Our history

Women in Prison was born out of the anger our founder – Chris Tchaikovsky – felt about what she experienced and saw when imprisoned in HMP Holloway in the 1980s.

During Chris' time in prison, a woman died after setting fire to her own cell. Chris saw that the specific needs of women in prison and the damaging effect prison sentences were having on women scarcely figured in public or political discourse. So, in 1983, alongside international criminologist Pat Carlen, Chris founded Women in Prison, and pushed hard to expose this scandal and campaigned for change. Our founders wanted to increase awareness of the lives behind the women in our prisons - lives marked by sexual abuse, poverty and violence.

Chris believed the idea of sending a woman to prison as punishment was shameful and absurd. In her words:

"Taking the most hurt people out of society and punishing them in order to teach them how to live within society is, at best, futile. Whatever else a prisoner knows, she knows everything there is to know about punishment because that is exactly what she has grown up with. Whether it is childhood sexual abuse, indifference, neglect; punishment is most familiar to her."

In the early 1990s, the organisation was able to expand its remit beyond campaigning to deliver direct support to women affected by the criminal justice system. WIP's initial focus on prison in-reach services was then expanded to support women in the community following their release.

Chris, sadly, passed away in 2002. Despite the loss of its visionary founder, Women in Prison works to carry on Chris' legacy and continues to grow under subsequent Directors.

Today, we remain a unique women-only organisation that operates on a national level, providing gender-specialist support in all twelve of the women's prisons in England. We also ensure that support is continued into the community and run three Women Centres - WomenMatta in Manchester, the Beth Centre in Lambeth, London and the Women's Support Centre in Woking.

Women in Prison was instrumental in the campaign for an enquiry following six self-inflicted deaths in HMP Styal in one year and formed an integral part of the reference group for what became the Corston Report. Subsequently, we have maintained pressure on the government to deliver on the far-reaching recommendations of the Corston Report.

Further reading:

The life of Chris Tchaikovsky by WIP's Chair of Trustees Yvonne Roberts
WIP: The Early Years by Pat Carlen
The Original Women in Prison Manifesto