Reducing the Enduring Harm of Short Terms of Imprisonment

Masson, Isla (2021). Reducing the Enduring Harm of Short Terms of Imprisonment. In: Masson, Isla; Baldwin, Lucy and Booth, Natalie eds. Critical Reflections on Women, Family, Crime and Justice, Volume 1. Bristol: Bristol University Press, pp. 81–106.



Despite a growing body of literature on prisons, and how these are experienced by those held within their walls, this literature remains predominantly focused on the male estate due to their overwhelming majority status (Ministry of Justice (MoJ), 2020a). Women continue to "remain marginal to the study and practice of imprisonment" (Moore and Scraton, 2014, p.1), despite knowledge that they have very specific and particularly painful experiences in prison. Short periods within prison are particularly common for women. For example, 43 per cent of all first receptions into female prison establishments between 2016 and 2019 were remand prisoners (either unconvicted or unsentenced), and over 81 per cent of first sentenced female prison receptions were serving under 12 months (the majority of which were under six months) (MoJ, 2017, 2018c, 2019c, 2020a).

While these experiences are frequently short, the need for prison is questionable, given that the women are rarely violent offenders and thus typically represent a low risk to public safety (MoJ, 2017, 2018c, 2019c, 2020a). Furthermore, use of short terms of incarceration is problematic for both the government, as a financially costly procedure, and for the women, as it represents a disproportionate punishment due to the enduring harms caused. Neither remand nor short prison sentences provide support to women, often instead causing tangible issues with finances, education, employment and housing, or consequences to health and wellbeing, which include physical health, addictions and psychological harm.

Prison is rarely a fitting punishment for women with non-violent offences and thus low-risk status.

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