‘Persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending
across the life-course as experienced
by women: Chronic recidivism and
frustrated desistance
Serena Wright
Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Department of Sociology
Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences
University of Surrey
January 2015
© Serena Wright
Statement of Originality
“This thesis and the work to which it refers are the results of my own efforts. Any
ideas, data, images or text resulting from the work of others (whether published or
unpublished) are fully identified as such within the work and attributed to their
originator in the text, bibliography or in footnotes. This thesis has not been submitted
in whole or in part for any other academic degree or professional qualification. I agree
that the University has the right to submit my work to the plagiarism detection service
TurnitinUK for originality checks. Whether or not drafts have been so-assessed, the
University reserves the right to require an electronic version of the final document (as
submitted) for assessment as above".
Word Count: 103,072 words
I would like to start by expressing my gratitude to the Economic and Social Research
Council for funding this study, which would not have been possible without their
financial support. A big thank you is also due to those practitioners and professionals
who gave up their time to offer me their perspectives on female PAOP offending, to
the Governors of those prisons involved in the study who were kind enough to open
their gates to me, and to the staff at each of those prisons for facilitating and organising
the research.
Extensive thanks is also due to Dr Rachel Condry, without whose encouragement,
support, and belief I would not have even considered applying for doctoral study – this
thesis would not exist without her. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Em, who pushed
me to believe in myself enough to put in that application.
I would like to thank my colleagues and friends at the University of Surrey, in particular
my supervisors Professor Roger Tarling and Dr Karen Bullock – it’s been a long journey
since 2009, but we made it! I would also like to extent my thanks to Dr Daniel McCarthy
and Dr Sarah Earthy, whose extra-supervisory support (and cake – thanks Dan!) also
contributed to shaping the theory and methods driving the research. Thanks are also
due in particular to Dr Fiona Wadie, Dr Connie Golsteijn, both of whom brightened my
darkest PhD days at the office, and beyond, and (honorary Surrey-ite) Dr Isla Masson,
who has suffered for her art alongside me. Roll on graduation, guys!
Various academic colleagues have helped to form the ideas and structure of the
research and write-up, and I would like to thank each of them. Professor Wendy
Hollway, who dedicated time and thought to my unsolicited email requests for help
regarding narrative interviewing; Professor Shadd Maruna, whose scholarly advice and
occasional pint-buying helped immensely; and Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe, a new
colleague to whom I am indebted for exchanges of ideas and being kind enough to
comment on (exceptionally long) chapter drafts for advice. Thank you all.
I would also like to extend a special thank you to Dr Ben Crewe – whose patience with
me knows no bounds - and Dr Susie Hulley, both of whom have offered invaluable
advice and guidance, not only on how to construct a doctoral thesis, but on how to
survive it. Further thanks are also due to other new colleagues and friends at the
Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, particularly B, Ruth, Giulia (whose
proof-reading skills are very much appreciated), Zetta, Skip, Fabio and Tomer – your
friendship, laughter, advice, and madness have all helped me at some point in the time
we have known each other to finally make it, limping, over the finish line. At least now
I’ll stop complaining about it...
My endless thanks are due to all of my friends, who have put up with a ‘reduced service
friendship’ over the past, well, five years, and are still here waiting at the other end. A
massive thank you to Nina Nightingale – your love and support, intellect, wit, and cats
(oh and the tea, All the tea) dragged me through the toughest months of my life. Thank
you, my friend. And, of course, a massive thanks is due to Jacko – for believing in me
always and for helping me to believe in myself. Your conviction that I would be ‘Dr
Hadron’ was unwavering from day one. I miss you every day.
This thesis would have never seen completion without the constant support of my
family. Thank you to my parents, Rita and Graham, who have encouraged me in my
academic endeavours every step of the way, and whose convoys of positive vibes and
love spurred me on to finish this when I was flagging in the last month. I am so proud
that you are my parents. I would also like to thank Mark and Zoe, for having faith that
their big sister would get there eventually, for always making me laugh, and for
reminding me there is life beyond criminology (reinforced by my sister’s frequent refrain
‘What exactly is it that you do again?”).
And infinite love and thanks to my better half, Jasmin – the words do not exist (or at
least, I can’t make them into coherent sentences at the moment) to express the
adoration and thanks that are due to her for all the support (and whip-cracking),
reassurance, hysterical laughter, and proof-reading (a true labour of love).
Finally, my deepest thanks to Alex, Amy, Badger, Bubbles, Cathrine, Lennox, Lisa,
Louise, Marie, Mary, Morgan, and Savannah. Without your time and energy, there
would have been nothing on which to base this thesis. I hope that your imagined futures
are the realities in which you are now living.
For Jacko.
This qualitative study is an empirical examination of the lived experience of women’s
‘life-course persistent’ offending and – for some – the episodes of ‘prolific’ offending
which pockmarked it. It investigates factors central to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of women’s
enduring recidivism within the context of the individual life course, as well as seeking
to understand the impact of various criminal justice interventions – including the Prolific
and other Priority Offender [PPO] initiative – in shaping their offending trajectories over
the life-course.
Twelve incarcerated women in two English prisons, identifiable as either ‘persistent’
(six or more convictions across the life-course) and/or ‘prolific’ (identified as a PPO),
and fifteen criminal justice practitioners and professionals participated in the study.
Data was generated by drawing on life-course, ‘pathways’, narrative, and feminist
modes of inquiry and analysis.
