MANCHESTER METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY “Womenogenic Empowerment” A dissertation exploring the theory and application of holistic empowerment practice, when working with female offenders in the community Ruby Lloyd-Shogbesan 5/1/2014 A project submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of BA (Hons) Criminology and Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University


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“Womenogenic Empowerment”

A dissertation exploring the theory and application of holistic empowerment practice, when working

with female offenders in the community

Ruby Lloyd-Shogbesan


A project submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of BA (Hons)

Criminology and Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University


Firstly, I would like to thank all the empowered women in my life, who have inspired

me to empower myself so that I can encourage and support others

I would also like to thank the academic and support staff at Manchester Metropolitan

University, who have helped shape my experience of higher education and

encouraged me to seek for a better understanding of the way the world works

I would like to acknowledge the staff and volunteers at pact (Prison Advice and Care

Trust), who have enabled me to volunteer within the Criminal Justice System and

provided opportunities and advice on which I can build my career

Finally, I would like to thank my family and friends for their continued support, proof

reading and cups of tea; encouraging me to draw upon my own strengths by

reminding me daily – “you’ve got this”

‘The powerless individual assumes the role of an object who is acted on by the environment,

rather than that of a subject who acts in and on her world’

(Wilson and Anderson, 1997:349)


The term ‘criminogenic’ has been increasingly favoured by desistance academics in

recent years, an umbrella term indicating certain personal factors and attributes

considered to have a direct impact on offending behaviour. This dissertation

questions what has led to the development of the current profile of the ‘female

offender’, familiarising the reader with her understood ‘womenogenic’ factors – which

we suggest and define to be women-specific attributes of offending behaviour. This

dissertation evaluates the success and potential of the evidence-based, action-led,

holistically natured programmes, which focus on uncovering ‘womenogenic’

strengths and developing networks from within a community setting, while inviting

women offenders to become agents in their own change process. This dissertation

applies sociological and criminological thought to the portrayal of offending women in

the criminal justice system, and considers whether current social attitudes towards

women with convictions are inhibiting opportunities for self-empowerment. It

questions whether a pre-occupation with proving desistance can have implications

on the lives of female offenders, victims and their families, and whether a focus on

improving social justice through holistic intervention and empowerment, might pre-

empt the damaging cycle of crime and improve wellbeing for the offender and her





Introduction 1

Chapter 1 - Understanding the ‘Female Offender’ 5

1.1 The Extent of Female Offending

1.2 Women as Victims

1.3 Women’s Childhoods and Care

1.4 Mental Health and Self-Harm

1.5 Women in Education, Training and Employment

1.6 Women and Substance Misuse

1.7 Women as Mothers and the Impact of Parental Imprisonment

1.8 Prison Locations and Facilities

1.9 Women and the Cost of Custody

Chapter 2 - A Critical Review of the Literature underpinning current practice

with Female Offenders 16

2.1 Assessment

2.2 Risk of Harm & Recidivism Indicators

2.3 Responsivity

2.4 “Nine Lessons” (Gelsthorpe, 2007)

Chapter 3 Holistic Interventions for Female Offenders: Theory of Change,

Practice and Evaluation 26

3.1 Theory of change and outcomes for Women’s Community services

3.2 Evaluation of Together Women’s Project

Chapter 4 -“Help Yourself”: Approaching Empowerment 33

4.1 Principles of Empowerment Theory

4.2 Good Lives Model (Ward, 2002)

4.3 Plausibility

4.4 Doability

4.5 Testability

Conclusion 41

References 44

Page | 1


This dissertation will seek to understand how a combination of opportunities for

personal empowerment and a focus on social change might integrate and transform

work with female offenders. It will explore how principles of empowerment and

holistic support might aid the desistance process for both the individual and the

intervening agency, by considering statistics, suggestions and successes from

recent decades.

This research will attempt to understand the characteristic and dynamic ‘needs’

profile of women in conflict with the law, which makes them so distinctively different

from their male counterparts. Chapter 1 will conduct an analysis of statistical data

from the Ministry of Justice’s Social Exclusion Task Force, which will provide a

demographic framework, and reference throughout. It will construct a profile of the

female of the offender, in an attempt to explore how ‘she’ is currently considered,

within policy, practice and the prison institution. This dissertation recognises that

most criminological research often seeks to term women who have committed a

criminal act as either ‘victims’, ‘offenders’ ‘mothers’ or ‘deviants’. However,

throughout this research, it will consider these women as ‘women’, and provide a

debate seeking to understand the need for a responsive balance between holistic

intervention, community rehabilitation and victim empowerment, where applicable.

Following Baroness Corston’s (2007) review of provisions for women in the criminal

justice system with particular vulnerabilities, there has been a somewhat heightened

awareness of the issues facing female offenders of today. The recognition that there

is a prevalent history of social injustice among many women who display offending

behaviour, has encouraged research into how these women should be helped, and

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what services can be provided to address the complex multitude of needs they enter

the criminal justice system with (2007:46). This dissertation will seek to understand

why female offenders have historically been identified and treated based on their

needs, weaknesses and deficits above their motivation to change and their ability to

self-empower, noting how even within sensitive academia, political terminology

reflects these attitudes of helplessness. It will consider whether a deficit-based

approach to rehabilitation, can somewhat hinder women’s ability to motivate

themselves away from their offending behaviour, and analyse the alternative

rationale that suggests providing women with access to a range of services which

correlate to their areas of assessed ‘need’ may reduce offending (Corston, 2007).

Throughout the nineties, there was an increase in evidence-based practice, which

accompanied an influx of programmes developed to ‘provide women with the kind of

support they needed, as well as to provide the courts with constructive alternatives to

imprisonment’ (Roberts, 2002, cited in Worral and Gelsthorpe, 2009:333). In light of

the Moving Forward principles of the time, pioneering programmes from across the

country received recognition and praise, for their exemplification of ‘unique

partnership facilities … [which] take a holistic approach’ (Hirst, 1996:58) in

addressing said needs. Of Corston’s 43 suggestions made in her 2007 report, there

was again suggested adoption of “holistic” principles (2007:59), some 11 years later.

The slow uptake of holistic principles has encouraged this dissertation to conduct a

progress report on current interventions, in attempt to identify further opportunities

through which agencies can provide holistic support.

In chapter 2, this dissertation will attempt to justify and explain the increasing

recognition of women in the criminal justice system, and examine developments in

contemporary criminological research surrounding successful interventions with

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female offenders, which has played an informative role in the current provision. It will

acknowledge developments from the past 30 years of probation practice (Worrall

and Gelsthorpe, 2007) which have led to the increased visibi lity of female offenders,

and seek to understand the social and political context, which has encouraged this

heightened awareness. It will discuss the role of the ‘male centred’ what works

movement, understanding how research built on understanding the needs of men is

informative in work with female offenders, despite their ‘fundamental differences’

(Corston, 2007).

Chapter 2 will also provide an evaluation of the responsivity of Offender

Management services and discuss the programme integrity of their provided

interventions. What this dissertation recognises outright, is that many assessment

and risk prediction tools fail to encompass or identify the potential within an offender

not to reoffend, in favour of an overarching focus on why they will. Chapter 2 will

therefore provide a critical discussion of the offenders assessment process (OASys)

currently adopted by the National Probation Service, before exploring whether the

methods used to uncover risk and need should be uniformly applied to offenders,

reminiscent of the suggestion that “equal treatment” does not always result in “equal

outcomes” (Corston, 2007).

