Gender-specific Projects for Female Lawbreakers: questions of survival

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This article was downloaded by: [Northeastern University]On: 21 November 2014, At: 21:40Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKCriminal Justice MattersPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: Projects for FemaleLawbreakers: questions of survivalPat CarlenPublished online: 14 Mar 2008.To cite this article: Pat Carlen (2001) Gender-specific Projects for Female Lawbreakers: questionsof survival, Criminal Justice Matters, 46:1, 44-45, DOI: 10.1080/09627250108553672To link to this article: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. 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Terms &Conditions of access and use can be found at Projects for FemaleLawbreakers: questions of survivalPat Carlen describes the benefits of projects designed for women andthe elements that make such projects sustainable.Despite an international concern to developgender-specific policies for femaleoffenders, it has been difficult to engenderprojects which survive for more than a year or two.The main reasons for project close-down (or changeof role) are usually financial, though fundingproblems can mask shortcomings (e.g. change ofobjectives, poor or adverse publicity, loss of gender-specificity, non-use by the courts, and inappropriateexpectations and/or evaluations by funders), forwhich lack of funding is only the presentingsymptom. Interviews with managers of selectedcustodial and non-custodial gender-specific projectsin the US, UK, Scotland, Australia and Israel(funded by ESRC Award L21630200122),suggested that, to manage effective survival withoutloss of identity and integrity, gender-specificcriminal justice projects for women should have atleast the following characteristics.Resistance to erosion of gender-specificityThe small number of females eligible for women-only non-custodial projects often results in pressureto extend the facilities to men in order to avoid lossof funding. However, there was agreement thatfacilities for women have to be ring-fenced, andrecognised as being generally more expensive thanthose for men. Shared-site provision tends either tobe under-used (because women's experience ofmale violence makes them reluctant to risk mixedprojects) or (subsequent to its under-use) re-roledas a male-only facility. Similarly, workers insistedthat programmes developed in other countries orfor men should not be parachuted into projects asprisoner-processing packages with universalapplication; instead, they must be gender-assessedand adapted to the specific histories and attributesof the women currently attending the project.Evolutionary and flexibleorganisationProjects should constantly monitor the relationshipsbetween project provision and the varied orchanging situations of women actually attending theproject at a particular time. Furthermore,organisational needs should come second toparticipants' requirements, thereby ensuring thatservice delivery remains relevant.Democratic organisation ofinnovationA democratic mode of policy-formation was seento be a prerequisite to high staff morale which, inturn, was seen to be essential for the success of projectinnovation and survival.HolismAn holistic (coordinated) approach to service deliveryis desirable in both custodial and non-custodialsettings, with successful inter-agency or multi-agencycommunication a priority. In custodial settingsemphasis was on building effective workingrelationships with community agencies, but alwaysunder the auspices of a holistic non-essentialisingapproach that sees clients not as 'female offenders'but as 'women who break the law'. Relatedly, thegeographical clustering of multi-agency services wasidentified as integral to the success of service deliveryin terms of ease of access, and minimisation of bothinter-agency distrust and subversion of each others'endeavours when sharing the same clients. Insistenceon a realistic approach to drugs rehabilitation wascommon. Although they generally required projectparticipants to be drug-free, project workers almostalways insisted on giving relapsed participants 'asmany chances as it takes'.Principled approach to probity inhuman relationshipsDespite staff claims that their main concern was crimereduction, all admitted to a concern with therelationships between social and criminal justice. Theysaw the secret of the success of projects as beingdependent on their ability to convince courts and thepublic of a congruity of interest in reducing recidivismby improving the quality of clients' lives in the present.This usually led to development of strong publicrelations policies.Excellent public relationsLarger agencies employed specialist public relationsofficers, but innovative project directors welcomedopportunities to address public fears about offendingbehaviours, project/programme risk, and to publicisethe low risk presented by the majority of women whocome before the courts and the gender-specific socialand health issues which require address if risk of re-offending is to be reduced.Questionable survival strategies forgender-specific projectsThree survival strategies provoked unease:Employment of ex-clients - all of the non-custodialprojects visited cited the employment or involvementof former drug users or lawbreakers as anorganisational strength and, in some cases, infulfilment of a funding stipulation. Yet, none hadthe centre for crime and justice studiesDownloaded by [Northeastern University] at 21:40 21 November 2014Should the goodwill and experience of those whohave suffered mulitiple disadvantage be exploited(outside a proper career and salary structure) inthe service of professional and state officials?developed education, training or career