The radical reform of women’s prisons is considered more politically acceptable than the reform of men’s prisons, according to one of the author’s of a new report which calls for substantial reductions in prisoner numbers.
In an exclusive interview with insideMAN magazine, Professor Nicola Lacey (pictured above) of the London School of Economics reveals that campaigners for prison reform “have been more optimistic that a radical reform of women’s imprisonment would be politically acceptable” even though the vast majority of prisoners are male and the arguments for reform “apply just as much to men as to women”.
One of the major political barriers to prison reform, according to Professor Lacey, is the fear that reducing the prison population will make society less safe, despite evidence that the contribution that prison makes to safety and security is “rather low and disproportionate to its economic, social and moral costs”.
According to the Professor, who is an expert in Law, Gender and Social Policy, the belief that reducing the number of people in prison puts society at risk may be more marked in relation to male prisoners.
Some prisoners are more vulnerable than others
“A tendency to demonise any group of offenders – or offenders generally – will certainly be a barrier to reform,” she told us, “as will a tendency to think that if we take offenders’ vulnerability or disadvantage seriously, this amounts to excusing them, or not holding them properly accountable. It may well be that this sort of barrier is stronger in relation to men than women.”
Professor Lacey is keen to point out that there are particular groups of men who are more vulnerable than others and in particular, those men who are at most likely to be excluded from the “legitimate economy”.
“The huge restructuring of the labour market over the last 45 years, and the disappearance of many formerly secure career paths in, for example, the manufacturing sector – has undoubtedly had a particular impact on men, with an associated upshot for crime and the perceived need for tough punishment,” she says.
Fatherlessness and crime
“The existence of a significant group – perhaps disproportionately of men – who find it hard to access the legitimate economy has in my view undoubtedly had a real influence on the politics of criminal justice.”
The absence of fathers from the poorest communities is also a concern as both a cause and consequence of imprisonment.
“The quality of parenting in general, of both fathering and mothering, are a central part of the challenge which we present in the Report,” she says. “One of the most vivid social consequences of mass imprisonment…is the preponderance of single parent, usually female-headed, households in the poor areas in which levels of – particularly black male – imprisonment are staggeringly high.”
The challenge, says Professor Lacey is “to think of prisons policy not just in terms of criminal justice, but in relation to social policy more generally”. This is a challenge, it seems, that is made all the more difficult in a society that is not yet ready to view male prisoners with the same empathy that we now view female prisoners.
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men