Prison reform for female inmates grossly overdue

In April this year I spent nearly three and a half weeks at Bronzefield HMP. For a civil prisoner like myself to be incarcerated in a category AA prison, alongside hardened criminals was a real eye opener. However, I found that there were many women, who had, like me, committed offences that were neither violent, nor did they pose a threat to society. And yet, here we all were, rubbing shoulders and indeed sharing cells with women who had killed, had plotted terrorist attacks on British soil, and participated in violent robberies, drugs and guns. Nearly all of us had one thing in common: underlying mental health issues, some of which had gone untreated for many years.

So the recent announcement that the Government had abandoned plans for five community prisons across England and Wales, and instead decided to trial the use of residential centres to help female prisoners adjust to life on the outside with help in finding work, and drugs rehabilitation etc seems to be a positive way forward for prisoners and society alike.

The Justice Secretary Michael Gauke cited figures that ‘70.7% of women and 62.9% of men released from custody between April and June 2016 after a sentence of less than a year went on to re-offend within 12 months’ and that there was persuasive evidence that suggested that the new centres could help in reducing re-offending rates. The new centres could also allow mothers to have their children with them while they re-adjusted back to ‘normal life’.

So could these new plans work in helping to reduce the numbers of female prisoners re-offending? It is hard to say. The emotional, psychological and physical impact of incarceration cannot be easily reversed.

Life on the inside is hard enough, but the sheer lack of provisions for female prisoners with mental health issues was simply astounding. In short, there simply wasn’t enough staff at Bronzefield HMP trained to deal with women who were self-harming, harming others and generally trying to kill themselves.

According to the Prison Reform Trust, 26% of women said they had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody.

25% of women in prison reported symptoms indicative of psychosis. The rate among the general public is about 4%.

The latest figures suggest that 46% of inmates have tried to commit suicide, but the prison system simply does not have the resources or manpower to implement suicide watches for everyone. Once a prisoner has been identified as a suicide risk, they are unable to go anywhere without a prison guard.

I actually believe the figures to be a lot higher. In the space of two weeks, I witnessed three separate suicide attempts, and after each attempt, the prisoner was returned back to her cell with a welfare officer paying a visit a few hours later. The prisoner herself had been sentenced for possession of an offensive weapon after she called the police and told them she had wanted to stab herself. Her subsequent hefty prison sentence disrupted her mental health treatment and set her recovery back many years.

Another prisoner, who had been sentenced for attempting to set alight a man suspected of sexually abusing a family member, had been recalled to complete the rest of her 8 year prison sentence after she was released halfway through her sentence. She had failed to readjust to life “on the outside because no one prepared her for it”. Her three children, all under the age of five when she was imprisoned, will be teens when she is released in two years’ time.

Another prisoner was given 32 month sentence for preventing bailiffs from entering her property over an unpaid council tax fine. Her toddler daughter is being looked after by her now estranged partner.

There are currently no provisions to help mothers cope with the separation from their children, and the guilt they feel at having to leave their children to be raised by family members. Around 40 % of the women I spoke with at Bronzefield HMP told me their mothers had had to step in and take their children. Those who were not fortunate to have their family members look after their children found that the care system was the only other option available to them.

Bronzefield HMP is one of the few women’s prisons in the UK to have its own mother and baby unit- with space for 12 mothers and 13 babies. It is always full and has a very long waiting list. Female prisoners serve their sentences until giving birth in the main part of the prison, and then once they have given birth, they move into the Unit and can keep their baby with them for 18 months. After that, the child is returned to the outside, to live with either family members or to into the care of the social services. It is quite telling about the length of the sentences given that none of the prisoners or guards that I spoke with can remember a child being returned to the outside while the mother stays inside to complete the rest of her sentence.

There were at least four pregnant prisoners in Bronzefield HMP during my short time there; one heavily pregnant prisoner was given a four week sentence for driving without insurance and was worried she would have to give birth while inside. Another, who shared a cell next to mine, had been on remand for 7 months and was also weeks away from giving birth. Her continued usage of drugs meant that her place in the mother and baby unit was under review; if she lost her place, she would have to give her child to either her family or social services immediately after birth and return to the prison.