Also in the second chapter, this dissertation will explore the importance of research

in informing policy and practice; questioning which publications have been

contributory in the development of offender management programmes, which seek

to satisfy pre-determined ‘outcomes’ and are expected to reduce reoffending in order

to legitimate the criminal justice system. This research will consider whether the

purposes of punishment, retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation,

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lack the element of focus on long-term social improvement, and discuss how this

could consequently result in aggregated crime rates.

In the final chapters, this dissertation will explore whether pioneering approaches

throughout social work practice and community intervention have had an impact on

improving motivation and engagement with programmes of an empowering nature,

by qualitatively assessing their underpinning theory of change. This research will

outline and assess the principles of empowerment, and evaluate whether application

of this approach would be ‘plausible’, ‘doable’, and ‘testable’, using Connell and

Kubisch’s (1998) suggestions on how to evaluate an effective theory of change. This

dissertation is limited to some extent by a lack of primary data; although there has

been some awareness of the empowerment approach, it is yet to be widely

implemented in 2014, and this research is therefore prospective in its attempt to

suggest opportunities for further reform

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Chapter 1

Understanding the ‘Female Offender’

“The majority of women have been let down by society long before

they reach the attention of the criminal justice system” Rachel Halford,

Women in Prison charity

This chapter will explore the specifically influential factors which, upon

identification, have caused a recent increase in visibility of the female offender. This

outline of the ‘womenogenic’ needs that both cause and result from crime will

enhance an understanding of the obstacles, which may impinge on women’s ability

to self-empower. Initial analysis of these statistics and trends in offending and

sentencing, will provide a basis for further reference and discussion throughout this


1.1 The Extent of Female Offending and ‘Womenogenic’ Needs

Between 1995 and 2010, the female prison population increased by 115% (Prison

Reform Trust, 2013); there are currently 3,860 women in prison in the UK (Ministry of

Justice.gov.uk, May 2014). Of the women sentenced to custody in 2008, less than a

quarter were serving time for committing violent crimes; a larger proportion were

indicted for drug offences and a further 20% were imprisoned for their involvement

with acquisition and monetary crimes, such as theft and handling (fig1).

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(Fig1) Ministry of Justice: Social Exclusion Task Force. Short Study on Women

Offenders. May 2009, page 8.

(Fig2) Ministry of Justice: Social Exclusion Task Force. Short Study on Women

Offenders. May 2009, page 11.

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The above graph (fig2) shows the OASys (Offender Assessment System) needs

profile of women offenders, compared to their male counterparts. Areas of specific

and heightened concern include women’s relationships (including familial

connections), their emotional wellbeing, and levels of skills and employment; these

three areas provide substance for a critical discussion of the barriers to achieving

self-empowerment. The graph below outlines the percentage of women assessed by

probation, identified as having more than one need.

1.2 Women as Victims

The representation of women in the criminal justice system who have experienced

abuse is disproportionate to the general population. Over half of women in prison

report having suffered domestic violence and one in three reports having suffered

sexual abuse. On average, 53% of women in prison report having experienced

emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood (Prison Reform Trust, 2013).

Female prisoners who had experienced abuse as a child were more likely to report

suffering sexual abuse (67%) than male prisoners (24%). The Fawcett Society

(Fig3) Ministry of Justice: Social Exclusion Task Force. Short Study on Women

Offenders. May 2009, page 10.

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(2004) discovered that women’s sexual and violent victimisation can play a part in

the onset and persistence of offending (cited in Social Exclusion Task Force,

2009:13), alongside a correlation of trauma-related mental health concerns (Carlen,


1.3 Women’s Childhoods and Care

The dysfunctional families in which many women grew up, ‘ensured they began to

feel powerless at an early age’ (Wilson and Anderson, 1997:348); more than half

(56%) of female respondents to a longitudinal cohort study of prisoners (SPCR,

2012) said that they had spent time in local authority care during childhood. Often

attributed to family breakdown and instances of neglect, almost a third of the women

and one quarter of the men in prison were cared for by the state as children,

compared with just 2% of the general population (Prison Reform Trust, 2013). Most

prisoners have a history of social exclusion, being more likely than the general

population to suffer poverty and have witnessed the imprisonment of a family

member (cited in Williams, K et al. MoJ, 2012:1); herein lays an illustration of an

error in social justice which is perpetuating a cycle of crime.

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1.4 Mental Health and Self-Harm

Women in custody are five times more likely to have a mental health concern than

those in the general population; 50% of sentenced women are assessed to have

depression compared to just 12% of the general population (fig4). Suggestions have

been made (Pryce, 2013:248) that this is often due to the inability to deal with the

separation from their children; statistics support this, showing that approximately

30% of prisoners who take their own lives had no family contact prior to their deaths

(Prison Reform Trust, 2013).

Statistics have also shown that imprisoned females are consistently more likely to

self-harm in custody, with the rates of self-inflicted injury in 2011 being 10 times

higher than those of their male counterparts (MOJ, 2012:13); accounting for 28% of

all cases, despite the female estate only housing 5% (Prison Reform Trust, 2013).

Holistic services seek to address the identified issues surrounding mental health,

(Fig4) Ministry of Justice: Social Exclusion Task Force. Short Study on Women

Offenders. May 2009, page 12.

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signposting to other agencies where possible in order to provide an enhanced level

of responsivity, thus motivating and encouraging women.

1.5 Women in Education, Training and Employment

Research has shown that nearly 40% of women in prison left school before the age

of 16 years (Prison Reform Trust, 2013), suggesting that they might have lower

levels of education. Longitudinal research by the Ministry of Justice, discovered that

59% of prisoners had regularly played truant from school; 63% had been suspended

and 42% were permanently excluded or expelled (Williams, K. et al MoJ. 2012).

Prisoners with these educational issues had an increased likelihood of reconviction

upon release than those without, inviting practitioners to begin incorporating

educational empowerment into their sentence planning decisions.

(Fig5) Ministry of Justice: Social Exclusion Task Force. Short Study on Women

Offenders. May 2009, page 12.

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In 2002/3, 53% of imprisoned women had Reading Proficiency of Level One of

below, and 76% had numeracy levels at Level One or below (Level One is the

expected level of an average 11-year old) (MoJ, 2009:15). Of 547 women

interviewed in prison, only 3 in ten were working prior to their incarceration, most

commonly in low skilled and short-term work (Home Office, 2000 [cited in MoJ,

2009]), showing women to be less educationally and vocationally empowered than

the general population. Employability is a factor worsened still upon release, due to

the dominant principles of society, regarding the employment of people with

convictions (see O’Keeffe et al, 2007:240 and Offender Rehabilitation Act, 1971).

(Fig6) Ministry of Justice: Social Exclusion Task Force. Short Study on Women

Offenders. May 2009, page 15.

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1.6 Women and Substance Misuse

Some 66% of women in prison, compared to just 38% of men, report committing

their indicted offences in order to get money to fund their drug habit (MoJ, 2013).

