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  • Author or Editor: Tammi Walker x
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In England and Wales, women in prison make up a minority of the total custodial population yet acts of self-harm are around five times more common among incarcerated women. Policymakers have introduced suicide prevention programmes in prisons (HM Prison Service, 2001) and, while there has been a multiagency effort to improve how acts of self-harm are documented across prisons, the accounts of why women in prison self-harm is yet to be fully addressed. This chapter will explore the motivations associated with self-harm for imprisoned women and what we can learn from their experiences. Drawing on the voices of women, the chapter will provide insight into the intra-personal and/or inter-personal motivations for self-harming in prison. The chapter will finish with a reflection of what has stayed the same and what has changed since Carlen et al’s (1985) original book in relation to self-harm.

Self-harm is a challenge for the criminal justice system (CJS) due to its associations with physical injury, psychology co-morbidity and increased lifetime suicide risk (Hawton et al, 2013). The conceptualisation and definition of what has been characterised as ‘self-harm’ remains problematic. A number of different terms and definitions are used in research, policy and practice spheres. Terms such as ‘attempted suicide’, ‘self-injury’, ‘deliberate self-injury’, ‘self-mutilation’, ‘suicidal gesture’, ‘abortive suicide’, ‘self-inflicted violence’ and ‘para-suicide’ are used interchangeably. Walker and Towl (2016) note how issues of confusion continue to remain by the use of multiple definitions.

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This chapter critically considers the ways in which the changing values of feminism have impacted upon its contribution to criminology. Becker’s question about the taking of sides in research is explored through feminist concerns about the value bases which underpin research and research as a practice of power. The historical impact of values within feminist criminology is tracked to examine five value-related tensions currently facing the discipline; the aims of feminist criminology, competition in the underlying values of feminism and criminology, whether a ‘feminist criminology’ is achievable, the potential preference for ’gender-aware criminologies’ or gender neutral theories of crime and the extent to which feminist criminology should include male lawbreaking. These tensions are discussed in relation to current debates concerning intersectionality, which approach, the authors argue, holds strong potential as a theoretical resource for the future development of a feminist criminology.

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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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