Becky Clarke and Kathryn Chadwick of Manchester Metropolitan University call on all women - not just those with an interest in criminal justice - to work together to empower women, resist injustice and transform lives.
There is a growing commitment within a group of critical criminologists at Manchester Metropolitan University, to recognising, exposing, analysing and campaigning around social injustice and inequality. Through both our teaching and research we are seeking to examine and expose the marginalisation and criminalisation of particular groups, reflected in the continued ‘othering’ of women in society generally, and criminal justice specifically. It was this commitment in our work with undergraduate and postgraduate students and the desire to challenge former and current government policy that inspired us to attend the Centre's 'Justice Matters for Women' event in March 2014, and remain actively involved in the ‘call to action’.
Criminal and social justice – deleterious position of women in society
We believe that the persistence in governmental policies which ignore and marginalise the specific needs of women, which have led to a focus on criminalisation rather than addressing welfare and social justice needs, are those which affect ALL women. Activist Bea Campbell talks of the ‘end of equality’, and the consequences of an erosion of the welfare state and ‘the institutions that intervene between men and women, that democratise gender relations and mitigate patriarchy by alleviating women’s poverty and overwork’.
We must therefore continue to be alert to the synergies between welfare and criminal justice policies, and the impact of this on women. Whether it is the criminal justice policy that translates women’s experiences of victimisation into ‘criminogenic needs’, or the ‘troubled families’ policy which translates the ‘pathways to poverty’ into reimagined ‘risks’, we see the same strategy. It is one of pathology, which requires women (and it is mainly women at the head of those families being targeted) to receive this support or face sanctions – of imprisonment or eviction from their home.
Why have attempts to influence criminal justice policy in relation to women in the CJS failed?
We must return to this question in order to understand why there has been a failure to implement most of the recommendations of the Corston Report. Furthermore, why review after review of women in the criminal justice system (CJS), stretching back over decades now, have struggled to bring about change? Since Corston have we seen the ‘argument’ build, to incorporate the economic case for why such strategies would be a ‘wise commission’, and yet the government’s current plans for ‘transforming rehabilitation’ mean the network of women’s centres remain as precarious as ever.
Campaigning and activist aspirations
We hope to see the ‘call to action’ connect and mobilise women. In our view this should engage ALL women. The harms produced by the criminal justice system and experienced by those women repeatedly failed by it, ultimately affect ALL women. Our hope is that diverse groups of women, from different backgrounds and with different agendas, can come together to support this ‘call for action’.
History tells us that change can happen, but if we are to speed up the process of decarceration, and resist the retrenchment of the rights of women, we cannot rely on individual campaigners such as Pauline Campbell, or a government commissioned review such as that led by Baroness Corston. This agenda must be supported, and acted upon, by ALL women.
This comment piece was written in response to a call to action to Empower women, resist injustice and transform lives, issued by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, in collaboration with Women in Prison. To read and support the call to action please click here. You can find out why others are supporting this call here.