Emotion, Time, and the Voice of Women Affected by the Criminal Justice Process: Corston and the Female Offender Strategy

Published 23/01/2019
Author(s) Beverley Gilbert, Kristy O’Dowd

Read the journal article corresponding to this blog: Emotion, Time, and the Voice of Women Affected by the Criminal Justice Process: Corston and the Female Offender Strategy

Many organisations, including criminal justice sector organisations, have an expectation that change should occur quickly in the lives of the women with whom they work. As a result, organisational (or process) time readily overrides that of service-user time. Time limited criminal justice processes are reducing the opportunity to work within the women service user’s timeframes in order to enable them to make long-term changes in their lives, and to develop their own positive personal capacities. The ever faster ticking clock of efficiency requirements and financial constraints within criminal justice service provision serves to overlook the deep emotional needs of women who become involved in criminal activity.

In 2007 Baroness Corston articulated a vision of creating a ‘distinct, radically different, visibly-led, strategic, proportionate, holistic, woman-centred, integrated approach’ with women in the criminal justice system (Corston, 2006:79). These sentiments are echoed within the Government’s Female Offender Strategy (Ministry of Justice, 2018). Yet criminal justice processes, delivery agencies and some third sector voluntary and community organisations working under the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda may reduce opportunities to work to the timeframe of women service users to allow for ‘the complex and layered process, especially within the context of chronic stress and trauma’ (Gomm, 2013). Consequently, a woman’s ability to make long-term changes in her life, and her opportunity to develop positive personal capacities, may be hindered or reduced.

The spectrum of needs of women involved in crime is broad. The impact of domestic abuse on women is high with almost 60% of women within the criminal justice process having experienced domestic abuse (Ministry of Justice, 2018). Drawing from the autobiographical account of a woman experiencing domestic abuse and of being processed through the criminal justice system, we see that there is a dissonance between how quickly a woman might turn her life around after experiencing abuse and that of the timescale of the criminal justice system. Rehabilitation, recovery and resources need to be tailored to the individual needs of each woman, with a personalised intervention and support plan being developed. Many women have little faith in agencies and statutory organisations and a time limited, simplistic ‘one size fits all’ approach to the lives of women can serve to disempower, particularly where women do not have a range of self-selected opportunities and resources. Women can then feel demotivated and as part of a process. Far better for women to have a voice in dealing with their own lives: a concept that is considered vital when desisting from crime (Maruna, 2001).

Understanding this time related need to achieving recovery and rehabilitation is key in relation to motivational and meaningful engagement with the woman. This can be in stark contrast with that of the criminal justice practitioner’s organisation. Time-limited or restricted practice, and non-distinct service provision, can have a significant impact on women’s emotional needs and therefore on their progress, healing and rehabilitation after involvement in crime.