The justice system is simply failing to recognise the impact that long periods of separation are having on the children of mothers currently serving prison sentences despite numerous research papers being published on the matter. In effect, we are creating further generations of damaged children, who will grow into being damaged teens and adults.

Perhaps these new residential centres could help to stem the tide of re-offending. But, here is a radical thought: why don’t we address the sentencing criteria that has resulted 86% of women being sent to prison for non-violent crimes in the first place? Once we tackle the harsh sentences meted out to first time female offenders, we can surely resolve the issues around their re-offending much more easily.

Tags: #Womeninprison #prisonmentalhealth #femaleprisoners #femaleinmates #suicidefemaleprisoners #pregnantprisoners #womenprisonermothers

bullying financial control VAWG EVAW, domestic violence, domestic violence coercive control, Uncategorized

Clear Score decidedly short sighted over DV ado

The latest Clear Score advert is simply jaw dropping and not in  a good way either!

Picture the scenario: Man goes through the compost bin and discovers his partner has had a sneaky avocado and immediately begins to berate her. Her frightened and panicked response is to placate him by using the Clear Score app, primarily as a means to divert attention away from her and onto something else. The body language in itself is very telling: unnecessarily aggressive and hostile from the man while the woman is cowering as he leans over her. I simply cannot fathom how an advert like this was sanctioned to appear on our daytime TV screens, during the time when the majority of women are at home having just done the school run etc.

How many of us recognise this scenario, either by having gone through it ourselves or seen a loved one suffer some level of control and abuse? Someone I have worked with in the past was not allowed to eat or drink certain foods such as bread, cow’s milk, chocolate and sweets or anything that would ‘make her fat’. Her partner believed it was his duty to ensure that she lost weight and would often taunt her by calling her a ‘beast’, comment disparagingly on the size of her clothes and proudly claim all of his previous girlfriends and wives had lost weight thanks to him. She would often binge on junk food and then hide the wrappers in other people’s bins in case her partner went through their bins hunting for evidence of her disobeying him, very much like this advert in fact.

On the rare occasions she was allowed to visit me at home, she would make herself slices of buttered toast and wolf them down before even saying hi to me and subsequently nicknamed my home as the ‘House of Sin’ due to the amounts of sugars and carbs I ‘allowed’ her to consume.

This kind of conditioning and psychological control, now illegal under ‘coercive control’ legislation, can take place over a short time or over a longer period of time, and affects everyone regardless of their education or job; this person was a highly educated office manager, managing over 20 people during her day job while being bullied and abused by her partner every evening. Often, victims don’t even recognise that this is what is happening to them until it is too late and by then lack the confidence, emotional and psychological strength to seek help and leave.

This is why we need to ensure that this advert is removed immediately. It normalises dangerous and unaccpetable behaviour such as financial and coercive abuse; while reinforcing the existing stereotypes of men in control of how women should behave, eat and spend money and while women in subservient positions, trying to appease and placate them.

Maybe the ad agencies need to wake up and realise that in 2018, women also have a voice and are not afraid to use it.


DISCOVER Why are Aboriginal women in Australia hit with racism and sexual threats for sharing their views?

Racial taunts. Body-shaming. Threatened with gang-rape and even death.

Indigenous women in Australia are still being menaced for speaking their views.

What do Lidia Thorpe, Jacinta Price and Tarneen Onus-Williams have in common? These three Aboriginal women share their experiences of being the subject of targeted attacks, by the media and public, after voicing their opinions.

Aboriginal women are facing threats of violence for speaking up about issues that affect their communities

By Nakari Thorpe

Original post

Source: NITV News

Racial taunts. Body-shaming. Threatened with gang-rape and even death.

Indigenous women in Australia are still being menaced for speaking their views.

What do Lidia Thorpe, Jacinta Price and Tarneen Onus-Williams have in common? These three Aboriginal women share their experiences of being the subject of targeted attacks, by the media and public, after voicing their opinions.


Attacked for speaking out


It was the deafening banging on the front door of Victorian Greens MP Lidia Thorpe’s electorate office, in Melbourne’s inner-north, that first raised the alarm.

Luckily the door was locked, but it didn’t stop an unidentified man from getting his message across.

“All Abos must die,” the note he slipped under the door read.

The incident was the latest in a string of graphic sexual violence and death threats Ms Thorpe received after calling for Australian flags to be flown at half-mast on January 26.

