already experienced – domestic violence” (Mayo and Koessl, 2015: 9).

There are deeper, enduring structural inequalities which place women in a position of less power in relation to men, this legacy can be seen in the persistence of devaluing of social reproductive work, the gender pay gap, gendered labour, maternity leave policy to name just a few. It is this power imbalance that creates a breeding ground for domestic abuse which is about power and control. These inequalities will be made worse by ongoing reforms to both in-work and out-of-work benefits. Upcoming reforms are likely to worsen the financial situation of vulnerable women, particularly lone parents. These factors explain some of the reasons behind the statistics and we may see further increases in DA and VAWG crimes and dead women.

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)