The overall research findings drew attention to the centrality of addiction in the ‘criminal
careers’ of female persistent and prolific [PAOP] offenders, and that these addictions
often had their roots in women’s acute trauma histories, and the subsequent adoption
of substance use as a (maladaptive, and enduring) coping strategy. The biographical
accounts provided by the women suggest that the language of ‘persistence’ may serve
to obscure the lived realities of repeat criminalisation, which in their experience were
better understood as recurrent episodes of attempted, or frustrated, desistance. The
accounts given by practitioners and professionals highlighted that while largely
sensitive to the need for gender-responsive interventions in working with female PAOP
offenders, a lack guidance, resources, and access to appropriate services can act to
undermine their abilities to respond in accordance with this awareness. Finally, both
practitioners and PAOP offenders alike indicated that the androcentric and riskfocused PPO framework was not appropriate effectively supporting substanceaddicted female PAOP offenders in ‘getting out of the life’ they were often so desperate
to leave behind.
Table of Contents
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ......................................................................................... 3
ABSTRACT ............................................................................................................... 6
TABLE OF CONTENTS ............................................................................................ 7
LIST OF APPENDICES ........................................................................................... 12
LIST OF TABLES ................................................................................................... 12
LIST OF FIGURES .................................................................................................. 12
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS .................................................................................... 13
1 – Introduction...................................................................................................... 14
My personal journey to a PhD: A brief reflexive account ............................................. 15
1.2 What is a ‘persistent’ offender? What is a ‘prolific’ offender? .......................................... 17
1.3 Why study female ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offenders? .................................................... 19
1.3.1 The study of the PPO project, and the absence of women
1.4 Why study practitioners and professionals? ...................................................................... 24
1.5 The current study: Aims and questions for research ......................................................... 24
1.6 Outline of the thesis ........................................................................................................... 26
2 – On career criminals and criminal careers: The rise of the ‘persistent
offender’, and the creation of ‘the PPO’ ........................................................ 28
2.1 Introduction ....................................................................................................................... 29
2.2 Defining ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending ..................................................................... 29
2.3 The development of the ‘criminal career paradigm’ ......................................................... 32
2.4 The persistent offender in the 19th century: Professional outlaws, petty misdemeanants,
and the Habitual Criminals Bill 1869 ........................................................................................ 34
2.5 The 20th century: The rise and decline of preventative detention, and the development of
Criminal Career Programmes ................................................................................................... 36
2.5.1 Beyond anti-rehabilitation: The RNR model for predicting recidivism & a new means
for managing the persistent offender
2.6 The 21st century: Re-igniting the Persistent Offender debate, ISMs, the POS, and creating
‘the Prolific & other Priority Offender’ ..................................................................................... 40
2.6.1 Prime et al (2001), the ‘persistent offender’ theory, and establishing Intensive
Monitoring and Supervision schemes
2.6.2 The Persistent Offender Scheme (2002-2004)
2.6.3 The Prolific and other Priority Offender strategy (2004-Present)
2.7 Who are the Prolific & other Priority Offenders? ............................................................... 44
2.7.1 Identification/selection for becoming ‘a PPO’
2.7.2 A note on PPO cohort characteristics and existing data
2.7.3 PPOs and age of onset
2.7.4 PPOs and age at identification for scheme
2.7.5 Conviction History/’Career Offences’
2.7.6 Offence Type
2.7.7 Criminogenic Needs
2.7.8 The PPO initiative and gender
2.8 Managing PPOs, and arranging interventions.................................................................... 52
2.9 The PPO strategy and impact on reducing re-offending .................................................... 55
3 - Understanding women’s ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending ....................... 60
3.1 Introduction ....................................................................................................................... 60
3.2 (i) Onset: Women’s pathways into offending .................................................................... 61
3.2.1 Pre-‘feminist’ theories of what makes women ‘criminal’
3.2.2 The ‘pathways approach’ to the onset of women’s offending
3.2.3 Age of onset within women’s ‘criminal careers’
3.3 (ii) Participation: Frequency, ‘persistence’, and ‘criminogenic need’................................ 71
3.3.1 Offence & conviction statistics: How frequently do women engage in offending? 71
3.3.2 ‘Persistence’ among female offenders
3.3.3 Are women offending more persistently?
3.3.4 The ’criminogenic needs’ of female offenders
3.5 (iii) Offence type/Crime mix: What offences do female offenders most typically commit?
How serious are these offences? ............................................................................................. 86
3.5.1 Offence type & severity
3.6 (iv) Desistance: Women’s pathways out of the criminal career ........................................ 89
3.6.1 Developments in desistance theory, and the absence of women
3.6.2 Women and prison
3.6.3 Women and traditional probation supervision
3.6.4 Alternatives to custody & traditional probation supervision
4 - The Study .......................................................................................................... 97
4.1 Introduction ....................................................................................................................... 97
4.2 Research design: Connecting questions to data ................................................................ 97
4.3 Methods ........................................................................................................................... 101
4.3.1 Constructing the sampling frames
Eligibility for the sample: CJPPs
Eligibility for the sample: Female PAOP offenders & defining ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’
‘Getting in’: Gaining access to conduct research
4.3.3 Recruiting individuals to the study
4.3.4 Research tools
4.4 Conducting the Interviews ............................................................................................... 118
4.5 Analysing the Data ........................................................................................................... 120
4.5.1 Interview data: Practical considerations
4.5.2 Quantitative data: Learning from OASys and previous PPO research
4.6 Epistemological Issues & Research[er] Biases ................................................................. 123
4.7 Ethical Issues .................................................................................................................... 125
4.7.1 ‘Informed’ consent?