“I wasn’t shocked. I was more disturbed a little, I think, by the level of degree that they went to,” Ms Thorpe tells NITV News.

As a Gunnai-Gundtjimara woman, Lidia has grown up surrounded by women who’ve dedicated their lives to the Aboriginal cause; women with fire in their bellies.

As a result she’s become accustomed to being attacked for voicing her opinion.

“I’ve grown up in an environment where speaking out about Aboriginal people and our rights, [and] calling for land rights … has always meant that we’re attacked,” she says.


Feminism in Israel: 22 women from across Israeli society speak out about what feminism means to them

By Professor Alan Johnson

Feminism in Israel is a special issue of Fathom journal that brings together the voices of 22 women from across Israeli society. Secular and religious, academic and activist, Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian, together they offer a new map of women’s experience in contemporary Israel, and new insights into the changing structures of oppression women face today, the patterns of resistance they have developed to fight for equality in the Knesset and in civil society, the distinctive role played by women in the promotion of peacebuilding and a shared society, and the present state and future potential of Israeli feminism.

Three framing essays open the collection. Dahlia Scheindlin asks if the forward march of women in Israel has been halted, noting the profound challenge to feminism posed by a resurgent religiosity that rejects women’s equality, while Einat Wilf unearths the surprising affinities of anti-feminism and anti-Zionism. Elham Manea addresses two central obstacles to women’s equality in the Arab and Muslim world: authoritarian governance and Islamist ideology. She also reflects critically on ͚the failure of many western progressives, including many western feminists, to support oppressed Arab and Muslim women.

Embodying the refusal to accept any reversal of equality for Israeli women are Aliza Lavie MK, Chairwoman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking and Prostitution, and Rachel Azaria MK, of Kulanu. Both detail their involvement in ongoing reform fights within the Knesset. Their determination is matched in the sphere of civil society by many of our contributors, including the young activists of Darkenu: Israel’s Moderate Majority.

The distinctive role of women in peacebuilding is examined in several essays and interviews. Rabbanit Tirza Kelman reflects on the recent visit by national-religious leaders to Northern Ireland and the lessons she drew from that peace process for peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians. Sarai Aharoni  ciritically evaluates the much-discussed ‘women and peace hypothesis’. She also offers a detailed and critical analysis of the high hopes invested in UN resolution 325 to engender Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts, and the rather disappointing results.

The shifting patterns of women’s inclusion and exclusion from the Israeli public square is the bitterly contested subject addressed by Miriam Zalkind and Michal Gera Margaliot of the Israeli Women’s Network. Yofi Tirosh also raises the alarm about the threat to equality from religiously inspired sex-segregation in Israel’s public institutions. Rachel Tevet Vizel, ‘gender advisor’ to the IDF Chief of Staff from 2011 to 2017, addresses these concerns. She sets out first the dilemmas – how to successfully integrate women into the IDF at the same time as the national-Religious and ultra-Orthodox conscripts, and how to attend to the imperative of equal-opportunity as well as the imperative of winning wars – before defending the coherence and balance of the resulting middle way, as embodied in the Joint-Service Ordinance she helped to draft.

Different kinds of challenges to the unequal position of women within strands of Orthodoxy are set out. Elana Maryles Sztokman, author of The War on Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Women Fighting for Freedom, and the former Executive Director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance contributes a sparkling personal essay about her decision to leave Orthodoxy and train as a Reform Rabbi. Pnina Pfeuffer, a Haredi feminist, sets out how the combination of rapid social, economic and cultural change in Israel, as well as the revolution of the internet and social media, are beginning to create openings for the emergence of a new and exciting Haredi feminism.

Arab and Palestinian perspectives are not neglected. Fida Nara and Sarit Larry of Mahapach-Taghir, a feminist Jewish-Palestinian organisation, set out the organisation’s unique and truly innovative blend of critical pedagogy, feminism and Jewish-Palestinian partnership for social justice. Palestinian-Israeli Samah Salaime of Arab Women in the Center (Na’am in Arabic) maps the causes of the appalling gender-based violence against Arab women in Israel, and suggests the changes needed to combat it, from a revolution in Israeli state policy and practice to a cultural revolution in Arab society. West Banker Huda Abu Arqoub, Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) and a leading supporter of Women Wage Peace, spoke to the editors about the challenges faced by a Palestinian feminist engaged in conflict-resolution activism.

