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Girls and women who have gone through the care system should be diverted from prison sentences to community alternatives where possible, a new report said today.

And, the study adds, action to prevent the criminalization of girls in care should be at the top of the agenda for change.

“Breaking the Routes of Care and Custody for Girls and Women” is a report by Dr. Claire Fitzpatrick and Dr. Katie Hunter of the Center for the Study of Juvenile Justice at the University of Lancaster, and Dr. Julie Shaw of the University of Liverpool John Moores. and Dr. Joe Staines of the University of Bristol.

Launched at an online event today, the study examines the neglected experience of women in custody, as well as those of girls and young women with experience in community care with contact with the youth justice system. As a minority within the judiciary, girls and women are particularly likely to be neglected.

This study reveals how girls in care may experience “excessive control” in some care facilities, leading to their unnecessary criminalization, which contrasts directly with the lack of support they may face in their experiences of victimization, leaving support and imprisonment.

Pointing to evidence of the “enormous harm” that can come from imprisonment, the report states: and detention “

He also called for “much greater recognition” of the profound impact of intergenerational imprisonment, especially on mothers with experience in care.

The research team calls on local authorities, including directors of children’s services, as well as chief police officers, to renew their commitment to procedures aimed at preventing unnecessary criminalization of children in care.

Despite increased recognition of the problem and ongoing efforts to prevent it, police calls for minor incidents in some care homes remain a risk for some children.

As the 18-year-old Eli, interviewed, said, “There is still the stigma in the care system that you are in care, so every little incident you have is obviously intentional. Let’s arrest you.”

The study found that girls in care who are in conflict with the law can be stigmatized not only because of their care status, but also because of negative judgments about their gender or ethnicity.

There is also a serious need to recognize the boundaries of official files that can lead to negative perceptions of people. The girls and women felt strongly that they wanted the workers to look beyond their official history, to avoid over-reading their files and to take the time to get to know them and the context of their lives.

Interviews were conducted with 37 women with experience in care from the three prisons in England and 17 girls and young women with experience in community care across England who also participated in juvenile justice.

Many participants described the origins of abuse, serious violence and trauma and had numerous attempts at victimization throughout their lives. Violence and abuse at home are the most common reasons for entering the care system.

More than a third of caregivers reported that their first contact with the justice system occurred during care. 11 of them were in children’s homes during this contact, and excessive criminalization for minor crimes in children’s homes is a common topic.

The escalation of the seriousness of the crime was a feature of the lives of many women. For some, the abusive behavior worsened after the “edge of the cliff” of support after leaving care.

The study also includes interviews with 40 professionals working with women and girls with experience in care, with experience from different professional fields.

These interviews underlined the commitment to divert children from the juvenile justice system and the recognition that this should include much more than simply avoiding prosecution.

Meanwhile, girls and women with experience in care report that trusting relationships are key to providing and receiving support. Promoting such relationships requires going beyond the basics of providing accommodation, responding to injuries, supporting staff, and increasing aspirations.

Lead author Dr Fitzpatrick says: “Too many women in prison today were the girls they cared for yesterday, and systemic failures in the wider society continue this problem. We need to do more to prevent this, to listen to and learn from the stories of criminalized girls and women is a vital starting point. “

Rob Street’s director of justice at the Nufield Foundation said: “There is a constant over-representation of girls and women with experience in youth and criminal justice systems. It is encouraging that this study presents clear recommendations that could improve the lives of these girls and women by breaking the link between care and guardianship, which can affect caregivers throughout their lives. “

Recommendations for the report include:

  • Imposing a legal obligation on local authorities to prevent unnecessary criminalization of children in care
  • Recognize the boundaries of formal care files and go beyond them
  • Promoting trusted and consistent relationships and challenging stigma
  • Divert girls and women from custody where possible
  • Repairing the intergenerational damage that imprisonment creates

The study officially launched on May 4 in an online event at the end of the project called “Interrupting the routes between care and custody for girls and women.”

How the transition from care to prison combines women’s trauma

More information:
Claire Fitzpatrick et al., Breaking the paths between care and custody for girls and women, (2022)

Provided by the University of Lancaster

Quote: Prison should not be a “default option” to cover up the lack of support in the care and community system (2022, 3 May), drawn on 4 May 2022 from

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