Following assessment, 27% of women, compared to 20% of men, reported a form of

current serious drug use, specifically heroine, methadone and crack cocaine (Social

Exclusion Task Force, 2009:11). Women’s offending patterns mirror the influence of

drug and alcohol misuse as well as theft and the handling of stolen goods (fig1),

which reflects an unfortunately low socio-economic position and many women’s

nature of dependency (Corston, 2007).

1.7 Women as Mothers and the Impact of Parental Imprisonment on Children

Estimates show that four out of 10 young women in prison are mothers, and surveys

suggest that 20% of female offenders are lone parents, compared with just 9% of the

general population (Prison Reform Trust, 2013). However, ‘information regarding

dependants is not routinely recorded, either within the Prison Service or Children’s

Services’ (MoJ, 2009:18), despite the ‘obligation for the local authority to promote

and help maintain contact … for children who are living apart from their family’

(Children Act, 1989). Studies have shown that only around 9% of children, remain

under the care of their fathers during the mother’s incarceration (Prison Reform

Trust, 2013), showing a discrepancy in the demanding familial roles of women.

It was discovered that more children had experienced the imprisonment of a parent,

than instances of divorce in the family (Action for Prisoners’ Families, 2010), with

approximately 200,000 children in England and Wales having an imprisoned parent

at some stage during 2009 (MoJ, 2012). It is estimated that more than 17,240

children were separated from their mothers as a direct result of incarceration during

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2010 (Wilks-Wiffen, S. 2011), though there are no accurate figures available due to

issues of gathering self-report data. The Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile recognised

that there was no specific agency responsible for monitoring the parental status of

prisoners in the UK, or systematically identifying children of prisoners, where they

live or which services they are accessing. In addition, it was noted that even when

this information has been collected, it is quite often “patchy and not always shared”

(Prison Reform Trust, 2013:29).

Under reporting is often based on overly fearful assumptions of women prisoners

that their children will be automatically ‘taken away’ if the authorities are notified,

therefore limiting statutory agencies in their ability to provide services for these

vulnerable children. Research has discovered that families are at a higher risk of

financial instability, poverty, and potential housing disruption following the

imprisonment of a family member (Smith et al, 2007); however, the reality of these

(Fig7) Ministry of Justice: Social Exclusion Task Force. Short Study on Women

Offenders. May 2009, page 19.

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women’s fears makes it less likely they will voluntarily engage with monitored

support services. The impact of this, as outlined below, perpetuates a cycle of

female offenders’ children being identified as having issues surrounding emotional


1.8 Prison Locations and Facilities

When considering the practicalities of imprisonment, it is important to recognise that

there are only 12 female prisons in the UK, soon to be 10 (Women in Prison, 2014).

The Bromley Briefings recognises that in instances where prisoners are held far

away from their homes, maintaining contact with their children becomes increasingly

difficult. On average, men and women are held 50 miles away from their home,

however in 2009, 753 women were being held over 100 miles away from home

(Hansard, HC 2010 [cited in Prison Reform Trust, 2013]) making it increasingly

difficult for any holistic service model to continue resettlement support with them


The government also recently announced that the mother and baby unit at HMP

Holloway is to close; one of several significant cutbacks to resettlement institutions

which empower women in their role as mothers (Women in Prison, 2014). The

implications of these cuts indicate a need to consider more practical and accessible

alternatives to custody, delivery of which may be through community initiatives in the

local area, and with an increased role for the voluntary sector.

1.9 Women and the Cost of Custody

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On average, it costs ‘12 times more to send a woman to prison than to put her on a

probation or community service order’ (MoJ, 2009:20). Despite suggestions that

women are “out of place” in the prison environment (Worrall, 1981; Corston, 2007),

in 2008, £108m was spent on the adult female custodial estate. Custody is often

associated with a range of negative outcomes, as roughly one third of women

prisoners lose their homes and possessions while in prison; with a particular impact

on women whose children are taken into care (MoJ, 2009:20).

Re-offending rates are highly impacted by the inappropriate use of custody, as the

prison environment dislocates women from community networks, which offer a

source of social capital longer term upon release, which could potentially discourage

crime (see Tertiary Desistance, McNeill, 2014*). The following chapters will consider

this evidence against custody in support of a journey towards an enhanced

‘community’ approach to sentencing, which includes rather than excludes, thus

fostering a sense of empowerment.

(Fig8) Ministry of Justice: Social Exclusion Task Force. Short Study on Women

Offenders. May 2009, page 20.

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Chapter 2

A Critical Review of the Literature underpinning current practice with

Female Offenders

“Equal outcomes require different approaches” – Baroness Corston

The last century has seen an increase in contemporary research about women

offenders, which until recently was ‘an ignored area of criminological exploration and

analysis’ (Sheehan, McIvor and Trotter, 2009:300, emphasis added,). This is due in

part, to an increased visibility of their personal attributes and ‘needs’ which

distinguish them from their male counterparts. Moreover, it is widely recognised by

academics that a specialised understanding of how and why women offend, the

processes through which they desist, and barriers in this process, ‘can inform

strategies to improve services’ within the community (2009:300, emphasis added).

Worrall and Gelsthorpe (2009) provided an overview of the visibility of women

offenders in research, policy and practice over the last 30 years, highlighting those

which have informed best practice in probation. The authors consider the 25 ‘key’

articles, which they suggest paint a ‘fascinating picture of the concerns and changing

attitudes of probation and academics to what ‘might’ work with female offenders’

(2009:329). They mention the initial findings of Frances’ Heidensohn (1968) on

sentencing, as an instigator of research, and agree that Carol Smart’s (1976)

Women, Crime and Criminology was also a catalyst in raising awareness about the

issue of discrimination against women offenders in Britain. However, both these

early publications make little or no reference to empowerment approaches, despite

their shared stated aim of promoting social justice.

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The authors also acknowledge the role of more contemporary research, noticing that

in 1985 the Probation Journal made an unprecedented move, by allowing publication

of ‘Joan’s’ honest yet grammatically challenged account of her ‘Eight days in the

System’ following arrest for fine-default (Joan, 1985, cited in Worrall and Gelsthorpe,

2009). However, this opportune insight was considered to have ‘unintentionally

reinforced the discriminatory view that woman offenders are “not like us”’ (2009:331),

due to the author’s inability to ‘punctuate’. Some 30 years on, there has been further

discrediting of ‘insider insights’ of this kind; criticisms surround economist and

government personality Vicky Pryce, for the publication of her prison-diaries and

suggestions for cost-effective prison reform (Prisonomics, 2013). The derision with

which these contemporary ‘field-research’ contributions are viewed, illustrates the

extent to which societies preoccupation with punishment can further limit women with

convictions, in their ability to empower themselves academically.

Worrall and Gelsthorpe discuss how a ‘pioneering’ body of research encouraged a

response from the Probation Service, with a gradual increase in their publications

addressing relevant theories in their approach to work with women offenders

(2009:330), over the subsequent thirty years. Mawby’s 1977 research on sentencing

challenged the ‘dual assumptions of the “chivalry” thesis that women are less likely

to be detected for their criminality, and that when they are, they are treated more

leniently’ (cited in Worrall and Gelsthorpe, 2009:330). Here lies an illustration of

society’s then preoccupation with ‘protecting’ women, rather than treating them as

equals. However, Mawby’s conclusion that women have a higher likelihood of being

imprisoned despite their ‘shorter criminal careers’, omits the suggestion that the

safety of society would not be threatened, were fewer women to be imprisoned in

favour of ‘a greater and more imaginative use of community sentences’ (Carlen and

Worrall, 2004:151).