Professor Alan Johnson, for the editors.



Princess Sophia Duleep Singh: the Sikh princess who took on the Suffragette struggle

Princess Sophia Dhuleep Singh was a tireless campaigner for women in the UK to have the right to vote- she ended up with a criminal record for her efforts

Princess Sophia Jindan Alexdrowna Duleep Singh was the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. He had been deposed from his throne at the age of 11 and exiled to Britain two years later. He became a great favourite of the royal family and Princess Sophia was brought up among the British aristocracy. Queen Victoria was her godmother.

She could have had an easy life and could have spent her time enjoying luxury, including foreign travel. However, Sophia decided to become involved in the movement for Women’s Suffrage (being allowed to vote). She attended meetings and joined in demonstrations, including the famous Black Monday demonstration when the Suffragettes clashed with the police and many were injured. She joined the Women’s Tax Resistance League, this led her into court, twice, having the bailiffs visit her house and take her belongings. She also went out on the streets, giving out leaflets, alongside her fellow suffragettes.

Later, she was a newspaper delivery girl for the paper The Suffragette. Sophia would regularly deliver the paper by horse and cart around the theatres of London to help raise awareness and funds for the Suffragette cause.

After the war she joined the Suffragette Fellowship led by Mrs Pankhurst. Sophia was a very active campaigner. After Mrs Pankhurst’s death in 1928, she was appointed President of the Committee. The Princess Sophia remained a member of the Suffragette Fellowship to the end of her life.

Princess Sophia could have spent her days living in the lap of luxury as afforded to her by virtue of her status (Queen Victoria was her godmother) but she chose not to. She was a true campaigner who could not stand by and let others fight for a cause she passionately believed in and paved the way for many other women of colour to fight on after her.


Sharia marriages satisfy religious requirements without offering any real legal protection.

Sharia marriages satisfy religious requirements without offering real legal protection.

Today’s report is a real milestone for campaigners and activists who want to see the practice of nikah-only marriages given the added protection of a civil marriage. (Nikah: Islamic marriage ceremony)

For many, these marriages are an important expression of our faith that no one should deny, but there has been a increase in the number of nikah only marriage; it is difficult to put an exact figure since sharia councils and mosques do not keep centralised records that are open to the public. Some estimates range from around 40% to as high as 70% but again there is not real way of establishing whether any of these figures are correct.

I should know a thing or two about sharia marriages; I have had two and both ended pretty badly.

My first divorce was over in 30 seconds after my then husband gave me a triple talak (binding divorce) in a fit of anger. Suddenly, I was a divorced single mum to a four year old.

I vowed I would not make the same mistake again, and when I met the person who would become my second husband, I was very open and clear about my first experiences and that I wanted a civil marriage. He was more than happy to oblige, but wanted a nikah first. That should have sent off alarm bells; I later found out (a few months after my nikah) that my now ex was actually married. The ease at which we got married (12 weeks after being introduced for the first time, my ex made a phone call in the morning, by the evening, our nikah was complete) meant that there was very little time to think or ask questions.

And that is not the only danger.

After a sharia divorce, women are often turfed out onto the streets and have no recourse through the courts because their contributions to the ‘marital’ home are not recognised. Both parties are dealt with as co-habitees by the courts, if it ever gets to court. Legal aid is not available; the expensive and scary nature of legal proceedings means that women can’t fight for their rights legally. I have come across many cases where women are denied recognition of the financial contributions they have made or even a portion of their former husband’s future earnings or pensions (as a wife married under civil law is entitled to) because their relationship was not registered.

It is evident that some men use the nikah as ‘evidence’ of their commitment yet it is a very hollow promise; these men can easily be married to other women (as in my case) or get married again but not fall fowl of the bigamy laws (it is illegal to be married under civil law to more than one person in many countries including the UK)

In some cases, men have moved on by marrying other women and even having children yet refuse to grant their former wives a divorce, leaving them hanging in emotional limbo until they can obtain their Islamic ones.

There have been some dissenting voices in light of the report; some Muslims argue that the UK sharia courts are moving with the times- they no longer are the drab and scary places that women dreaded going to secure their divorces. For example, the sharia based Dewsbury council have had a female support worker employed for a number of years, who gives advice, support and encouragement in an otherwise male dominated environment.