plans forthese 'non-professional' and non-salaried or low-paid helpers. However, having had manyconversations on this very issue with many ex-lawbreakers, I myself have two difficulties with theprevalent ideology that the employment of ex-offenders in rehabilitation projects isunambiguously to the benefit of all involved -though there is no doubt that, as the organisers claim,the projects are usually the beneficiaries of suchauthoritative, committed and low-paid assistance.First, although it is often claimed that theemployment of ex-clients can confer legitimacy onorganisational claims to therapeutic authority, someoffenders are initially wary of 'going to projects runby people no better than myself. Moreover, is itdesirable for ex-prisoners or drug-users to beencouraged to embrace the 'ex-offender' role?Should the goodwill and experience of those whohave suffered multiple disadvantage be exploited(outside a proper career and salary structure) in theservice of professional and state officials? I am wellaware that some of the most successful non-custodial projects for female offenders owe theirexistence and persistence to the vision andcommitment of people who themselves were onceaddicts or prisoners. These visionary leaders,however, are exceptional and, even at the same timeas exploiting it to benefit others, usually rise abovethe label 'ex-prisoner'. However, even in their case,there is no doubt that they should receive properrecompense and recognition for their labours.Protection by an official or umbrellaorganisation versus visionary andproject-specific leadershipA majority of interviewees raised the age-oldquestion of the merits and demerits of charismaticleadership versus organisational stability, most ofthem concluding that their own projects would nothave survived without very strong leadership duringthe years when the necessity to establish the needfor gender-specific women's projects was arecurring challenge. However, those who were partof a larger organisation also claimed that, becausethe leadership of the parent organisation had beensupportive in principle, belonging to it had offeredthem a measure of protection against critics andfunding problems. A minority of respondents citedtheir status as part of larger service providers or asmembers of an umbrella organisation as a mainreason for their survival. However, when, at thesame time they were part of an organisation (e.g. amixed prison site) where males were also cateredfor, they were continually having to fight forrecognition of women's different requirements. Allrespondents, while pointing to the twofold need forcommitted, strong and innovative leadership andstability of established organisational structure,recognised that there were inevitable tensionsbetween the two. In order to cherish innovation,avoid organisational stagnation and protect leadersfrom burn-out, there was a general insistence on thedevelopment of the evolutionary and democraticstructures described above. Nonetheless, it seemedto me that in every country visited, the most commonthreat to gender-specific projects was posed by theoverlong hours of workers driven to deliver a holisticand demanding service outside any effective officialrecognition that the social, economic and healthburdens of women in trouble with the law are usuallymuch more complex and expensive to remedy thanthose of men.Accountability: evaluation,measurement, or qualityA burning issue concerned the terms in which projectstaff should or could adequately account for theirwork, so as to satisfy employers and/or funders thatthey were getting value for money. All recognisedthe moral obligation and practical necessity (in termsof project-survival) to be accountable for the moneyspent, yet all felt that their funders/employersentertained unrealistic or inappropriate expectationsabout the job to be done and how it could beadequately assessed. Funders' unrealisticexpectations were the easiest to deal with, and couldgradually be changed in the appropriate direction byincrease of information about the histories andexperiences of the project clients and the difficultiesof rehabilitating women with a myriad of social andeconomic difficulties. Inappropriate expectationsusually involved demands that the quality of a projectbe amenable to quantitative measurement. However,because such expectations resulted in annualreporting requirements primarily comprised ofmeasurements of output and performance uponwhich, in turn, the continuation of project funding/existence depended, they constantly exercised theminds and ingenuity of project leaders; and the limitsto quantification became most apparent whenprojects were committed to making, and sustaining,qualitative changes not amenable to measurement,and where the assessment of those changes calledfor moral rather than quantitative evaluations. Forwhen workers are faced with women on the edge ofdespair, one prerequisite for the maintenance of staffmorale is official recognition that, in relation to suchwork, qualitative inputs are called for, the value ofwhich are not amenable to measurement asperformances; and that time-consuming but life-supporting responses involving listening, kindnessand comfort, together with other non-programmabletherapies may be good in themselves. This big gapbetween informed and lay concepts of thecomplexities of resettling female offenders suggeststhat there is still much educational work to be doneabout the complex relationships between social andcriminal justice for women if gender-specificprojects are to survive.Pat Carlen is Visiting Professor of Criminology atKeele University. Her latest book is Women andPunishment.Cjm no. 46 Winter 2001/02Downloaded by [Northeastern University] at 21:40 21 November 2014


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