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Worrall and Gelsthorpe continue their chronological analysis, suggesting that by

1989 there was a heightened awareness of the discrimination surrounding gender in

the criminal justice system which had become ‘embedded in probation service

culture as a whole’(2009:332). The probation service reflected this in their publication

of four relevant articles during 1989; Empowering Women, (Buckley and Wilson),

The Criminalisation and Empowerment of Black Women (Chigwada), Imprisoned

Mothers (White) and Women-Wise Penology (Carlen). Worrall and Gelsthorpe

consider this collective of publications ‘a comprehensive and sophisticated analysis

of the practice problems… [located] within a broad critique of social and criminal

justice policy’ (2009:332). As the authors continue through the decades of research

on female offenders, they note that this approach may have been the last of its kind,

with an explicit aim of achieving social justice.

The authors observe that the prior to the introduction of the 1991 Criminal Justice

Act, ‘professionals and academics were at their most united and politically influential’

(2009:332). Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act enables practitioners to become

aware of the relative effectiveness of different sentencing options, and assists in

promoting public confidence in the criminal justice system by minimising

opportunities for discrimination. Joan Orme subsequently published an article on the

impact of Section 95 on the treatment of women offenders. She argued that the

‘male minded’ omission of information specifically pertaining to female offenders

suggested that ‘at best’, we [could] consider the act as ‘gender indifferent… but at

worst, it is a reflection of patriarchy operating within the framework of the criminal

justice system’ (Orme, 1992:80). She notes that ‘women will continue to be victims,

despite their offence’ and concludes that this act ‘will not be effective in changing the

philosophies and ideologies which have already framed the legislation’ (1992:81).

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However, between 1994 and 1998, there was a further cluster of publications in the

Probation Journal, which focussed on ‘integrating feminist perspectives on criminal

justice’ into the foundations of probation involvement with women offenders (Worrall

and Geltshorpe, 2009:332), and has allowed for further consideration of these

‘woman-centred’ approaches, which incorporate principles of empowerment.

Worrall (1981) also suggested that women offenders were ‘“out of place”’ in the

criminal justice system and, if applicable, were ‘more likely than men to be

processed according to their traditional roles in their lives outside the court, than

according to their offence’ [cited in Worrall and Gelsthorpe, 2009:331), inviting

further feminist discussion throughout research in the field. Dominelli further

contributed to this evolving feminist discussion about the impact of these gendered

differences, she argued that the complexities extended beyond the disparity in

sentences. She considered how the influence of the prejudicial ‘values and

assumptions embedded in society’s definition of womanhood’ could be 'detrimental' if

used informatively when constructing a sentence plan (Dominelli, 1984, cited in

Worrall & Gelsthorpe, 2009:331).

Accepting the nature and complexity of many offending women’s personal

circumstances, some of which are outlined in chapter 1, this chapter will now discuss

how quantitatively assessing needs and predicting risks has helped in shaping the

said ‘profile’ of the female offender. It will also provide a critique of the reductionist

methods through which these needs are uncovered, leading to a discussion about

the requirement for appropriate levels responsivity, in ensuring equal, effective and

empowering practice.

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2.1 Assessment

It was suggested by Andrews’ et al (1990) that offenders’ level of risk of reoffending

should be assessed and used as the basis for allocation to services, and an

assessment of risk and criminogenic needs should be carried out using validated


While retribution theorists may argue that the ‘punishment must fit the crime’, this

chapter asks if the punishment might, instead, fit the individual; considerate, fair and

tailored assessment methods may better equip female offenders to engage with their

sentence planning process, providing a better choice and range of outcomes for both

the individual and the assessing body. Much of the research which informs the

recently preferred ‘risk–needs’ model has been carried out using data about male

offenders. This leads to questions about the criminogenic needs of women offenders

and “whether there may be women-specific criminogenic needs” (Hollin & Palmer,

2006:179). This dissertation questions if women can yet be recognised for their

differing strengths and weaknesses considering the unisex application of

assessment methods; this may, in turn, be an illustration of women offenders as

somewhat passive ‘afterthoughts’ within certain outdated areas of the Criminal

Justice System (Howard, 2006; Hollin & Palmer 2006; and Severson 2007). Much

literature asks whether ‘women’s needs should be incorporated into risk

assessments’ or not (Blanchette and Brown, 2006, cited in Severson et al, 2007:61).

When preparing a pre-sentencing report for a first offence, professionals are required

to provide a judgement of future offending patterns alongside a vision of treatment

they consider will have the most impact on recidivism (NOMS, 2012:15). A

judgement-based ‘score’ calculates recidivism based on the previous behaviour

patterns of the offending individual, their criminogenic needs and their determined

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level of risk. Another criticism emerges here, however, around the extent to which

these current assessment practices ignore strengths, focussing primarily on

‘weaknesses’ and ‘needs’. Among practitioners, there is also much debate around

ensuring a balance between ‘the pursuit of consistency and standardisation’ in the

assessment process, and the ‘discretion and professional judgement’ of the

assessor (Robinson and Crow, 2008:97), which might extend to a personalised

understanding of an offenders motivation to change, alongside a consideration of

gender differences (Morton, 2009).

Brown (2002) argued that the work involving women is somewhat restricted in its

focus on testing the extent to which recidivism risk indicators, validated for male

offenders, might apply to females, yet the results reported in discussed literature for

several current instruments “show poor correlations between male and female risk

profiles" (cited in Deschenes et al, 2007:2). Andrews et al’s pre-empted remedy is

that 'interventions should have general responsivity, with services matched to

offenders’ learning styles, motivations and ability… taking account of [the] diversity,

strengths and limitations' (Andrews et al, 1990:8) often uncovered during

assessment, in other words, “what works” with men, might not actually work with

women (Sheehan, McIvor and Trotter, 2007:300).

2.2 Risk of Harm & Recidivism Indicators

McIvor and McNeill (2007) observed and discussed how increases in women’s

imprisonment were not attributed to an increase in the severity or violent nature of

women’s offending behaviour, but instead were ‘a reflection of increasingly punitive

responses by the court system’ (2007:1). Although most women’s initial offences are

relatively minor and pose no risk to the public, establishing a risk level is necessary

in understanding how best to safely promote desistance through interventions.

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In the United States, comparative studies into recidivism rates have discovered the

complex role of gender in enabling accurate recidivism predictions. Makarios

(2010:1) examined the effect of some common obstacles in the re-entry and

desistance process, such as deficits in education, employment, and housing; he

detected no gender differences in the predictors, 'suggesting that the factors likely

behave in a gender-neutral manner'. In other research, O’Brien’s summary of

previous studies on female recidivism colluded that effects of some of these same

obstacles, were ‘similar’ to those of men; these include employment, substance

abuse, educational attainment and offence history. She found, however, that 'female

recidivism was different in terms of two family dynamics: unstable living situations

and partner abuse' (cited in Deschenes 2007:9), issues which may inhibit a female

offenders’ motivation and empowerment.