4.7.2 Anonymity and Confidentiality
4.7.3 Anonymity and Confidentiality in Prisons Research
4.7.4 The emotional experience of interviewing in prison
4.8 Limitations of the study, and factors to consider ............................................................ 130
4.8.1 Sample size
4.8.2 The reliability of self-report data, and the ‘rehearsed’ nature of narratives
5 - Criminal justice professionals & practitioners: Making sense of the ‘prolific’
offender/female PPO..................................................................................... 135
5.1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 136
5.2 The PPO: Key assumptions & characteristics [Gender neutral] ....................................... 136
5.2.1 Offence frequency & offence type
5.2.2 Risk & Criminogenic needs [a.k.a. Why PPOs re-offend]
5.2.3 Desistance: PPOs and the will to change
5.3 The female PPO: Key assumptions & characteristics [Gender specific] ........................... 147
5.3.1 Offence frequency and offence type
5.3.2 Risk & Criminogenic needs [a.k.a. Why female PPOs re-offend]
5.3.3 Desistance: Willing to change, but lacking resources
5.4 A note on gender-responsivity/woman-centred perspectives and the CJPPs ................. 164
5.5 Summary .......................................................................................................................... 166
6 - Becoming a PAOP offender: Women’s personal pathways of onset ........ 1678
6.1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 168
6.2 Age of onset (as measured at first conviction) ................................................................ 168
6.3 “That’s where it all began, really…” Pathways to the present, and perceived ‘genesis’ of
offending ................................................................................................................................ 170
6.3.1 The trauma-avoidance-substance use pathway
6.3.2 The male partner influence-substance use pathway
6.3.3 The multi-factorial-substance use pathway
6.3.4 The ‘other’-substance use pathway
6.3.5 The ‘other’-non-substance use pathway
6.4 Summary .......................................................................................................................... 188
7 - Tenacious ‘persistence’, or ‘frustrated desistance?’ Factors implicated in
women’s PAOP offending across the life-course ....................................... 190
7.1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 190
7.2 Offence type & most recent conviction ........................................................................... 191
7.3 Reframing ‘persistence’: Counter-narratives of women’s PAOP offending..................... 193
7.3.1 Offences against the person: Repeat ‘defensive’ violence?
7.3.2 ‘Persistent re-offending’? Or ‘repeatedly being breached’?
7.4 Life-course persisters? Or frustrated desisters? Factors implicated in women’s PAOP
offending across the life-course............................................................................................. 198
7.4.1 Substance use: “If I don’t use, I don’t offend”
7.4.2 The “pull” of addiction: A frustrating factor
7.4.3 ‘Severe emotional stressors’ as ‘triggers’ for relapse
7.4.4 Lack of appropriate accommodation
7.5 Summary .......................................................................................................................... 209
8 - Female PAOP offenders & the criminal justice response: Previous
experiences, and desired futures ................................................................ 210
8.1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 210
8.2 Female PAOP offenders & criminal justice interventions: Previous experiences ............ 211
8.2.1 The Prolific and other Priority Offender scheme
8.2.2 Prison
8.2.3 Offending behaviour courses
8.2.4 Probation
8.3 What women want: Female PAOP offenders’ ‘imagined futures’, and overcoming
structural impediments to desistance ................................................................................... 231
8.3.1 Learning to live substance-free
8.3.2 Accommodation
8.3.3 Employment
8.3.4 Opportunities to address their ‘unresolved grief’
8.3.5 Parenthood: The chance to “be a better mother”
8.4 Summary .......................................................................................................................... 244
9 - Conclusions .................................................................................................... 247
9.1 Introduction ..................................................................................................................... 247
9.2 Summary of Findings ........................................................................................................ 248
9.2.1 The ‘how’ and ‘why’ of women’s PAOP recidivism across the life course: The
centrality of addiction, relapse, and a lack of adaptive coping strategies
9.2.2 Female PAOP offenders & the criminal justice response
9.2.3 ‘Frustrated desistance’: The need for a new frame of reference
9.3 Implications of the research findings ............................................................................... 256
9.4 Concluding comments: Has ‘anyone been listening?’ and ‘Saying it again, again, and
again…’ ................................................................................................................................... 259
LIST OF REFERENCES........................................................................................ 262
APPENDICES ....................................................................................................... 277
List of Appendices
Example PPO Identification Matrix Scoring Form
Research Access Letter from ‘Countyshire’ Constabulary
Research Access Letter from Participating Prison
Recruitment Flyer for Female PAOP Offenders
Consent Form for All Participants
Information Sheet for Female PAOP Offenders’ Interviews
Information Sheet for CJPP Interviewees
Interview/Topic Guide a) For Female PPOs
Interview/Topic Guide b) For Female ‘Persistent Offenders’
Interview/Topic Guide c) For Frontline CJPPs
Interview/Topic Guide d) For Non-Frontline CJPPs
Female PAOP Offender Debrief Sheet
List of Tables
Table 2.1
Table 2.2
Table 4.1
Table 4.2
Table 6.1
Table 7.1
Definition of ‘criminogenic’ and ‘non-criminogenic’ needs (Andrews
& Bonta 2010, p.46) …………………………………………………………..
Factors related top offending for PPOs, as identified through OASys
(reproduced from Dawson 2005, p.3) …………………………………
Demographic characteristics of CJPP interview sample ………………
Demographic characteristics of female PAOP offenders sample ….
Tabular representation of age of first conviction of female offenders
in sample ………………………………………………………………………
Tabular representation of offence for which PAOP female offenders
in sample were most recently convicted or remanded in
List of Figures
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
PPOs shown as high risk offenders, cross-referenced with locallydefined high priority crime and disorder types (Home Office 2004c,
p.21) ……………………………………………………………………….………
Flowchart for identification of PPOs (reproduced from Home Office
2004, p.20) ……………………………………………………………………….
PPO cohort’s criminal convictions leading up to and following the
PPO scheme (reproduced from Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007, p.7) ……
A Classification of Women’s Pathways to Serious Habitual Criminal
behaviour (core features and suggested labels within each pathway
are in bold) (reproduced from Brennan, Breitenbach, Dieterich et al
2012, p.1490) …………………………………………………………………….