There are also some women who want to protect their right to enter into a polygamous marriage if they choose to, which would be impossible under the recommendations of the report. Other women, especially those who own property and other assets, may feel vulnerable should their marriage break down and they are forced to share their hard earned wealth with their former husbands. For them, a nikah only marriage is the best option.

I, for one, am glad that sharia councils are to be regulated more than simply being eradicated. In 2016, I was involved in a sharia divorce case being heard in Pakistan. The wife was accused of having had sexual relations before marriage after her husband cited her lack of bleeding when they consummated their marriage as ‘evidence’ in the open court.

In 2014, I became involved in a campaign to reunite a British mother with her child, whose custody had been given to the French father after a sharia court in Dubai ruled she was an unfit mother because she had gay friends and because the child had eczema. The father, having decided that a sharia court would be more favourable due to their questionable record of recognising women’s rights, was initially able to convince both courts in the UK and in France to recognise the documents as legally binding. The two cases are now before the Supreme Court in Paris and the Courts of Appeal in London, outcomes of both will have a lasting impact on future custody, divorce and maintenance cases.

Translated, it means that if a Muslim mother petitions a divorce in say, Saudi Arabia, she may also lose custody of her children (under some interpretations of sharia law, sons are handed over to the father after the age of 7 and daughters after the age of 11) The father can then have the document ratified (recognised) in UK courts and enforce the rulings.

It is without doubt some sharia courts in many different countries are inherently unfair to women but at least we have the added protection of a robust legal system in the UK that recognises the rights of women, and mothers. It is about time we made use of that protection. 


Lenient sentencing in race hate mum case sends wrong messages


West Yorkshire


Magistrates’ Court and all Domestic Abuse work

4th Floor, Rose Court

2 Southwark Bridge

London, SE1 9HS

1st February 2018

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I read with great alarm and distress the sentence given to Ms Cheryl McKeown today for making threats to kill to the daughter of her Muslim neighbour, blowing cannabis smoke into the face of a child, and further shouting racist abuse, telling her victims “this is becoming an Islamic Estate, get your children out of this country” and “f*** off back to where you belong”.

She further made ‘gun’ gestures with her hands in front of the terrified victim’s children and even filmed guests entering and leaving the property of the victim without their consent, and went on to make lout ‘vomiting noises’ as she did so. Further incidents of harassment are outlined here.

In an impact statement, the victim outlined the traumatic and long lasting effect Ms McKeown actions had had on her emotional and psychological state. The pattern of behaviour of the defendant also shows that her conduct was not a one off, nor that she acted in self-defence. It is clear that Ms McKeown intended for the victim and her children to feel scared and in fear of imminent attack. They could not even feel safe in their homes, due to the defendant’s ongoing harassment.

I am therefore astounded that Ms McKeown has been handed a suspended sentence today along with a restraining order. I believe this sentence to be lenient in the extreme and will only send out a worrying message to those who hold bigoted, racist views of Muslims and other minority communities living peacefully in the UK that they can harass, intimidate and threaten without any real penalty.

Earlier today, Darren Osborne was found guilty of ploughing his vehicle into a crowd of worshippers outside a mosque in Finsbury Park, killing a man and injuring 12 others. He is to be sentenced at a later date. We have seen a huge rise in Islamophobic hate crimes in recent years, yet sentencing for such crimes does not reflect the seriousness of the crime nor the impact it has on the victims, who often suffer from psychological damage including flashbacks or PTSD.

District Judge Michael Snow used Ms McKeown alleged mental health issues as a reason to suspend her sentence; this is simply not acceptable. There are many, many people who suffer from mental health issues yet they do not embark on a lengthy, vicious hate campaign against their neighbours. It is paramount that the UK legal system sends out a strong message to victims of race hate crimes and their attackers otherwise victims of similar incidents will simply not bother to come forward and report any incidents.

I ask that you review the suspended sentence immediately, and impose a custodial sentence so that the penalty can reflects the seriousness of the race hate crimes committed.

Please confirm to me that the sentence handed to Ms Cheryl McKeown is to be reviewed by email or by post.

Kind regards

Aisha Ali-Khan

Asian Mums Network.