Around the world, people suffer the overuse of pre-trial detention. Too many people are kept for too long, often in violation of national Constitutions and laws. Second, too many people are kept in prison lock-ups, which are not equipped to handle diverse populations. This often means children are held with adults; men and women are held in the same space; remand prisoners and convicted prisoners are held together, and the list goes on. It’s a global crisis, and it’s getting worse by the day.
In England and Wales, this presumption of guilt has particular gendered aspects:
“In England and Wales, about a third of men and half of women remanded to pretrial detention are poor enough to receive council housing benefits. … In England and Wales, half of men and two-thirds of women who were employed at the time of arrest lost their jobs as a result of their pretrial detention.”
While the ratios may not be shocking, they bear reflection. How does the so-called criminal justice system, and the State of which it is an ever-growing part, address the gender imbalance? How does the State respond to half of the women being in need of assistance and two-thirds of the women workers losing their jobs as a result of pre-trial detention?
A 2009 report noted that, in the preceding decade, the number of women in English and Welsh prisons had increased by 60%, compared to 28% for men. Much of this rise was due to revised sentencing rules, or better, the intersection of the State will-to-incarcerate and the political economic war on women. Here’s what that looks like.
Between 1997 and 2007, there was a 40% increase in the number of women in prison awaiting trial. In the same period, men prisoners awaiting trial decreased by 11%. More than 40% of women prisoners awaiting trial have attempted suicide at some point in their lives; for men that number is a little over 25%. Nearly two-thirds of women remand prisoners suffer from depression, a figure far higher than that of sentenced women prisoners. Half of all women on remand receive no visits from their family (for men, that number is 25%).
An earlier report by the Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales noted that, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, 65% of women had lost their jobs because of detention, and only 11% expected to have a job on release. This compared with 51% of men losing their jobs and 18% expecting to have a job upon release. Between 2000 and 2009, the numbers for women only worsened.
For decades, British public policy has wreaked havoc on women’s lives by eliminating mental health assistance, severely limiting housing and other forms of assistance, and increasing and intensifying “opportunities for arrest”. More women are arrested, held, receive little to no proper attention, receive little to no preparation for trial, lose their jobs, communities, support network, and, often, lives, and for what? Who has benefited from this decades long vicious assault on women’s lives? When innocence is gutted, who profits?