A vast library of research into prior victimisation of female offenders has explained

how a history of abuse can make females more likely to offend. ‘Female inmates are

among the most marginalised in society’ (Nicholls et al, 2004:179); the ‘emotional

and social injuries’ caused by this trauma can lead to a diminished desire to admit

vulnerabilities and seek help’ (Severson et al, 2007:61). Some authors suggest that

‘characterising unmet needs as risks for criminal behaviour… obscures the basic fact

that women still lack basic protection from physical and sexual abuse as children’

(2007:61), however, the protective nature of these assumptions can obscure and

avert the internal responsibility for change, creating higher levels of dependency

among offenders who are also victims.

Andrews’ et al (1990) suggest that 'more intensive human services are best reserved

for higher risk cases' and there is no real need or benefit of introducing correctional

treatment, where there is already a 'lower probability of recidivism'. However, while

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women are lower risk in terms of re-offending or violent crimes, they may indeed

pose the highest risk to themselves (see chapter 1, fig4 and fig5) and therefore be

more desperately in need of interaction. Robinson and Crow (2008:90) suggest that

practitioners should ‘take into account both the risk posed to the offender (e.g. self-

harming) as well as the likely risks to others (e.g. children, the public)’ when

establishing the ‘gravity’ of any future offending behaviour.

2.3 Responsivity

The probation service is committed to ensuring fair treatment, including the ability for

women to be considered for the full range of sentencing options available within the

court system; however, inequality of access makes ‘equality of outcome a reality that

may need different approach and/or additional support’ (Corston, 2007:113) in order

to maximise the potential for empowerment. It is becoming increasingly accurate that

‘resources follow risks’ with higher risk offenders attracting more intensive

rehabilitative intervention (Robinson and Crow, 2008:99); however, as suggested

above, women are often lower risk but higher in need, requiring a responsive level of

restorative and rehabilitative intervention.

The Correctional Services Panel will not accredit programmes that do not

‘demonstrate … that appropriate consideration has been given to diversity issues’,

therefore, interventions with women must display an appropriate level of responsivity

to gain accreditation (Wilson and Anderson, 1997). Osei-Hwedie (1993, cited in

Wilson & Anderson, 1997:355) also explains how ‘one cannot totally develop with

someone else’s ideas, especially if these ideas do not fit one’s special circumstances

or living conditions’, further supporting the need for general and specialised

responsivity in order to maximise an offenders’ potential.

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The Prison Reform Trust, The Fawcett Society, The Howard League for Penal

Reform and the government-led Social Exclusion Unit have all championed those

which ‘approach the needs of women offenders in a holistic, rather than piecemeal

fashion’ (Worrall and Gelsthorpe, 2009:338). While many of these publications have

a practical rather than theoretical base, they provide insight into the motivations of

organisations which are seeking to promote social change, as a direct response to

the needs of their invested research population.

The most recent publication to adopt this approach is the 2007 report by Baroness

Jean Corston; Corston and her team of colleagues conducted a review of vulnerable

women in the criminal justice system during 2006, they visited overcrowded women’s

prisons, local women’s centres and explored alternatives to custody available for

women across the UK. The review this team produced, outlined the need for a

“distinct, radically different, visibly-led, strategic, proportionate, holistic, woman-

centred, integrated approach”, and made 43 recommendations for ‘improving the

approaches, services and interventions for women in the criminal justice system and

women at risk of offending. ‘The Corston review gives government the chance at

long last to join up its social policy with its criminal justice policy’

(PrisonReformTrust.org), however, this commonly referenced report makes sparse

reference or suggestion as to how the criminal justice system could or should be

empowering these ‘vulnerable’ women, by instead focussing on providing for them.

2.4 “Nine Lessons”

In other research, Gelsthorpe et al concluded from responses to a Fawcett Society

Survey (2007:137), that community provisions should both ‘meet the needs [of

women] … and be flexible enough to address changing needs’. They also

considered the delivery of this service through partnership with voluntary agencies;

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there was ‘evident capacity’ within those organisations already doing work with

women offenders, to suggest that ‘NOMS (National Offender Management Service)

might be able to utilise and build on the available provisions’.

Following analysis of previous research and the findings of the survey, Gelsthorpe et

al highlighted ‘9 lessons’ for NOMS commissioners who were challenged with

providing responsive provisions for female offenders. The nine lessons detailed

below will form the basis for the evaluation of current interventions and programmes,

explored in the next chapter:

1. Be ‘women-only’ to foster safety and a sense of community and to enable

staff to develop expertise with women;

2. Integrate offenders with non-offenders so as to normalise women offenders’

experiences and facilitate a supportive environment;

3. Foster women’s empowerment so they gain sufficient self esteem to directly

engage in problem-solving themselves, and feel motivated to seek

appropriate employment;

4. Utilise ways of working with women which draw on what is known about their

effective learning styles;

5. Take a holistic and practical stance to helping women to address social

problems which may be linked to their offending;

6. Facilitate links with mainstream agencies, especially health, debt advice and


7. Have the capacity and flexibility to allow women to return to the centre or

programme for ‘top up’ of continued support and development where required;

8. Ensure that women have a supportive milieu or mentor to whom they can turn

when they have completed any offending related programmes, since personal

support is likely to be as important as any direct input addressing offending


9. Provide women with practical help with transport and childcare so that they

can maintain their involvement in the centre of programme

Geltshorpe et al. (2007) ‘Working with Offenders in the Community, A view from England in Wales’ p.137

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Chapter 3

Holistic Interventions for Female Offenders:

Theory of Change, Practice and Evaluation

“From this key, central principle, others fall into place…” (Corston, 2007)

This chapter will proceed by highlighting interventions services for women

which seek to holistically address multiple needs, paying particular attention to those

which provide practical interagency support within a community setting and

incorporate an outcome of ‘empowerment’ into their theory of change. There are

multitude of issues surrounding custodial delivery of programmes for women,

research into which often focusses on the individual’s internal ability to cope (Koons

et al, 1997). However, this dissertation focuses on the role of current research by

McNeill into Tertiary Desistance (POPS, 2014), which adopts a more positive stance,

and provides support for community sentences, by understanding the ‘perception of

self’ in a journey towards belonging. The empowerment approach ‘calls for social-

action practitioners who can mobilise [both] individuals and the society’ (Wilson and

Anderson, 1997:351).

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3.1 Theory of change and outcomes for Women’s Community services

Using both opinion and statistical data gathered from offending clients using

Women’s Community Services, the New Economic Foundation established the

above theory of change and acknowledged how ‘over a three-month period, 44% of

women demonstrated a measurable increase in well-being’ (Nicholles and

Whitehead, 2012:3), one of the earlier discussed areas of criminogenic need.

Sapouna et al agreed ‘holistic interventions that address multiple criminogenic needs

are more likely to be effective in reducing reoffending’ (2011:12). Holistic

Interventions offer a ‘one stop shop’ where women have access to a range of

(Fig9) nef (New Economic Foundation), Women’s Community Services: A Wise Commission

November 2012, page 10.

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services in a safe, women-only environment, preferable to probation offices in

instances where the offender has been a victim of physical or sexual abuse

(Radcliffe et al, 2013).

3.2 Evaluation of Together Women’s Project

The Together Women’s Project (Yorkshire and Salford) was first funded by the

Ministry of Justice in 2006; it sought to develop and test out a new ‘gender-specific

community approach’ to women offenders and women who were at risk of offending.

