Women in Prison (WIP) was born out of the anger its founder – Chris Tchaikovsky – felt about what she saw when imprisoned in HMP Holloway. The organisation supports women to avoid and exit the criminal justice system and campaign for the radical changes needed to deliver support services and justice for women.
Maintaining that the criminal justice system is failing women, WIP supports women to avoid and exit the criminal justice system and campaigns for the radical changes needed to deliver support services and justice for women.
Its vision is of a world without women’s prisons. A world where the abuse, marginalisation and poverty at the root of so much of women’s offending is addressed before women come into contact with the criminal justice system.
WIP aims to prevent the marginalisation of women and limit the damage and disruption caused through contact with the criminal justice system to women and their families by:
- Campaigning for a system that responds to the specific needs of women;
- Providing specialist support services by women for women enabling them to make informed choices in both custody and the community;
- Promoting alternatives to custody wherever possible.
WIP feels that women that pose no risk to the public should not be in prison. For the very few where prison is deemed absolutely necessary, women should be incarcerated in specially designed small units, close to the communities in which they live.
While women affected by the criminal justice system are one of the most excluded groups in society, they are in the best position to lead efforts to change their situation. Therefore, WIP places women at the centre of its work and its purpose is to be a vehicle for the voices of women affected by the criminal justice system.
Why only women?
Women in Prison is a women-only organisation. This means that all staff and volunteers are women. WIP provides women-only services and campaign for a recognition and response to the distinct needs of women affected by the criminal justice system.
The previous life experiences of women prisoners and ex-prisoners make the need for women-only spaces and services more acute. The lives of women in prison are often characterised by sexual abuse, gender-based violence, mental illness, poverty, educational under-attainment, poor housing and substance misuse. These experiences are compounded by experiences of prison – a system based on disempowerment and control.
Experience shows that women-only support is necessary to provide a safe, positive and empowering response to the discrimination and inequality women experience in the criminal justice system and throughout their lives.
Achieving equality does not mean treating everyone exactly the same; equality of experience and outcomes sometimes require diversity of provision. Programmes to support prisoners’ resettlement will disadvantage women if they do not respond to the distinct root causes of women’s offending.
What about men? Aren’t the issues the same for them? Don’t they need support too?
For WIP, our entire criminal justice system needs transforming, for all age groups and genders; we are passionate about more community support and a reduction in custody for all groups. Men make up around 95% of the prison population in the UK. This means that the majority of voluntary sector organisations working in the criminal justice system already provide excellent support for men. Men and women in prison share many characteristics. However, as a minority group, we believe women require some attention so that their gender-specific needs are also taken into account. Therefore, unlike most organisations, our focus is on women only. The support we provide and the changes we campaign for are focused on women’s specific needs and circumstances. Sadly, in spite of recent developments (see Research Hub section and read Reports), the criminal justice system still fails to recognise the distinct needs of women and address the root causes of women’s offending. This causes further damage to the lives of women and their families.
As a unique, women-only organisation that provides gender-specialist support to women affected by the criminal justice system, WIP campaigns to expose the injustice and damage caused to women and their families by imprisonment.
WIP delivers a range of support and advice in women’s prisons in England. We can in some cases also meet with women at the gate on the day of her release and continue that engagement in the community.
Women in Prison runs three Women Centres – WomenMatta in Manchester, the Beth Centre in Lambeth and the Women’s Support Centre in Woking.
The key to what WIP does is that its support for women is holistic; its Women Centres are one-stop shops for women to access all the services they need under one roof. WIP’s staff are gender-specialist practitioners, providing support across all the difficulties and barriers commonly experienced by women affected by the criminal justice system – domestic and sexual violence, poor mental and physical health, addiction, homelessness, debt, and unemployment.
WIP‘s 34 years’ experience working directly with women in the system informs its campaigns work. Women in Prison‘s core campaign is for a radical reduction in the women’s prison population. Women who pose no risk to the public should not be in prison; a custodial sentence should be a last resort. If deemed absolutely necessary, women should be held in small units designed to meet their needs, close to the communities where they live.
We draw on our expertise regarding women affected by the criminal justice system to influence policy-makers, media and the public and raise awareness of the damaging impact prison has on women and their families.
Central to WIP is that it is a women-centred, inclusive and non-judgmental approach which includes the proactive recruitment of women who are, or have been in contact with the criminal justice system as paid and voluntary workers.
Women in Prison also works to ensure that women affected by the criminal justice system are informed on any changes that may impact on them and have the chance to share their experiences and opinions. To this end WIP publishes a magazine – Ready, Steady, Go! – that women can access in prison. Women in Prison supports women at every stage of their journey through the criminal justice system. What we do works – it helps women to make the changes they want in their lives, to take responsibility, build a positive sense of themselves and stop offending. The best measure of our achievements comes from a woman’s own sense of progression.
Using over 30 years’ experience of working with women affected by the criminal justice system, Women in Prison provides in-house training on how to support this complex and hard to reach client group.
WIP‘s training programmes offer a unique balance of theory, research, policy and frontline experience. Through games, discussions, interactive sessions and presentations, you will expand your knowledge and deepen your understanding of the impact of women’s involvement with the criminal justice system and strengthen your ability to meet their needs.
Read about Women in Prison’s history here.