The thesis is concerned with the role and function of one third/voluntary sector organisation, a women’s centre (The Women’s Centre - TWC), which opened in response to the Corston Report (2007) in the North-West of England, for formerly imprisoned women with mental health problems. Utilising an abolitionist informed Foucauldian feminist analytical framework, which is chiefly inspired by the work of Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Pat Carlen and David Scott, the narratives of 14 formerly imprisoned women (clients of TWC) and 16 members of staff at TWC are critically analysed. In doing so, the thesis fulfils three core aims.
First, it fills a significant gap in the literature in relation to the experiences of formerly imprisoned women in England, in a post Corston report context. The thesis addresses this deficit by adding new knowledge to this field through a specific focus on the post-release experiences of women with mental health problems, highlighting the links between mental health problems and criminalisation. Further adding to prior research (Eaton, 1992; Carlton and Seagrave; 2011a; 2011b; 2013; 2016), the thesis evidences that imprisonment is not an isolated painful event in the lives of women with mental health problems, but instead the experience of imprisonment impacts upon women after release, exacerbating their social and economic disadvantage.
Second, the thesis provides a critical analysis of the role and function of a voluntary sector organisation for formerly imprisoned women with mental health problems; TWC. As such, it addresses a further significant deficit in the literature in terms of how a women’s centre, inspired by the Corston Report, functions for this particular group of women.
Finally, the thesis considers how formerly imprisoned women with mental health problems are constructed and understand themselves within TWC. Drawing on the work of governmentality and gender responsivity scholars (Hannah-Moffat, 2001; Goodkind, 2009; Haney, 2010; Rottenberg, 2014), it concludes that TWC closely adhered to the neoliberal principle of individual responsibility which was endorsed by the Corston Report, as a solution to the hardships experienced by women in conflict with the law. It is thus contended that a neoliberal feminized governance from a distance strategy was deployed. The thesis evidences that empowerment rhetoric was mobilised as a vehicle to transform TWC clients into independent, self-sufficient, responsible subjects. It is not a contention of the thesis to assert that TWC staff were not sympathetic toward the difficulties experienced by their clients, indeed the thesis evidences the reverse. It is however asserted that TWC’s adherence to neoliberal rhetoric rendered these sympathies ineffective. No challenge to structural and economic inequality produced by neoliberalism was evident. Instead, through a variety of practices and partnerships with statutory and voluntary agencies, TWC aims and objectives were aligned with those of the state, and were concerned with the prevention of recidivism and initial offending, thus calculating women’s needs as criminogenic risk factors. In the case of TWC, the thesis further highlights that little resistance was evident in terms of its acceptance of and adherence to neoliberal agendas. Instead marketised models were generally embraced as inevitable and economically necessary for financial survival. The thesis therefore concurs with more pessimistic accounts of the role of the voluntary sector in crime control (See Corcoran, 2009; Corcoran et al, 2018; 2019) as opposed to optimistic accounts (See Tomczak, 2014; 2017b) and thus contends that TWC could be considered as an extension of transcarceral surveillance and control of those most vulnerable in the community (Carlen & Tombs, 2006; Carlton & Seagrave, 2013; 2016).
The thesis overall asserts the need for an abolitionist informed Foucauldian feminist praxis in order to systematically challenge neoliberal rhetoric, and to work toward the removal of structural inequalities as opposed to their concealment and reinforcement. It is contended that these disadvantages are unlikely to be addressed by voluntary/third sector gender responsive strategies operating within neoliberal contexts. Instead it is argued that such strategies maintain inequality through a reinforcement of the notion that it is the sole responsibility of the individual woman for her ‘failure’, thus absolving the state of responsibility for generating and maintaining the conditions that render women suitable candidates for imprisonment.
- Foucauldian feminism
- third/voluntary sector
- gender responsivity
- women’s centres