Established in 1983 by Chris Tchaikovsky (a former prisoner) Women in Prison supports and campaigns for women affected by the Criminal Justice System (CJS). WIP is the only women-centred, women-run organisation that provides specialist services to women affected by the criminal justice system both in prison and in the community throughout England. We have bases in London, Woking and Manchester.
WIP has a vision of a fair and just criminal justice system where only those women who pose a threat to society are held in prison and that, where this is necessary, prisons are designed to meet the specific needs of women.
Chaotic offending, substance misuse and prison represent the end of a long journey of increasing marginalisation and disadvantage for many women. Often the beginning of the journey is marked by trauma in the form of abuse, neglect or violence. There are many possible points of intervention along the way, before women become entangled in the criminal justice system. There should be a range of easily accessible services in place to meet the needs of offended against, abused and disadvantaged women and girls so that they do not end up in the criminal justice system.
WIP believes the majority of women should be dealt with in the community in programmes specifically designed to meet their needs. Imprisonment should be used only in cases where women pose a threat to public safety. Prisons, for these women, should be small local units in urban areas offering a range of services including in-reach by community health, housing and social services and enhanced opportunities for keeping in touch with family and other support.
Responding to women who offend in this way would be beneficial for the women themselves, their children and wider society in terms of increased social justice and reduced offending in this generation and the next.
WIP is dedicated to making a difference to women at risk of, in or leaving custody by working to promote their resettlement, personal development, education and training, educating the public and policy makers about women in the criminal justice system and promoting alternatives to custody.
WIP’s aim is develop a range of services and interventions that limit, and where possible, prevent the damage and disruption done to women as a result of their contact with the criminal justice system.
A national free-phone advice line and advice by FREEPOST letter
Information sessions in all 13 women’s prisons and in the community, providing women with advice and information regarding housing, legal, financial, education, employment and other resettlement
‘Through the Gate’ holistic resettlement casework and support for women being released from prison into the community
A specialist support for women affected by the Criminal Justice System from black and ethnic minority groups
A specialist community-based support project for women with a history of diagnosed mental illness
Free and confidential counselling services, offering up to 12 weeks counselling with a qualified counsellor
project provide employment advice and support
HMP Foston Hall respectively.
An independent advocacy service for women prisoners using the new Prison Service therapeutic CARE programme (aimed at violent offenders with a history of trauma, substance abuse and self-harm).
Project provides intensive, holistic support services to women at risk of offending, women at risk of receiving a custodial sentence and women who are released from custody after serving a sentence of less than 12 months in Manchester.
An assertive outreach and ‘through the gate’ service for women being released from prison back to the Surrey area (in partnership with Surrey Probation Services and Sutton Women’s Centre)
A quarterly magazine
for women prisoners that is distributed across all women’s prisons
Coordination of the SWAP Campaign Network
giving a united campaigning voice to voluntary sector organisations providing direct services to women in contact with the CJS
Women Moving Forward
empowering women to campaign for change based upon their experiences of the criminal justice system
Why we are women only…
Women in Prison is a women only organization. This means that all our staff members and volunteers are women. We believe that women only support is necessary to provide a positive and empowering response to the discrimination and inequality women experience in the criminal justice system and throughout their lives.
Research shows the benefits of women only services
Research has proved the value of women only services, for example Department of Health, Supporting women into mainstream, 2006 and The Womens Resource Centre, Why women only? The value and benefit of by women for women services, 2007.
In 2006, then Minister for Mental Health Rosie Winterton said:
I know that women who are feeling particularly vulnerable really value and appreciate services in a safe environment, by women for women. One of the main themes of the guidance is providing a safe space to help women engage in mainstream opportunities that the rest of us may take for granted. Women only services can offer tailored provision, such as support as a parent, and can offer an opportunity to talk about issues that might be difficult to discuss in a mixed environment.
Based on the research they undertook with 1,000 women the Women’s Resource Centre found:
Safety, both physical and emotional, is a key benefit of women-only services. As a result, women feel supported and comfortable. They become empowered and develop confidence, greater independence and higher self-esteem. They are less marginalised and isolated and feel more able to express themselves. Women using these services feel that their voices are heard and listened to. Through sharing their experiences with other women to make sense of the world together, they develop a sense of solidarity. Finally, participants described women-only services as a sanctuary.
Previous life experiences of women prisoners and ex-prisoners make the need for women only services more acute
Women prisoners' lives are often characterised by abuse, mental illness, poverty, educational underattainment, poor housing and substance misuse. These experiences are compounded by experiences of prison, a system based on disempowerment and control.
Equality doesn’t mean treating everyone the same
Equality is about more than equal treatment. Equality can require different treatment to deliver an equal outcome, for example a blanket ban on maternity leave is equal treatment that has an unequal outcome, namely that women are disadvantaged. Similarly, programmes to support prisoners’ resettlement will disadvantage women if they do not respond to the distinct root causes of women’s offending.
For these reasons Women in Prison is committed to providing a women-only service and to campaigning to promote women-only services.