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The main gender-specific aspects of (potential) women prisoners’ primary exclusion (i.e. the exclusion from many of the opportunities and amenities enjoyed by the majority of the population) inhere in:

Women’s Poor Economic position as single mothers, carers or unemployed men

partners of

In a study conducted in 2001 (HM Inspectorates of Prisons and Probation 2001) it was found that, overall, 72 percent of prisoners of prison are in receipt of welfare benefits before coming into prison, while the Social Exclusion Unit (2002: 137) reported that ‘many prisoners come from a background of severe social exclusion…women prisoners have similar - and in some cases even worse – problems to their male counterparts’. The same report claimed that

Women have particular difficulty re-establishing Child Benefit claims on release and this can impact negatively on the award of dependants’ allowances on other benefits such as Income Support and Jobseekers’ allowance. (Social Exclusion Unit 2002: 110)

  • Domestic and Sexual abuse

Over half of women in prison report that they have suffered domestic violence and one in three have experienced sexual abuse (Prison Reform Trust 2004). Several examples were given by our interviewees, of which the one below is typical:

We got married when I was 22 and after a year he started beating me up. It was a control thing. I used to go in to work with blue and black eyes, and I was so ashamed. Then he got worse and one day he pulled a knife on me. (Muriel about why she got a divorce from her first husband.)

  • The Poverty of Foreign National drugs’ couriers who often commit their

crimes to maintain a large family of young or elderly dependents.

Foreign national women constitute a fifth of the female prison population. A worker in a welfare organisation for foreign national women prisoners spoke to us about foreign national women convicted of the illegal importation of drugs:

Most of them have never left their country before. They are in poverty, and much of the time they are being used as decoys. The men who control them, and send them here, lend them money and keep using them until they are caught. Many of them never get anything out of it. They are women who do it because they are the main providers in their households – not only for their children, but for their mothers as well. In their home countries they are even excluded by their poverty from help from the churches – such help doesn’t go to the very poor. 90%of them are single parents. (A.18 )

  • Histories of State Care and Lack of Education One in four of women in prison have spent time in local authority care as a child. Nearly 40 percent…leave school before the age of 16. Almost one in 10 were aged 13 or younger [when they left school]. (Prison Reform Trust 2004:11 )

Girls who were in care or fostered were particularly likely to have had extra- marital births, three or more live-in partners, become teenage mothers – and experienced several other negative outcomes (homelessness, lack of qualifications and low household income)…Boys seem less vulnerable to the negative influences of care and fostering…This gender difference in the effect of care as an antecedent to adult exclusion is dramatic. (Hobcraft 1998: 91)


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