Loughborough University
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Life histories of women who offend: a study of women in English prisons

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posted on 2012-07-31, 12:13 authored by Laura Caulfield
This thesis examines the life experiences of a sample of women in English prisons. It is focused on developing a greater understanding of the experiences and needs of women in prison in areas where the research literature is lacking, or where women s experiences are not yet fully understood. The research is set within the context of significant increases in the women s prison population, developments in policy and practice relating to the treatment of women offenders, and recent reports from the Ministry of Justice that the UK government lacks a thorough understanding of the needs of women in prison. Approved by HM Prison Service National Research Committee, the research includes review of Offender Assessment System records and in-depth interviews with 43 women from three English prisons. Adopting a primarily qualitative approach, the data are thematically analysed with the aid of NVivo to explore women s experiences in childhood and growing up; adult life circumstances; parenthood; alcohol and drug use; mental health; and experiences within prison. Key findings from the research suggest that for many women in prison their past experiences are specific responsivity factors that require focused input in order to tackle the reasons underlying their criminogenic needs. Specifically, the research highlights that women in prison attribute much of their life experience and offending as related to past experiences, but that there is a need to broaden the definitions of childhood trauma and victimisation used when discussing women offenders in order to more fully reflect the lived experiences of women who offend. The research identifies a number of gender specific issues that have been previously neglected in the literature. The findings challenge some of the recent literature around the drug and alcohol use of offenders, and also highlight how poor relationships can exacerbate women s issues with drug and alcohol use. The research provides evidence of consistency in mental health problems experienced by women in prison and the underlying causes of these problems, answering questions concerning the extent to which women s mental health problems exist prior to prison. Furthermore, the research documents how prison can present an opportunity for women to engage with treatment. However, the research also highlights the failure of the prison service to fully record the scale and scope of mental health and emotional problems experienced by women in prison. The thesis concludes that there is a need for a gender-informed focus in prison in both assessment and treatment.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Laura Caulfield

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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  • en