A number of high-profile crimes (with saturation media coverage) together with a government-led tough stance towards offenders has resulted in what has been called a ‘populist punitiveness’ (Bottoms 1995) wherein governments have courted popularity by taking ever-sterner measures against wrongdoers and, concomitantly, it has been difficult to raise public support for assistance to prisoners once they have served their sentence. This climate of popular punitiveness has also been aggravated by high rates of unemployment, the crises in western welfare systems and all the new types of citizen anxieties inherent in postmodern risk societies (Beck 1992). In England, too, there have been media-inspired campaigns against the integration and/or reintegration of certain types of ex-prisoners, especially those with convictions for sexual offences against children or murder, and those with histories of mental illness. Much of the ambivalence, however, also inheres in the doctrine of the historical doctrine of ‘less eligibility’ which has been a pervasive influence on social policy in relation to lawbreakers, or even people (such as single parents, gypsies or other groups seen as ‘other’) who are merely seen to be ‘less deserving’.
The ideology of ‘less eligibility’ operates either legally and explicitly (or illegally and implicitly) on the assumption that people should not be better off because they have committed a crime. In research, it is often only when officials are probed as to their priorities that it is possible to uncover assumptions of ‘less eligibility’ affecting policy. However, assumptions of the desirability of the ‘less eligibility’ doctrine are regularly deployed in the British press as the claims of more deserving citizens are prioritised over those of ex-prisoners or others seen to be ‘undeserving’.
They will say that re-offending costs £11 million a year, but the Treasury won’t give that very little bit extra to increase the discharge grant. The buck is passed. (A.25)
However, it was an encouraging sign of government intent that the Women’s Offending Reduction Programme was mentioned in the Government’s 2004 Spending Review as not only aiming to meet the specific needs of women offenders but also to reduce the need for custody. The Women’s Offending Reduction Programme, published in March 2004, responds to the challenges in implementing this agenda for women. Over the 2004 Spending Review period the Government will pilot radical new approaches to meet the specific needs of women offenders, to tackle the causes of crime and re- offending among this group and reduce the need for custody.
No holistic and co-ordinated strategy, resulting in
Fragmentation of responses to women ex-prisoners’ needs
Many women coming out of prison have a multiplicity of problems and the fragmented approaches of agencies make them worse: for example, a housing agency may refuse to house a woman because her children are in state care, but the social services may not allow the woman to have her children back in her care until she has a house! Or, a hostel set up for the mentally ill ex-prisoner may not house one who has a mental health and a drugs problem.