LIVE BLOG: Justice matters for womenPosted: May 20, 2015
We are at the Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre today live blogging from “Justice matters for women: time for action” conference.
The event is hosted by Women in Prison and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. It is not an ordinary conference but rather an event designed to inspire public and engage people into discussion on women and justice system matters.
Prison is not the place for women, conference organisers say. How to stop women offending? What are the alternative to jail? Why are punishments often unnecessary? These are some of the question that will be discussed today.
We are going to start at about 10 am. Stay tuned in and join the discussion on Twitter.
Thank you very much for joining our live blog today. Hope you found it useful.
Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @prisonwatchuk.
The division between criminal justice and domestic violence is huge in this country – we need to bridge it, says Charlotte Weinberg, the chair of the discussion, closing the conference.
“Although that doesn’t apply solely to women, when you think of it in the context of women, that’s pretty powerful.”
The audience is giving a feedback now
Here are some ideas from the public:
- Synchronising social media campaign: all of the organisations send out the same tweet on the same day at the same time
- Helping people make the link between social justice and criminal justice
- Transforming rehabilitation is a ticking time bomb. It is the wholesale commercialisation of the criminal justice system
The audience is now discussing how to engage more people into activism for social justice alternatives for women.
And here are the key strategies from Sarah to bear in mind:
- Make sure resource allocation matches priorities
- Make sure work doesn’t get co-opted into other work
- Make sure we are attentive to language we use
- Make sure we careful of gendered exceptionalism
- Make it not just about work but about fun and community too
Sarah says there are four major challenges:
- How do we confront structural problems with grassroots resources?
- How do we balance immediate needs with long-term goals?
- How do we avoid ‘carceral creep’?
- How do we not reproduce oppression or hierarchies?
Final speaker Dr Sarah Lamble, Birkbeck University, talks grassroot strategies for preventing and responding to violence without police or criminal justice system.
“For me the criminal justice system is a form of violence against women. Whether it’s the violence of dispossession and abandonment, whether it’s them leaving prison and having that label follow them around.”
Deb mentions Corston report on women in prison
She says the report was a pivotal moment.
“Inquest particularly welcomed its recommendation of dismantling the women’s estate and replacing it with smaller community centres.”
But she adds that the political context feels very bleak, with austerity that is affecting women particularly.
She ends her speech, saying that deaths in custody are a global human rights issue.
Deb says that women’s crimes are often not violent and have more to do with the need for sanctuary and safety.
Deb adds that there’s the criminalisation of women with mental health problems, sentenced to prison “with the misguided opinion that it’s for their own good or will somehow get help for them.”
Deb recounts case of 34 year old women in prison for first offence, non violent, had two children, long history of mental health problems and self-harm.
“Why was she sent somewhere known to be dangerous?”
We have two more speakers to hear
Deb Coles of Inquest is speaking on the issue of prison abolition and social justice.
“In reflecting on deaths of women in prison I also want to talk about other women incarcerated elsewhere, including in detention centres. But a forgotten group to women are those who die in mental health institutions.”
She adds that last year saw the highest number of deaths since 2007 – there were three self inflicted and eight so-called ‘non self inflicted’ deaths, many of which were unclassified.
And these tweets are from Katerina who covered an activism workshop by Craftivism and Protest and demonstration workshop by Women for Refugee Women
The workshops are over and here’s the major highlights from our Twitter coverage of them
These are from Victoria on Growing a grassroots movement workshop by Sisters Uncut and Consensus decision-making workshop by Rhizome.
And now something new
We will be taking part in workshops and will be making updates on Twitter.
Follow Victoria on @
and Katerina on @
And here are some ideas from the audience:
- Create a structural space for voice
- Use social media better
- Educate criminal justice system about women by women
- Create sports networks for women
- Speak to women themselves so that they know what they need
- Provide basic fundamental support, such as affordable housing
- Provide support for vulnerable women, safe places to return to, either by herself or with her children
Sara asks the audience “to remind yourselves why you’re here, how you became involved in this and what brought you here today.”
Women who gathered here today are now discussing how to respond to women better without resort to criminal justice.
The audience is also asked to brainstorm three ideas on polices and practices that should be introduced. We can’t wait to know what ideas the public will come up with. Stay tuned in to find out.
