5: Criminal Mothers: The Persisting Pains of Maternal Imprisonment

Sadly, despite over 30 years of feminists and criminologists providing evidence of the repeated failure of the criminal justice system (CJS) to respond appropriately to female law breakers, very little has actually changed. The female prison population has continued to rise in tandem with supposedly progressive gender responsive reforms, and stubbornly remains between 3,000–4,000 as of 2021 (Baldwin and Epstein, 2017). Following the publication of the recent Female Offender Strategy (Ministry of Justice, 2018), the female-focused Farmer Report (2019) and the Joint Human Rights Committee report on maternal imprisonment (UK Parliament, 2019), there exists a cautious optimism that positive change is afoot, albeit in a limited capacity. It remains to be seen if these successive publications and their recommendations will enjoy any greater success than Corston (2007). Corston, in her review of ‘vulnerable women in the criminal justice system’, made 43 valid and sensible recommendations, the majority of which were accepted by government. However, over a decade later very little progress has been made in terms of their implementation, with only one recommendation fully actioned (Women in Prison, 2017). Indeed, it could be argued that with the implementation (and failure) of the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda, women law breakers are in a worse position than ever. Despite existing international sentencing guidelines suggesting the contrary, pregnant women and mothers of dependent children continue to be imprisoned for non-violent offences, most often offences that are rooted in poverty or trauma, or both (Penal Reform International, n.d.).

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