List of Abbreviations
Anti-social behaviour/ Anti-Social Behaviour Order
Criminal Career Programmes
Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership
Criminal justice professional or practitioner
Criminal justice system
COMPAS Re-entry Assessment [USA]
Community Safety Partnerships
Drug Intervention Programme
Employment, Training and Education
Integrated Offender Management
Intensive Monitoring and Supervision schemes
Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements
Ministry of Justice
National Intelligence Model
Narrowing the Justice Gap
National Offender Management Service
Offender Assessment System [UK]
Offending behaviour programmes
‘Persistent’ and/or ‘prolific’ offender
Prison-National Offender Management Intelligence System
Prolific Offender Project
Persistent Offender Scheme
Prolific and other Priority Offender
Premium Service
Risk-Need-Responsivity model
Thinking Skills Programme
Women’s Needs Risk Assessment [USA]
1 – Introduction
This thesis presents the findings of a study into women’s lived experiences of
‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending, and in doing so, considers the degree to which the
‘standard stories’ (cf. Abma 1999) through which both prior academic work, and
criminal justice professionals and practitioners, understand and make sense of such
While concern with those who repeatedly infringe against the criminal code has long
represented a ‘staple’ of academic criminology (Maruna 2001, p.19), the spectre of the
‘persistent offender’ has come to increasing prominence in recent years (Soothill,
Ackerley & Francis 2003), with policymakers responding with a diverse and ‘distinct
breed’ of strategies (Farrall, Mawby & Worrall 2007) which have focused criminal
justice resources and attention at more effectively reducing the harms caused by this
particular group of offenders. Yet our understanding of ‘persistence’ as relates to the
female offending career remains under-developed (Pavlich 2010; Soothill et al 2003;
Block, Blokland, Van der Werff, Van Os & Nieuwbeerta 2010), and we know almost
nothing about the female ‘prolific’ offender, in respect of her management within the
context of the Prolific and other Priority Offender initiative; the most recent Home Office
attempt to curb the menace of the hard-core recidivist.
Using a qualitative methodology, centred on in-depth, life history interviews with
‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ female offenders - terms which remain ill-defined, as is
discussed further below, and in the following chapters – and front-line and strategic
criminal justice practitioners and professionals working with such women, this thesis
considers the ways in which both sets of individuals ‘make sense of’ and understand
the experience of ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending as manifests across the female life
course. As part of this, the research considers wider theoretical questions relating to
the ways in which we understand ‘recidivism’ more broadly, and the need for better
integration of desistance narratives within this (Bushway, Brame & Paternoster 2004),
particularly within the lives of substance-addicted women. It considers core
criminological issues, specifically the notion of ‘criminogenic needs’ and ‘what works’
within the criminal justice response to ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ female offenders, as
well as seeking to biographically understand how such women envisage their pathway
to ‘getting out of the life’ (cf. Sommers, Baskin & Fagan 1994). It also examines the
degree to which current responses to ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending act to support,
or weaken, the chances of success in this endeavour.
In the spirit of reflexivity and academic transparency, the current chapter begins by
outlining the intersections between my own personal biography and the development
of my interest in women’s prolific and persistent offending as a doctoral research topic.
In the same vein, the chapter continues by briefly interrogating and seeking to define
what is meant when we are referring to ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending, before
providing an academic critique of the criminological worth of a study of women
engaged in this type of offending over the life course. This primarily hinges on the
historic and continued failure of the criminological community to consider female
offenders within studies of ‘persistence’, and – more recently - the lack of critical
engagement with the experiences of women identified as Prolific and other Priority
Offenders. The chapter then turns to the aims and research questions underpinning
the current study, before outlining in some depth the thesis ahead.
1.1 My personal journey to a PhD: A brief reflexive account
When reading academic research, one is often presented with a similarly scholarly
explanation of the generation of the research topic, outlining the intellectual and
hypothetical origins of the interest in the substantive area. Less often, however, are we
presented with reflexive accounts of the journey to this point; ones which detail the
circumstances in the life and personal biography of the author that give rise to their
interest in their chosen topic. Accounts documenting ‘the process of becoming a
researcher’ – for example, such as experienced by doctoral candidates – therefore
remain consistently absent from academic studies (Etherington 2004, p.15). According
to Walsh (1996, cit. in Etherington 2004, p.22), adopting a reflexive stance in relation
to one’s own work is an important and ‘honest’ means of contributing to the ‘coconstruction’ of human knowledge, though ‘mutual exploration and discovery’. In the
spirit of Walsh’s version of reflexivity then, the following section gives an open and
honest account of my personal journey of education and employment which led me to
construct the principles and questions that underpin this thesis.
As outlined in Chapter Four, the principles that underlie my own thinking processes
centre on social constructionism and narrative inquiry – that is, I start from the
academic baseline that all knowledge is socially constructed, and that ‘the social’ both
informs and is informed by the meaning- and sense-making work that we all do on a
daily basis. I value the power of lived human experience, and of storied talk to
communicate this. I cannot pinpoint the exact origin of these beliefs, which dictate the
ways in which I understand, make sense of, and operate in both my professional and
personal worlds (including the intersection where these two worlds collide), but I
believe my history of paid and voluntary employment working with ‘the other’ [e.g.
people with addictions, prisoners, murderers] and those who are routinely disbelieved
within our society [women and men who have been raped, and those who have
experienced domestic abuse, and again people with addictions, and individuals who
have been incarcerated] has certainly nurtured and strengthened my obsession for
seeking out life stories and counter-narratives (i.e. stories which run against those
standardly accepted) (Andrews 2004).