Following a ‘highly successful demonstration phase’, Together Womens Project

became an independent charity in April 2009, and currently, the TWP ‘provide the

all-important women-only spaces where vulnerable women can access tailored

support’ (TWP.org).

Dr. Gillian Granville used Gelsthorpe’s nine lessons (2007, see ch3) as a theoretical

framework to underpin her evaluation of the Together Women’s Project (Salford);

she understood and explained the aims of the project to be as follows:

o To reduce women’s offending and re-offending

o To positively influence decision-making by Criminal Justice Service

practitioners, to reduce the number of women given custodial sentences

o To increase the number of women ‘accessing and being sustained’ in

appropriate community provision

o To reduce the number of avoidable family breakdowns, specifically those

involving children

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Granville (2009) then analysed a collection of high quality monitoring data in order to

discover the outcomes of the programme in relation to these aims, ultimately

‘supporting evidence that the project’s actions created change’. The outcomes were:

o Reducing isolation and creating active citizens

o Moving on: support not dependency

o Reduced vulnerability through learning coping strategies

o Improved life chances- routes to training, employment and parenting

In practice, professionals engaging in empowerment practice should ‘help a client

develop personal power [by adopting] an action-oriented approach, becoming a

supporter, partner … and role model for the client in taking action, rather than

engaging in passive talking or enforcement’ (Wilson and Anderson, 1997:351).

Statistics from the Howard League for Penal reform show ‘the re-offending rate of

women accessing the support of Together Women Project [is] just 7 per cent,

compared to a national average of 36 per cent’ (Howard League, 2011d). Despite a

reduction in offending behaviour and an improvement in other areas, these

provisions are not currently being used in place of other sentences, in part due to

suggestions that ‘mandating attendance would damage the ethos of a project ‘which

aims to treat the women ‘as women’ and not as ‘offenders’, enabling practitioners to

build up their trust and confidence’ (Granville, 2009:6).

Evidence from desistance studies into the mobilisation of social capital (Mills and

Codd, 2008:14) have discovered how offenders often value practical support above

other forms of intervention, as it enables them to ‘maintain their pro-social identities’,

specifically for those who are mothers. Together Womens Project offers a simple

remedy in their provision of practical childcare support, by operating a ‘professionally

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supervised crèche’; thus removing a barrier which many women on probation identify

in their ability to comply with their sentence (see Gelsthorpe et al, 2007).

Sapouna et al (2011) acknowledge that many offenders are not accustomed to

‘actively seeking help from outside agencies’ to find a solution to their problems, due

to their lack of grasp over their rights to social resources. They suggest ‘offender

managers might need to adopt a more proactive approach to solving offenders’

practical needs’, however; they should always maintain the necessary development

of an individual’s ‘problem-solving skills’, and ‘empower’ them to search out suitable

help when needed (Sapouna et al, 2011:13). Together Women’s Project actively

engages with other agencies, which enables them to signpost service users to seek

the most appropriate support.

Focussing on empowerment over punishment has proved successful in this instance;

alongside the initially intended and subsequently satisfied aims of reducing

reoffending, there have also been unintended but equally positive outcomes.

Granville’s evaluation explained how the staff team are skilled at ‘creating a positive

culture… which supports vulnerable women who have very low self-esteem and self

worth… careful attention is paid to celebrating success and supporting women to

recognise their achievements, however small they may appear’ (Granville, 2009:11),

which may be a contributing factor to the visible decrease in TWP service users


Granville attributes the success of this project to a number of ‘mechanisms’ which

help women ‘move forward and manage their own lives rather than create another

form of dependency’; thus empowering women, ‘many of whom spoke proudly of

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their achievements in “being ready to fly”’ (2009:16) following a period of involvement

with the project. She identified key mechanisms which include: the role of a skilled

key-worker who offers one-to-one support and constant positivity; individualised

support plans which review progress and acknowledge achievements; practical

support and self-esteem building activities; peer support and role modelling of ex-

offenders who return to the centre and help with confidence building and problem

solving with others. Finally, she acknowledged how the continued nature of support

in moving forward is ‘indefinitely welcoming for when things may deteriorate’

(Granville, 2009:17).

Empowerment is a concept which this dissertation considers instrumental in

successful offender management. Through the research that has been compiled and

analysed, it appears many of the issues facing women regard their victimisation and

lack of social networks. Holistic and remedial interventions, such as Together

Women’s Project have an underlying motivation to improve emotional wellbeing and

therefore empower women to be active agents in their own desistance process.

‘Offenders are more likely to eventually desist from offending if they manage to

acquire a sense of agency and control over their lives and a more positive outlook on

their future prospects’, agrees Sapouna et al (2011:24).

Other research has shown how interventions that help an offender develop ‘prosocial

networks’ have a significantly higher chance of succeeding in reducing reoffending

(McNeill, 2010). Desistance studies have found that ‘rebuilding ties with family,

friends and the wider community’ are important aspects of desisting from crime.

Another illustration of the concept of Tertiary Desistance (McNeill, 2014*) suggests

that an individual must achieve a new sense of belonging, in order to move away

from their previous sense of belonging ‘within’ criminality.

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Further research suggests that offenders who feel ‘welcomed’ into society have a

lower probability of recidivism, than ‘those who feel stigmatised’. It is therefore

important that criminal justice agencies aim to work primarily with offenders, but also

integrate work with their family, friends and the wider community, to encourage the

sustenance of pro-social and positive relationships (Sapouna, 2011:22). Although

‘women-only’ environments are often favoured for their aspects of safety, they may

prove contributory to the prevalence of stigma and marginalisation, of the ‘most

marginalised group in society’ (Carlen, 1998:98). Together Women’s Project Salford

is located anonymously on the second floor of an unremarkable office building,

indicating that while this is valuable in terms of women ‘taking refuge’ there, with the

nature and type of location being valuable in instances of victimisation, this set up

has limitations in terms of supporting the reintegration process.

Among females, ‘55% of those discharged from custody and given a probation order’

were reported to have been reconvicted within 2 years of their sentence, however,

the same study showed only 27% of those given a community service order were

reconvicted (Sapouna, 2011:7), explicitly suggesting how community sentences can

improve chances of the desistance process. This dissertation has surmised from its

analysis of the Together Women’s Project, that practice which understands the key

role of empowerment has proved to be more successful than traditional punitive

interventions, and will now examine ways in which themes of empowerment may be

incorporated in practice throughout the criminal justice system.

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Chapter 4

“Help Yourself”: Approaching Empowerment

“Women gain insight into their situation, identify their strengths, and are supported

and challenged to take positive action to gain control of their lives. This process

acknowledges and holds women offenders accountable for their actions while

recognizing that actions occur within a social context”.

[Creating Choices: The Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women in the USA]

The ‘Plausibility’, ‘Doability’ and ‘Testability’ of empowerment approaches will

be explored throughout this final chapter (Connell & Kubisch, 1998), alongside a

critique of the environment into which we may attempt to introduce these concepts

when working with female offenders.

4.1 Principles of Empowerment Theory

Katherine Van Wormer explores the two promising developments in social work

education as anti-oppressive practice and the empowerment perspective; she

discusses the plausibility of a move towards a ‘strengths approach, in its focus on

helping clients tap into their inner and cultural resources’ (2004:72). She continues to

suggest how the aforementioned ‘empowerment perspective ‘goes further in

focussing on oppression and power imbalances in the society’. Empowering practice

begins, she suggests, by acknowledging that ‘structural injustices have prevented

many individuals and groups from receiving the treatment and resources they are

entitled to’ (2004:74).

