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CJC Research Seminar - Punishing Women: The 'Crisis' in the Women's Penal System and the Case for Abolition

Location: Room S2.09 Law School

Gillian McNaull - Despite recommendations imprisonment should be limited to those few women who pose a demonstrable risk to the public (Corston 2007), women 'on the margins' (class; 'race'; poverty; mental ill-health; vulnerability) continue to experience custodial remand regardless of the severity of their crime. Derived in primary empirical research with women remand prisoners in Northern Ireland, this paper explores the 'liminal space' (Baldry 2010) occupied by women remanded to custody, before prison and during their incarceration. It outlines the processes of criminalisation which vulnerable women endure as their ‘criminality’ is co-produced with criminal justice agents. The paper considers that reformists such as Corston retain the discourse that women are ‘offenders’ rather than ‘offended upon’ by society, allowing the rationale for their punishment to persist. By binding women discursively to criminal justice conceptualisations, Corston in effect calls for the palatability of punishment exerted by society, while allowing oppressive practice to continue.

Linda Moore- Following a series of tragic deaths in custody, the Corston Report in 2007 recommended a radical, 'women-centred' approach to women's imprisonment in England and Wales. Baroness Corston suggested a 'fundamental re-think' about the treatment of women in conflict with the law, within custody and in the community. The report recommended a strategy of decarceration, whereby only those women who committed the most serious and violent offences would be imprisoned. This paper considers what progress has been made in reducing the use of imprisonment for women both in the UK context and internationally and asks what have been the barriers to decarceration. In doing so, the relationship between Corston's vision and a more radical abolitionist agenda is explored.

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