One more speaker from User Voice is Mischa, who spent two years in prison after putting up with domestic violence for 11 and a half years.
“I have four screws in my back because of all of the violence.”
She says how society failed her when she was released.
“When I came out of prison, not a single person talked to me.”
Karen’s story is an example how society and difficult family situation can lead a woman to prison. She grew up in a single parent household.
“And my mum’s second partner… there was sexual violence there, my mother didn’t protect me which made me see my mother as weak. So I started to emulate the men, those qualities that I saw that weren’t actually qualities.”
Now Karen Shaw is speaking. She also have personal experience of criminal justice.
“When I started to involve with User Voice that’s when things started to change. I stopped viewing myself as a failure, as a drug-user, as a criminal.”
Paula who is an ex-prisoner says that before she went to prison there were five services involved in helping her, including doctors and probation.
“And yet I still ended up in prison in 2004. I was told it was my fault and I internalised that. Do any of those services take responsibility for failing me?In prison the message you’re given is: It’s your fault. You need to change, you need to fix up.”
We’re back after a short break
Sara Hyde, member of the executive committee of the Fabian Women’s Network, is joined by Paula, Mischa and Karen from User Voice, a charity led by ex-offenders working to reduce re-offending.
Paula Harriet says that by building the capacity of women to “take control of their lives, of the institutions, of their services” will help take control of criminal justice services.
Women who have been affected by criminal justice system say: “We can never get away from it. However much we want to get away from it, we never can escape the physical and emotional trauma of being in prison”
“Activism is timeless,” Betty, who did her law degree at 43, says wrapping up her speech. The audience is applauding and the organisers say that Betty gave a real start to the conference.
Betty asks the audience how we can empower women in prison, so that they can say: “Yes, we committed crimes but we still have the stories and lives.”
By the way, you can listen to Betty’s powerful words live.
Betty is from a small village in Africa. She says the situation in her family made her a rebel.
“I fought my father,” she says.
Betty tells a horrifying story of her family: her mother married her father at the age of 16 and was constantly beaten by him.
“I can still hear the sound of those beatings.”
Rebecca introduces Betty Makoni, CEO at Girl Child Network World Wide as one of the most honoured and recognised women in the world.
Rachel adds that criminal justice is “too costly, too intrusive and too harmful.”
“We want to develop the kind of practices that will help shrink criminal justice across the board.”
Rebecca Roberts, senior policy associate at the CCJS and the lead on the Justice Matters for Women Project at the Centre, takes the word.
Rebecca starts with a bit of background on Justice Matters programme. The idea is to promote radical alternatives to criminal justice, she says. The CCJS believes the UK is over-reliant on policing and punishment.
Rachel adds that she is horrified by the women who time and time again offend so that they can go to prison.
“When a women enters prison we should be thinking “how has society failed her?” Rachel says. “We need to eradicate control and punishment in women’s lives.”
Rachel says that we need to stop “figuring out what is wrong with women and think why and what is wrong with society.”
“We need to address the root causes of inequality.”
Some shocking facts:
- 80% women that Women in prison work with have experienced domestic violence
- 17% have mental health issues
Rachel Halford goes on:
“Today is about a call for action and about social justice.”
- In 1995 there were 2,200 women in prison
- In 2006 2006 there were 4,500 women in prison
- Today the number is 3,880
“There is a drop but it’s not enough.”
And we’re starting
Rachel Halford, director at Women in Prison, opens today’s conference by welcoming everyone with her speech on criminal justice and social justice.
“Today we are giving power to women: not just those affected by criminal justice system, but by social injustice too,” she said.
Some 80 people are in the audience today and the organisers promised that they will be actively engaged in the discussion today.
We just arrived at the Amnesty Office. The room is filling up and we’re expecting to hear a lot of interesting talks today.
Here are some of the speakers:
Rachel Halford, Director, Women in Prison
Rebecca Roberts, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
Betty Makoni, Chief Executive Officer, Girl Child Network World Wide
Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective
Gemma Lousley, Women for Refugee Women
Dr Sarah Lamble, Birkbeck University
Deb Coles, Co-director, Inquest