My first full-time job upon graduating from my undergraduate degree (a BSc in
Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Portsmouth) was an
Administrative Officer at ‘Baytrees’, an NHS-run residential detoxification facility
designed to provide medical and emotional support to individuals seeking to ‘come off’
drugs (primarily heroin) and alcohol. On my first day in the office, I realised – perhaps
as a result of my interactions with prisoners at HMP Kingston, and watching the
Support Workers engaging with the clients – that I did not want to be stuck behind a
desk, working with the paperwork related to these individuals; I wanted to be out in the
midst of the chaos, proactively working with people and providing help and support in
a face-to-face manner, and not stuck behind a desk (which seems ironic to me now,
since this represents the bulk of my daily life!).
As soon as a Support Worker position became available, I applied, and secured the
job. My experience at Baytrees acted to reinforce my interest in society’s
disenfranchised populations, and what I could do to support them. It was here, in
talking with the many men and women who came through the doors, that I began to
gain an appreciation of the experience of addiction across the life course, and the ways
in which this intersected with encounters with the criminal justice system. It was also
here that I began to understand in an applied context how gender intersected with
these multiple issues, and – in talking with the women at Baytrees – how their
experiences had often differed from those of their male counterparts,
Eighteen months later, I applied for the role of Project Worker at an independent
domestic abuse support service. I had witnessed the effects of this phenomenon at an
early age when – at the age of 15 years old – I became close friends with an older
woman who was experiencing physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of
her husband. Looking back, it is likely that this planted the seeds of a fledging
understanding of the ways in which gender structures one’s experiences of the world.
It also instilled in me an enduring sense that I wanted to work to support other women
who were experiencing domestic and sexual abuse. Both of these sentiments are
infused within the current project, since it is well known that women within the criminal
justice system have often been victims of domestic and sexual violence, both in their
youth and in adulthood, and that such abuses have most frequently perpetrated by the
men in their lives (fathers, partners, brothers, uncles).
I was successful in my application, and began working as an Independent Domestic
Violence Advocate [IDVA] and Independent Sexual Violence Advocate [ISVA] in
September 2007. This coincided with the start of my Masters degree in Criminology,
Criminal Justice, and Social Research at the University of Surrey.
Again, my education and employment intersected to bring to my attention certain
issues which I believed required critical academic consideration. Chief among these
was the growing awareness that women – as both offenders and victims – were
routinely failed by the criminal justice system, and the discovery through reading linked
to my degree of Heidensohn’s (1991) observation that female offenders fewer numbers
contribute to this phenomenon within the latter group. With this in the forefront of my
mind, my interest was piqued by the work of a former colleague from the Domestic
Abuse Unit; a police officer who had moved on to work within the Prolific and other
Priority Offender team. Given my natural curiosity, combined with my criminological
knowledge, I asked this colleague to tell me more about the work that he did,
particularly with regard to women. The absence of any gender-specific considerations
within the Prolific and other Priority Offender guidance (which I made a point of
reading), combined with my colleague’s descriptions of the few women he worked with
under this scheme, and the differences between these and the male prolific offenders
he managed, convinced me that there was scope for an academic study, which formed
the basis of my Masters dissertation. This, however, was limited to a critical analysis
of the literature, yet was an issue I believed to be worthy of further academic
consideration, particularly in light of the absence of any existing attempts to look
beyond the statistical outcomes of the new prolific offending schemes. I was fortunate
in having the support of a staff member at Surrey – Dr Rachel Condry – who convinced
me that I not only had an idea worthy of further research, but also that I had the
academic competence to conduct this as a doctoral researcher.
I applied, and was accepted in April 2009 at the University of Surrey to conduct a
doctoral study of the life stories of women presenting as Prolific and other Priority
Offenders. The relevance of my previous employment and connections made through
this work is reflexively explored further in Chapter Four.
1.2 What is a ‘persistent’ offender? What is a ‘prolific’ offender?
Framed in terms of life-course/developmental criminology, the study of ‘persistence’
represents a key dimension of the ‘criminal career paradigm’, in terms of the study of
career length; that is, ‘the length of time an offender is active’ (Blumstein, Cohen, Roth
& Visher 1986, p.1), or how long the offending persists across time. The study of
persistence/career length, along with participation (‘the distinction between those who
engage in crime and those who do not’), frequency (‘the rate of criminal activity’) and
the seriousness of the offences being committed (ibid) make up the framework for
studying ‘criminal careers’. The study of the criminal career has broadly resulted in a
‘wealth of information’ in relation to the ‘longitudinal patterning of criminal activity’
(Piquero, Farrington & Blumstein 2003, p.362). However, the study of persistent
recidivism has received far less academic attention than other areas of the criminal
There is no shortage of explanations in the field of criminology for the
onset of criminal behaviour... What is not known with much certainty
is why some offenders stop committing crimes when they do, whilst
others continue [i.e. persist] over large portions of the life course.
(Laub & Sampson 2003, p.13)
This may be partially related to the wide variety of terms utilised when writing about
the persistent offender. It is a concept that ‘we all readily acknowledge’; yet it is rarely
clear to whom commentators are referring when they speak of such individuals, who
are often described only in ‘vague’ terms (Soothill et al 2003, p.391), if at all (cf. Maruna
2001). Dubber (1990) identified that a range of terms have been used for the purposes
of defining those who ‘commit crimes after ‘prior brushes with the law’; these include:
recidivists, repeat offenders, habitual offenders, habitual criminals,
dangerous offenders, dangerous special offenders, professional
criminals, career criminals, career offenders, multiple offenders, highrate offenders, high-frequency offenders, high-volume offenders, hardcore offenders, long-term offenders, major violators, [and] major
(Dubber 1990, pp.194-5)
Historically, the concern with individuals who repeatedly re-offend over a period of time
has been conceptualised in relation to many names and phrases, almost all of which
have been used interchangeably (Hopkins & Wickson 2013). The tendency to use such
terms indiscriminately to describe all individuals who are engaged in repeat offending
over time may however miss an important definitional difference which exists between
the ‘persistent’ offender who remains ‘criminally active’ over a long period of time (i.e.
