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No one should underestimate the impact of Criminal Women, published in 1985, not least because it emerged at a time when, although there was some awakening of interest in the misfortunates of women in conflict with the law and enmeshed in the criminal justice system (CJS), there was by no means proper recognition of the need for gender-sensitive or gender-responsive policies and practices. The book was powerful; the women’s stories of their experiences of pathways into crime and experiences of the CJS and allied agencies harrowing.

In some ways, the intervening years between then and now have led to two steps forwards and three steps backwards in penal policy and practices. We have witnessed the development of community centres or services for women following the Together Women initiative taken by the Labour Government in the early 2000s, building on best practice developed by small-scale projects such as the 218 Centre in Scotland and the Asha Centre in England and Wales, and leading to the creation of over 40 such community centres for women at risk and women caught up in the CJS. Often, these have served as places of hope and of refuge for women, where there has been genuine care, constructive dialogue and steps forwards and away from crime and the CJS. At the same time, we have seen such centres falter and collapse through a lack of funding. In 2018, we saw a Conservative Government Female Offender Strategy which appears to recognise the need for early interventions.

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