The [re]settlement of women prisoners in Northern Ireland: from rhetoric to reality

Document type
Working Paper
Kerr, Jacqueline
Howard League for Penal Reform
Date of publication
25 June 2014
What is justice? Working papers; 8/2014
Resettlement, Offenders, Criminal Justice Services
Social welfare
Material type

Download (501KB )

Penal practices in Northern Ireland are fashioned around the legacy of civil unrest and the imprisonment of politically affiliated prisoners. Women represent a small percentage of the prison population, and most are sentenced for minor ‘offences’, including non-payment of fines. Women exiting prison share histories of severe social exclusion and complex unmet needs in relation to housing, employment, income, education, training, and mental and physical health. Recently, the introduction of a strategy for the management of women who offend, gender specific standards for working with women prisoners and the establishment of the probation-led Inspire Women’s Project, have marked an acknowledgement of women’s penality by the Department of Justice. This paper draws upon primary qualitative research data on women’s resettlement experience in Northern Ireland to consider the correlation between gender responsive measures and the increasing criminalisation and imprisonment of severely disadvantaged and marginalised women. It explores the failure of gender responsive initiatives to reduce the Northern Ireland female prison population, it examines professional discourse which privileges the responsibilisation of women and the language of choice and reflects upon the up-tariffing of women on the basis of their unmet need rather than the seriousness of their offending.

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