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  • Author or Editor: Lucy Baldwin x
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This chapter extends a presentation given by the author during the 2019 Women, Family, Crime and Justice seminar series. This was a reflexive presentation incorporating both personal and professional reflection and experience. Exploring reflexivity and creative research through a personal and professional lens, the chapter alternates between the first person and the third person, where appropriate.

The chapter first sets out what is understood by feminist research, emphasising that it is more than simply research undertaken by researchers who consider themselves feminist, but research informed by broader feminist principles via its topic, design, process, analysis and researcher reflexivity. Critically, feminist research advocates for the presence and voice of participants, and the reflexivity of the researcher to be visible in the final products of research (Maynard and Purvis, 1994; Oakley, 2016).

Thereafter, there is a reflective discussion about my doctoral research (Baldwin, forthcoming) and research process, notably how mothers themselves assisted in shaping the research decisions, research tools and the methodology (for example, where the interviews took place). It then explores the researcher/research relationship and its significance.

The final section presents the author’s recent research project (jointly undertaken with Ben Raikes), which sought to generate knowledge and understanding about parental imprisonment. The project concluded with the production of a published collection of poetry.1 We posit that the collection constitutes a form of research that has produced a significant body of knowledge (see later discussion), and one which reveals much about the impact of parental imprisonment.

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Drawing on original research from the Women, Family, Crime and Justice research network, this edited collection sheds new light on the challenges and experiences of women and families who encounter the criminal justice system in the UK.

Each contribution demonstrates how these groups are often ignored, oppressed and repeatedly victimised. The book addresses crucial issues including short-term imprisonment, trauma-specific interventions, schools supporting children affected by parental imprisonment and visibility and voice in research.

Bringing together contemporary knowledge from both research and practice, this ambitious volume offers valuable insights and practical recommendations for positive action and change.

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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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A significant amount of attention has been paid to the challenges facing women in the criminal justice system (CJS) and, more recently, towards families affected by imprisonment. While research and policy interest in these overlapping areas is evident, it is disheartening to say that much-needed change has been slow to be actualised. It often feels as if we are going round in circles.

The three editors of this collection have aired concerns about the ineffectual ‘promise’ of change following the publication of the Female Offender Strategy by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in England and Wales in 2018 (Booth et al, 2018). While our concerns remain as strong today as they did at the time of writing that piece, it is clear to us that many of the problems lie with the social injustices that comprise our neoliberal1 and patriarchal2 society. Repeatedly, issues pertaining to housing, education, poverty, mental health, addiction and abuse are identified as factors constituting the inadequate social circumstances that women and families in contact with the CJS have had to negotiate, often throughout their lives. Therefore, in spite of the ever-growing body of evidence within these areas, sadly significant social injustices persist.

Fortunately, continually challenging these injustices is the vital work of researchers, academics, activists and practitioners. Their strong commitment for change intends to illuminate, respond and reduce, and ideally remove, damaging issues for women and families affected by the CJS. Acknowledging this, the Women, Family, Crime and Justice (WFCJ) research network was launched by the editors in April 2018 to provide a collaborative space to bring together like-minded people from research, practice and academia, to critically discuss, disseminate and address some of these injustices.

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Women and families have diverse experiences of criminal and social justice. We are proud that the Women, Family, Crime and Justice (WFCJ) research network has provided a platform to share knowledge and experiences towards tackling some of the enduring challenges associated with this. The collection of works presented powerfully symbolises the original aims of the network, when launched in 2018 to bring together practitioners, those with lived experience, external agencies, service users, academics and researchers, in a safe, supportive, non-judgemental, egalitarian forum. We sought to facilitate the coming together of similarly focused individuals, all connected in one way or another by a shared passion for criminal and social injustice. We hope that the discussions presented in this text provide a valuable point of reference to inspire action for all these communities.

Since our launch, we have hosted a veritable plethora of amazing speakers in our quarterly seminar series sessions. All of the speakers have shared their work and experiences to audiences eager to hear and to learn. The conversations, debates and discussions in the seminars, much like the chapters in this collection, have been stimulating, fascinating, sometimes challenging and/or painful, but always informative. This critical collection seeks to broaden the reach of the network by sharing some of the presentations in written form with a wider audience.

The introduction reiterated the WFCJ research network’s commitment to facilitating and influencing positive change via sharing of knowledge, critically exploring and informing research and policy, informing and collaborating with practitioners, and dissemination and publication. This collection contributes to meeting those commitments.

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Gender Matters

Accounts of female offenders’ journeys into the criminal justice system are often silenced or marginalized.

Featuring a Foreword from Pat Carlen and inspired by her seminal book ‘Criminal Women’, this collection uses participatory, inclusive and narrative methodologies to highlight the lived experiences of women involved with the criminal justice system. It presents studies focused on drug use and supply, sex work, sexual exploitation and experiences of imprisonment.

Bringing together cutting-edge feminist research, this book exposes the intersecting oppressions and social control often central to women’s experiences of the justice system and offers invaluable insights for developing penal policies that account for the needs of women.

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The origins of this book lie in collaborative discussions with a group of feminist criminologists, sociologists and psychologists: the Criminal Women Voice, Justice and Recognition Network (CWVJR) who came together to develop research and scholarship which aims to centre women’s voices and lived experiences. This book draws on each co-author’s body of research in their field of expertise and on a range of research projects, practice and activities. As such the aim of this book is to bring together a body of feminist research on ‘criminal women’ that critically examines women’s reasons for engaging in ‘criminal’ activity and the challenges they face in ‘attempting to become women of their own making’ (Carlen et al, 1985: 1).

The authors were inspired by Pat Carlen’s 1985 landmark book made up of four biographical accounts written with four women – Chris Tchaikovsky, Diana Christina, Jenny Hicks and Josie O’Dwyer. ‘Criminal Women tells the stories of four women who, in attempting to become women of their own making, became deeply involved in crime’ (Carlen et al, 1985: 1). Using the narrative/biographical accounts by the four women, Carlen challenged both the ‘othering’ of women who commit crimes and explanations that suggest women should adapt themselves better to social norms. Following the work of Heidensohn (1968) and Smart (1978), Carlen analysed women’s experiences, paying attention to ‘the complex and concealed forms of oppression and social control to which women are subject’ (Smart, 1978, cited in Carlen et al, 1985: 6) and explores the possible options and responses for women in the context of a ‘class riven and deeply sexist society’ (Smart, 1978, cited in Carlen et al, 1985: 6).

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