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Effective practice with female offenders requires a model that fosters both social and

self-empowerment; argue Wilson and Anderson (1997:348). It is understood that

‘this focus is particularly salient in working with offenders who have multiple personal

problems’, however, Wilson and Anderson also recognise that despite female

offenders’ variety of problems and needs, they have ‘tremendous strengths … [such

as] their ability to negotiate the correctional system’. Relating to and drawing upon

these strengths increases self-esteem and provides a ‘foundation on which to build

more effective strategies for living’ (1997:355).

The underlying principles of Empowerment Theory are explained as follows (Allen

and Loss, n/d):

It assumes that society consists of separate groups possessing different

levels of power and control over resources.

It’s goal is social justice

Social problems stem not from individual deficits, but from the failure of the

society to meet the needs of all its members

In social work, it emerged from efforts to develop more effective and

responsive services for women and people of color

It suggests a process of increasing personal, interpersonal, or political power

so that individuals can take action to improve their life situations

And, most importantly, it ‘Integrates both individual change and social

change’ and promotes a belief system that many of the negative symptoms

that emerge in powerless clients stem from their strategies to cope with a

hostile world.

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Empowerment theory is not dissimilar to the more familiar ‘Desistance Theory’ ; it too

recognises the broader social contexts and conditions that are required to support

change from within an offender. It recognises the complexity of pathways to

desistance for females, in which self-efficacy and empowerment are both key

elements. Moreover, British Probation culture has, following recent policy

implementation, been preoccupied with a ‘deficit paradigm’; a focus on the individual

as someone who needs to be ‘fixed’ by an external force, due to their personal

incapability and external locus of control. What the empowerment model aims to

encompass, is a ‘combination of individual change and structural support’, which

does not fix the offender, but provides ‘infrastructure to promote healthier

communities to support the offenders’ (Allen and Loss: no date).

4.2 Good Lives Model (Ward, 2002)

An example of a parallel approach is the Good Lives Model (Ward, 2002); this

holistic approach to offender rehabilitation, addresses the limitations of the traditional

risk management approach that has been explored throughout this research. The

Good Lives Model is a ‘strengths-based approach… premised on the idea that we

need to build capabilities and strengths in people, in order to reduce their risk of

reoffending’ (GoodLivesModel.org). Good Lives Model has until now, primarily been

applied to work with sexual offenders; however, recent successes within this method

of working have led to further debate as to its appropriation with other sub-sections

of offender (see Andrews, Bonta and Wormith, 2011:735). What this dissertation

questions, is whether an approach which focuses on empowering rather than

punishing, may open doors to practitioners working with low-risk female offenders, to

enable the women to open their own. Through this, specific focus is afforded to those

who pose a significantly lower risk, and who lack confidence and emotional-

wellbeing due to a history of ‘social injustice’, as outlined in chapter 1.

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4.3 Plausibility

In terms of this concepts ‘plausibility’, authors have suggested that such an approach

is both necessary and effective in providing ‘the comprehensive treatment required

for long term desistance from crime’ (Henriques and Jones-Brown, 1998:307, cited in

Zaplin, 1998). Research has shown that causes for criminal behaviour are often

rooted in the depths of victimisation and socio-economic deprivation, noted to be

more common among the profile of female offenders, but can be improved and

eradicated when an individual has the correct ‘equipment’ to alleviate the effects of

this. Shifting focus to incorporate both the needs of society and the individual is

necessary in establishing the plausibility of this concept; Allen and Loss

acknowledge that ‘it is impossible to see the female offender without the context of

the environment in which she lives in (Allen and Loss: no date).

Another element of practice which would, and does, make this approach possible, is

the valued and instrumental role of voluntary sector organisations. As outlined the

Home Office report (2012), these agencies play an important role in assisting the

government to tackle the root causes of crime, by providing access to a range of

services on-site and within community settings; their aim, being to tackle problems

obstructing the ‘nine key pathways’ out of crime (MoJ, 2014:2 and Cobbina, 2009).

Voluntary organisations often provide complementary intervention packages and

services, but despite acknowledgement of their contribution (Clinks, 2012), there is

yet to be a transformational shift towards increased responsibility, due to budget

restraints and the imposing ‘private’ offender management companies, who are

contracted and therefore motivated to deliver services, rather than develop them.

While it may not be ‘plausible’ to insist voluntary organisations secure a greater role

and responsibility, it is important we understand the contribution such programmes

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have, on the motivation and empowerment of people with criminal convictions and

those at risk of offending.

4.4 Doability

To consider whether this is ‘doable’, we must ensure we have a full understanding of

the service users’ motivation to engage with the empowerment practice model; ‘the

degree to which interaction is successful depends largely on the individual’s skills in

participatory competence’ (Wilson and Anderson, 1997:357). Challenges of working

with involuntary clients can offset the positive outcomes of applying a holistic model;

if the individual is not aware of their capabilities, they will struggle to maintain their

balance during the process towards desistance. A strengths perspective in the

related field of social work practice attempts to ‘correct destructive emphasis on what

is wrong, missing or abnormal’ with the individual, and shifts focus to seeing

individuals in ‘the light of their hopes, possibilities and the belief in their capacity for

change’ (Saleebey, 1996:202). These two intertwined fields of statutory intervention

have somewhat conflicting ideals; while it can be argued that the punitive sectors of

the criminal justice system primarily intend to improve society by protecting the

public, what some social work and empowerment practitioners argue is that the

focus should instead be on ‘social justice’. Offenders who have experienced

disadvantage and victimisation must play a role in their own ‘rehabilitation’, but there

are responsibilities of the state to protect them also (Saleebey, 1996:203).

In order for this approach to succeed and be ‘rolled out’ to the further reaching

corners of the criminal justice system, we must begin by enlightening the attitudes of

the public, away from retribution towards a more holistic and socially-aware

response to crime. Other nations have shown this increased level of consciousness;

Denmark, for example, appreciates and support efforts by the individual to improve

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their socio-economic status despite their convictions. To encourage inmates to

educate themselves, the same amount is paid to inmates who choose to attend the

prison school instead of going to work (Winslow, 2014). Building on an

understanding that ‘an inadequate education limits how one realises the hopes and

dreams of the future’ (Wilson and Anderson, 1997:352), books provide just one

example of a tool for empowerment which encourages growth and motivation;

however, their availability within the custodial estate is currently diminishing.

Research has shown that many offenders use education as a route away from crime,

and therefore we should be nurturing this potential strength from within, both the

‘walls’ and within the individual.

Prison reading groups operate throughout the UK, commonly on a voluntary basis,

and are created as a means of empowerment by providing reading materials to

incarcerated offenders. Caddick and Webster (1998) suggest in their aptly titled

Offender Literacy and the Probation Service, that access to the ‘communicated

thoughts and experiences of a wide range of others via reading, enable individuals to

become more aware of the ways they interact with and make meaning of the world’

(also cited in Voices for the Library, 2014). Research has shown how reading and

education can and does expand the ability to think about alternatives and

consequently evaluate options which may lead to strategies for avoiding criminal

behaviour. Caddick and Webster also state how a core part of developing individual

responsibility and a feeling of inclusion and identity with others is through literacy; an

avenue through which people from both the general and offending population,

develop an ability to reflect on their own experiences.

