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Paper: The Space In-between: The Gendered Marginalisation of Women’s Custodial Remand

Dr Gillian McNaull examines the issue of women’s custodial remand in Northern Ireland, contextualised within the broader global arena of remand imprisonment.

Custodial remand is the period of pre-trial incarceration when an individual carries the presumption of innocence. As such, its use raises distinct issues regarding the proportionality of criminal justice systems; within western democracies the rule of law is dependent upon proportionality of the punishment exerted by courts on their citizen’s behalf. Yet, it is a topic often overlooked in ongoing discussions regarding penal reform. Within the broader context of remand imprisonment, is the issue of women’s pre-trial incarceration. Women’s imprisonment generally is a significant issue within criminal justice. Over 714,000 women are imprisoned globally, with a post-millennium increase of 53% in women’s imprisonment rates. This is a disproportionate acceleration, with rates for men rising 19.6% over the same period. Women involved with criminal justice have features of vulnerability which feed into their ‘offending behaviour’, and impact their adverse experience of imprisonment, with solutions to women’s ‘offending’ instead found in improved access to community-based support services. This incongruence between women’s increasing imprisonment rates, and the efficacy of custodial responses to their ‘offending pathways’, creates a ‘penal paradox’, the outcome of which is a universal call for the decarceration of vulnerable women. The custodial remand of women heightens this incongruence, with many women contained by courts for reasons relating to marginality rather than severity of crime.

This paper examines the issue of women’s custodial remand in Northern Ireland, contextualised within the broader global arena of remand imprisonment. It addresses a number of concerns arising from remand use: first dismantling practitioner and policy frameworks of ‘women’s offending pathways’; second examining processes of criminalisation arising at the interface of social care, mental health and addiction issues with criminal justice policing; and third, exploring the gendered pains of remand imprisonment. This high-lights remanded women’s relegation to a ‘space in-between’ in a prison system conceived, designed and implemented for first, men, and second, sentenced prisoners. Finally, this paper signposts future actions to respond to these concerns: diversions of women from criminal justice pathways at the point of policing and court decision-making; recognition of women’s hierarchy of needs regarding gender and trauma responsive prison environments; continued and united mobilisation of calls for the decarceration of women.

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