10 years or more) and the ‘prolific’ offender whose criminal career is characterised by
‘short-term heavy bursts’ of offending (ibid, p.610). These definitions are adopted in
the current thesis. I will make clear when a discussion refers either to persistent/long18
term offending and when it is concerned with prolific/heavy short-term offending.
However, since both concepts could be considered as being part of the same
continuum - whereby periods of the latter may (or may not) punctuate the offending
careers of those engaged in the former – I will also use the phrase ‘persistent and/or
prolific offender’ when this is relevant; this will be abbreviated to ‘PAOP’, used hereafter
for brevity’s sake).
It is not clear to what extent these concepts of persistent and prolific offending, and of
the potential differences between them, apply within the context of the lives of female
offenders, since they have been largely neglected in the wider ‘persistent offender
debate’ (cf. Pavlich 2010; Soothill et al 2003) and ‘criminal career’ literature (e.g.
Tarling 1993; Steffensmeier & Allan 1996; Piquero et al 2003), as well as being absent
from the majority of literature related to ‘prolific’ offending and the Prolific and other
Priority Offender model of offender management. This situation is problematic, since
women do not appear to fit neatly into existing theories relating to criminal careers
(DeLisi 2002), and we therefore lack an adequate model for theorising the nature and
experience of female offending ‘careers’.
1.3 Why study female ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offenders?
It is important that this lacuna in criminological knowledge is addressed, since ‘accurate
knowledge about women’s criminal careers is of fundamental importance to
criminological theory’ (Block et al 2010). Beyond the need for knowledge for theorybuilding, such information is crucial since criminal justice practitioners ‘depend on
accurate knowledge’ regarding the offending population in order to effectively work to
manage, reduce, or eliminate their offending behaviour (ibid, p.76). Moreover, while
there is a growing literature documenting the women’s pathways in and out of
offending, as well as a considerable degree of important headway made within the
context of ‘what works’ to reduce women’s re-offending (e.g. Sheehan, McIvor & Trotter
2007, 2011; Gelsthorpe 2010; Fischer & Geiger 2011), this body of work remains
‘limited’ as an evidence base (Gelsthorpe & Hedderman 2012). This is particularly the
case in relation to prolific female offenders, with no research engaging with the
question of whether the Prolific and other Priority Offender initiative ‘works’ for women,
nor the important questions of ‘how’ and ‘why’ (cf. Palmer 1994, cit. in Maruna,
Immarigeon & LeBel 2004, p.9) this might be the case.
As DeLisi has argued, ‘gender matters to the study of criminal careers’ (DeLisi 2002,
p.40) (emphasis added), and the value of this thesis resides in its position as the first
study to consider the offending careers of female Prolific and other Priority Offenders,
alongside their less-prolific, long-term/persistently offending female counterparts,
within the context of their individual life course. Like the work of Block et al (2010, p.76),
this study represents an important ‘step toward increasing the body of information
about the criminal careers of women’, specifically among those whose offending
persists over time, and/or is prolific in nature.
1.3.1 The study of the PPO project, and the absence of women
In the autumn of 2002, the New Labour Government (1997-2010) introduced its
Narrowing the Justice Gap [NJG] programme. The primary aim of NJG was ‘tackling
weaknesses’ within the criminal justice process in order to increase the overall number
of offenders brought to justice; that is, to ‘close the gap between the number of crimes
reported to the police and the number of offences brought to justice’ (Home Office
2002b; Home Office 2002a, para.2).
The NJG programme identified recent Home Office research (Prime, Liriano & Patel
2001) - which had indicated that a small proportion of the general offending population
(around 10 per cent, or 100,000 offenders) was responsible for around half of all
‘serious’ crime - as the basis for targeting ‘persistent’ offenders (see Home Office
2002a). It claimed that targeting these ‘persistent offenders’ was liable to have ‘the
greatest impact in narrowing the justice gap’, since – as they were theoretically
‘responsible for so much crime’ (Home Office 2002b, p.13) – a more effective means
for catching and processing such offenders would ‘enable the CJS to bring more
offences to justice’ (ibid). The NJG programme was built on the notion that offenders
who are caught and sanctioned and ‘receive effective support to tackle the reasons
why they commit crime’ would be less likely to re-offend (Home Office 2002b, p.13).
Moreover, it reasoned, for those who did go on to re-offend, the increased focus on
‘persistent offenders’ would mean they would be
more likely to be caught again. And because there is evidence that
catching and punishing offenders more often is the most effective way
of shortening their criminal career, this will make an impact on reducing
crime in the longer term.
(Home Office 2002b, p.13)
With this in mind, the Government launched the Persistent Offender Scheme [hereafter
POS], which was implemented across England and Wales in 2003, and which sought
to ‘support the CJS in more effectively catching, bringing to justice and rehabilitating a
core group of particularly prolific offenders who are responsible for a disproportionate
amount of crime’ (Criminal Justice Chief Inspectors’ Group 2004, p.3). Operational
problems within the POS however – specifically that offenders identified by the POS
definition of ‘persistent offender’ ‘did not always reflect the local experience of offending
and associated priorities’ (Criminal Justice Chief Inspectors’ Group 2004, p.1) – meant
that it was quickly replaced by the Prolific and other Priority Offender strategy in 2004.
