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This chapter focuses on the stories of sixteen women who at the time of their interview were actively engaged in drug recovery in two UK women’s prisons. It will explore their journeys into drug use and crime, their experience of addiction and its associated problems and losses. The women’s priorities for their recovery and their plans for the future will also be discussed. The chapter begins with an overview of research on women involved in drugs and crime before moving on to focus on the women’s own narrative accounts.

The reasons women start using drugs are complex and often centre on coping with the physical and emotional pain caused by abuse or other childhood and adult trauma (Bartlett, 2007; NTA, 2010). Numerous studies report high rates of experiences of abuse among women involved in drugs and crime and directly link these experiences with subsequent substance use and criminal activity (Green et al, 2005; Golder et al, 2014; Kelly et al, 2014). For example, Golder et al (2014) found in their sample of 406 women on probation or parole: 70 per cent reported experiences of physical or sexual childhood abuse; 90 per cent adult interpersonal violence; and 72 per cent non-interpersonal adult violence.

Messina et al (2007) found higher rates of childhood adverse events (CAE) among women in their comparative sample of male and female prisoners – specifically in terms of emotional and physical neglect (40 per cent vs 20 per cent); physical abuse (29 per cent vs 20 per cent); and sexual abuse (39 per cent vs 9 per cent) (see also Grella et al, 2013).

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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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