Statistics for female offender literacy has been shown to consistently fall below the

average standards for the population, and while some services offer educational

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services, these are often basic and only intended to equip an individual with skills to

attain low-level occupations. While this dissertation does not necessarily consider

the reading of books to be a ‘crime reduction strategy’, what it does recognise is that

attempts made by an individual to engage with their own rehabilitative punishment

should be nurtured through all appropriate channels, appreciating an individuals’

quest for self-improvement, rather than constantly reminding them they are being

punished. Disappointingly though, the current government does not wholly share

these motivations, with a higher proportion of currently policies focussing on

‘incentivising’ these ‘rights’, in order to gain a higher level of control.

In Britain, the recent approach is somewhat conflicting with the ideals apparent in

countries like Denmark; Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling has chosen

instead to reduce funding for some optional educations provisions from the prison

estate, alongside a ‘book ban’, prohibiting prisoners from receiving books as gifts,

reclassifying them as ‘enhance privileges’ which must be earnt (MoJ, 2013).

However, ‘left-wing pressure groups’ and other charitable organisations have

opposed this decision, voicing concern that ‘this move to view the prison system as

wholly punitive rather than as serving also as rehabilitative and restorative is short-

sighted and counter to the ethos’.

Empowerment theory promotes the idea that there exists in every person, ‘potential

for positive change’, it supports the process of increasing personal and interpersonal

power, arguing that individuals are better able to take action in order to improve their

life situations when they are empowered with the belief that they are able to do so

(Gutierrez, 1990). ‘Powerless persons’, as many female offenders are considered to

be, often ‘blame themselves for their circumstances, [and] have a sense of distrust

and hopelessness in the sociopolitical environment, feel alienated from resources for

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social influence, and are disenfranchised and economically vulnerable’ (Kieffer,

1984, cited in Wilson and Anderson, 1997:349). Empowerment approaches,

therefore, ‘are especially critical to populations who are chronically poor, such as

female inmates and their families’ (1997:355).

4.5 Testability

When exploring effective ways of measuring empowerment approaches, there are

often shortfalls and debates surrounding the ability and necessity to prove a

reduction in recidivism. As has been discussed, there are often barriers to

quantitatively determining effectiveness with more contemporary interventions, which

focus on empowerment, as ‘the outcomes involved (including changing relationships

and attitudes) are largely intangible, and the criminal justice system is complex’ (New

Philanthropy Capital, 2011). Similarly, issues present surrounding the ‘testability’ of

holistic approaches, as it is difficult to isolate and identify an element, which has had

the most impact on re-offending.

Parson and Robbins (2002, cited in Lewis, 2013:6) provided qualitative data outlining

what female offenders themselves considered instrumental in their successful re-

entry into the community. Amongst other things, ‘support groups, supportive friends

and family, [their] children and stable employment were considered to be a driving

force for change, however a reassuring proportion concluded that their “personal

determination” had been a driving force for change.

The Ministry of Justice recently recognised this challenge facing women’s service

providers, accepting that due to the multiple agencies which interact with the female

offending population, ‘it can be quite difficult to obtain reliable data from which to

draw reliable conclusions’. They acknowledge how the ‘outcome star’ method of

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measuring success is ‘necessarily subjective [but] can be useful in exploring

progress [the service users] have made in a range of areas’ (MoJ, 2013:23). In a

stocktake of services, they conclude that ‘in order to build on the[se] kind of

innovative approaches’…the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, is opening out

the provision of offender services, for both men and women, to a much wider range

of providers. ‘[They] believe it will help new providers to see the great possibilities for

innovation – particularly through the involvement of organisations from the voluntary

and community sector’; suggesting here, that the ‘Community Rehabilitation

Companies’ who will soon be the ‘providers’ of this service ‘may be very interested in

understanding the current practice’ of monitoring positive progress. However, this

blueprint is yet to be implemented (MoJ, 2013:24).


What this dissertation has recognised, is the frustratingly slow pace at which

suggestions for reform surrounding the treatment of female offenders are being

considered and implemented. Of the 43 recommendations made by Baroness

Corston 7 years ago, there is still some distance to go in the practical adaptation of

services, and the government are still funding 12 women’s prisons throughout the

UK (Women in Prison, 2014).

In recent years, there have been a number of independent research projects and

publications by voluntary and campaigning organisations whose interest and

involvement in the sector has encouraged the consideration of imaginative

alternatives to custody. It is these agencies who are ultimately responsible for the

increased visibility of female offenders, and their suggestions of fair and purposeful

treatment could potentially prove more and more influential over the coming years,

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with a shift away from literature determining ‘what works’, towards ‘what might work’

and who should be involved in the discussion.

What this dissertation understands, is that the responses of the dominant public and

politicians are subtly but damagingly influential in dictating practice, surrounding

work with offenders. Throughout history, the combination of patriarchy and

stigmatisation of the ‘deviant’ female led to the initial development of punitive

measures, while the competing feminist insights and chivalrous need to ‘protect’

have kept many offending women from motivating themselves, by overriding the

need for individual determination and responsibility. What this dissertation argues

necessary, is an appropriate balance between treating the female offender as neither

a victim or as a criminal, but maintaining that each woman is an individual with

strengths and abilities. This dissertation has concluded that a holistic and

empowering sentence can be implemented in line with principles of both retribution

and rehabilitation – if it maintains a necessary focus on desistence, and an

insistence that the individual must help themselves. Helping an offender to ‘do the

right thing’ and ‘do things right’, through the provision of accessible opportunities,

should eventually impact on societies quest for social justice, and the potential role

and expertise of the voluntary sector makes this suggestion encouragingly more


Some criminological research has suggested that women’s ‘self-worth is based on

[their] connections to others’ (see Carlen, 1998), therefore the segregated nature of

women’s prisons, very few of which are still semi-open or open, often leads to an

increase in ‘isolation and shaming’. In some research (McNeill, 2010), this lack of

social networking potential is identified as a cause for re-offending, due to the

prolonged stigma and separation of social capital which accompanies a prison

Page | 43

sentence, leading this dissertation to conclude that, where possible and appropriate,

all intervention packages for women should be delivered from within her ‘home’


However, in contrast to the vast body of current research suggesting prison isn’t an

appropriate place for women with the aforementioned ‘needs’ and issues, there is

research which indicates that for some, ‘prison [provides] a safe haven from

violence, racism and other social conditions’ (Henriques and Jones-Brown, 2000).

Brown et al (1998) also suggested that “if prison [is] considered a physically and

psychologically safe environment, [it] may be an effective time to address effects of

prior victimisation which has led to female offending’. What this dissertation

considers then, in light of this research, is a substantial need to improve the social

environment outside of prison for the entire population, so that the loss of liberty,

which accompanies incarceration, is never preferable; the prison institution should

not exist to provide respite from any level of social injustice, discrimination,

disadvantage or danger. Instead, society should accept dual responsibility in

empowering and encouraging individuals not to commit crimes; by insisting on

equality and support for the more vulnerable, by holistically challenging issues of

victimisation, discrimination and disadvantage within the local community, and

encouraging others to seek voluntary help before there is a need to intervene.

Page | 44


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