This new initiative represented ‘an end-to-end offender management approach’ (Home
Office 2007, p.7), designed to crack down on a group of 5,000 ‘super prolific’ offenders
who – based on estimates from the same Home Office research as the initial estimates
noted above – were thought to be responsible for even more offences than the broader
‘persistent offender’ population (as many as one in every ten offences, equivalent to
nine per cent of all recorded crime in England and Wales) (Home Office 2004c, p.3;
Home Office 2007 p.2). Since its launch in 2004, initial guidance for the PPO strategy
(Home Office 2004a, 2004b, 2004c, 2007), and the ways in which it has been
operationalised and implemented, have been subject to various academic and
governmental evaluations and reviews. This has occurred both at national (Dawson
2005, 2007; Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007; Ministry of Justice 2009; Criminal Justice
Joint Inspection Group 2009) and local levels (Brighton and Hove Partnership
Community Safety Team 2004; Vennard & Pearce 2004; Bingham & Tanner 2006;
Cinamon & Hoskins 2006; Millie & Erol 2006; Bingham & Tanner 2006; Easton 2007;
Derby Community Safety Partnership 2007; Southern, Annison, Vicente & Fisher 2008;
Feasey, Bird, Davidson et al 2009). Outside of the UK, evaluations of the PPO model
have also been undertaken (e.g. Rezansoff, Moniruzzaman & Somers 2012,
evaluating PPO schemes in Canada).
The majority of these studies were undertaken within the first three or four years of the
launch of the PPO initiative; Cinamon and Hoskins (2006) suggest that this would be
‘too early to judge its success’ in impacting on offending behaviour over the long term.
Many studies did, however, broadly report favourable early indications of the potential
of the PPO scheme – in a national impact evaluation, Dawson (2005), for example,
reported ‘promising early results’, recording a ten per cent reduction in recorded
convictions for the first PPO cohort in their first six months on the scheme (compared
to recorded convictions accrued in the six months prior to becoming a PPO). Two years
later, Dawson and Cuppleditch (2007) recorded a 43 per cent reduction in offending
for the national PPO cohort (comparing the seventeen month period prior and
subsequent to identification as a PPO), indicating the potential impact of the scheme
by evidencing a ‘sharp reduction’ (ibid, p.v) in offending following initial identification
as a PPO. Dawson and Cuppleditch also identified the improved efficiency with which
PPOs were processed through the criminal justice system following the commission
of an offence, indicating the potential impact of the scheme in reducing the amount of
time PPOs were ‘at liberty’ to offend, and thus reducing potential further crime and the
resultant creation of victims. They also indicated that staff were ‘largely positive’
(Dawson and Cuppleditch 2007, p.vi) about the potential of the scheme to provide an
effective means for reducing re-offending of individuals with whom they were working.
On a more micro-local level, Southern et al (2008) identified the role of small charitable
projects in achieving reductions in re-offending by PPOs.
However, these studies also identified a number of problems - particularly ‘structural
and managerial issues’ (Millie & Erol 2006, p.707) – as potentially hindering the
success of the initiative. Millie and Erol (2006), for example, pointed to the reluctance
of local authorities to provide PPOs with suitable accommodation, and the lack of a
clear ‘exit strategy’ for ongoing rehabilitative and resettlement support following deselection from the scheme. This latter point represents a sticking point for the initiative,
it seems, with Hopkins and Wickson (2013) drawing attention to the same problem six
years later. Cinamon and Hoskins (2006, p.166) drew attention to the fact that ‘by their
very nature’ PPOs may find it ‘more difficult than most to change their lifestyle and stop
offending’; an issue which was given little attention elsewhere. On the whole, one of
the biggest problems – identified by almost all of the studies noted above - was that of
the sustainability of funding for both the PPO initiative and the satellite projects on
which it relies for the holistic support necessary to maintain, or ‘buttress’ primary
desistance (cf. Farrall, Mawby & Worrall 2007, p.359). While the current Coalition
government (2010-present) has pledged support for the PPO scheme to continue,
within the broader Integrated Offender Management framework (Home Office 2012),
the impact of the introduction of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda (Ministry of
Justice 2013c) on this is yet to be seen.
These studies, then, are undeniably useful in providing a macro-level overview of the
size and characteristics of the national ‘prolific offender’ cohort (conceived of within the
context of the PPO strategy) (e.g. Dawson 2005; Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007; Ministry
of Justice 2009), as well as micro-level insights into the localised operation and
implementation (e.g. Millie & Erol 2006; Cinamon & Hoskins 2006), and are
acknowledged as such. Within this body of literature, however, the female Prolific and
other Priority Offender is conspicuous by her absence.
The national PPO cohort has been identified as 97 per cent male (Ministry of Justice
2011); accordingly, considering the size of the inaugural PPO cohort (n=7,801), this
suggests that female PPOs amount to less than 400 individuals, even at their
This is a problem since ‘[w]omen offenders do not, on the whole, benefit from their
exclusive numbers’:
On the contrary, they suffer in several ways. Special provision is rarely
made for them as they are so few... [and often] too few to count.
(Heidensohn 1991, p.62).
Certainly special provision has not been made for the female PPO. Neither the
guidelines which originally underpinned and structured the PPO policy (e.g. Home
Office 2004a, 2004b, 2004c), nor more recent updates of this (e.g. Home Office 2007,
2011, 2012; Ministry of Justice 2009), offer any consideration of the PPO model of
offender management within the context of the large body of evidence which
documents the way in which one’s journey through the penal system is a ‘gendered’
experience, impacting differently on male and female offenders, and often
disproportionately on the latter group (this point has been made widely – see, for
example, Heidensohn 1985; Gelsthorpe & Morris 1988; Steffensmeier & Allan 1998;
Bloom, Owen & Covington 2004).
As well as remaining absent from the developing body of PPO-focused literature, the
broader neglect of women’s perspectives within analyses of persistent offending mean
that the literature pertaining to women and their long-term offending more generally
also remains ‘at a relatively early stage’ (Brennan, Breitenbach, Dieterich et al 2012,
p.1482). This is an issue because ‘[w]ith so little known about their biohistorical
backgrounds and offense patterns, many assume that the characteristics of high rate
female offenders are similar to those of their male counterparts’ (Danner, Blount,
Silverman & Vega 1995, p.1), which can lead to women receiving the same criminal
justice response as men; a scenario which is far from adequate in ensuring equal
outcomes, in terms of how well these responses are likely to work (Corston 2007).
There has also been scant consideration of the desistance paradigm (cf. Maruna &
LeBel 2010) within research in this field; that is, there has been more thinking about
‘programs’ and ‘what works’ to reduce persistent and prolific re-offending, and far less
about the relational impact of such interventions within individuals’ development
history/life-course. Engaging with recidivism should always engage issues of
desistance (cf. Bushway, Brame & Paternoster 2004), so this also represents a gap in
the more general PPO literature. That is, it is unclear how the criminal justice response
to PAOP offenders, including those being managed under the PPO model – and
women in particular – experience ‘desistance’, within the context of their continued
offending over time.
These represent an as-yet under-explored areas for empirical investigation.
1.4 Why study practitioners and professionals?
As noted above, criminal justice practitioners ‘depend on accurate knowledge’
regarding the offending populations with whom they work, in order to effectively work
to manage, reduce, or eliminate their offending behaviour (Block et al 2010, p.76).
Criminal justice practitioners remain, however, an often-untapped source of such
‘knowledge’ regarding the individuals with whom they work, and how this work is
undertaken, particularly in terms of the PPO initiative. Such individuals are capable of,
providing key information on ‘why a programme works, for whom and in what
circumstances’ (Pawson & Tilley 1997, p.xvi) (emphasis in original), highlighting the
importance of practitioners' narratives in understanding how certain subsets of the
offending population are governed - in this instance, in relation to the ways in which
female offenders in particular are managed (i.e. ‘worked’ with) in relation to their role
as 'persistent offenders' and 'PPOs'.
Such individuals represent an invaluable source of information, not simply about the
specific offending populations with whom they work, but about the various policy
frameworks and structural opportunities and constraints within which this work takes
place. Their stories of how crime reduction ‘work’ is undertaken with offending
populations represents an important, but missing, piece of the puzzle in seeking to
understand how women identified as persistent offenders or PPOs interact with the
criminal justice system. It also provides as-yet untapped operational narratives related
to the recent development of the PPO scheme - for instance: who is involved; what
stake do they have in the programme’s success; how do they make it ‘work’; how do
they make it ‘work’ for women (if this is different); what structures and constraints are
they working under in undertaking this work, et cetera. It is this interactional perspective
that is often missing from the studies identified above.
These issues are discussed further in Chapter Four.
1.5 The current study: Aims and questions for research
In starting to address these perceived criminological lacunae, this qualitative study had
two key aims: firstly, to explore both long-term persistent offending, and the pockmarks
of prolific offending which pattern it, within the lives of women, attending to the ‘how’
and ‘why’ (cf. Palmer 1994, cit. in Maruna, Immarigeon & LeBel 2004) of their enduring
recidivism, as well as seeking to understand whether these concepts adequately
explain the offending ‘careers’ of such women. Secondly, it aims to understand how
various criminal justice strategies and interventions – with a particular focus on the
current PPO schemes – operate within these lives, seeking perspectives both from the
women involved, and the practitioners working with them to try and curb such
behaviours. In doing so, it offers an alternative lens through which to view the female
PAOP offender, adding to our understanding of what it means to commit crime
‘persistently’ and ‘prolifically’.
These aims were to be addressed by answering the following research questions:
1. How do persistent and/or prolific female offenders in England and Wales
narrate their pathways into offending?
2. How do criminal justice practitioners and professionals make sense of
women’s ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending - that is, what ‘standard
stories’ (Abma 1999) do they draw upon in seeking to construct and
understand the lives and offending of such women, specifically those
women identified as PPOs? What issues and concerns do they raise as
highlight as central to their ‘prolific’ recidivism?
3. What factors and events do female PAOP offenders identify as shaping
the enduring nature of their offending career? How and why did they
return to offending time and again? What role have the various criminal
justice interventions – including the PPO strategy – played within this
4. What implications regarding the ways in which female PAOP offenders
are managed broadly within the criminal justice system, and specifically
within the PPO scheme, can be drawn from the data?
Inspired by existing research on women’s pathways, and by the growing interest in
narrative and life-story approaches to criminological issues, this research adds to the
comparatively small body of work on women’s subjective experiences of the onset and
experiences of persistent and prolific re-offending across the life-course, engaging with
‘not just her beginnings in crime but also what she has done over time in [her] life and
why’ (Rockell 2008, pp.xii, 9). It also provides the first person-centred exploration of
women’s prolific offending, in terms of engaging with what it means to be ‘a female
PPO’, and attempts to understand how this particular criminal justice intervention
operates at the individual-life level, as well as understanding the criminal justice
response to female persistent offenders more broadly. It does so within a multiperspectival framework, aiming to provide a more holistic understanding of these
phenomena than has previously been developed. Studying the persistent and prolific
offender in the 21st century is also particularly timely, both because of their ‘increasing
prominence’ (Soothill et al 2003) and the need to understand the impact on individual
lives of new modes of regulating their behaviour (e.g. the Persistent Offender Scheme,
and the Prolific and other Priority Offender strategy). Although withdrawn at the Second
Reading, the recent Sentencing Escalator Bill - brought before the House of Commons
in June 2013 to propose increasingly severe sentences for recidivists - is also indicative
of the ways in which concerns regarding persistent and prolific offending continue to
represent a key political and public safety issue. It must therefore continue to represent
an important topic for engaging criminological and sociological thought.
1.6 Outline of the thesis
The thesis begins by offering a critical examination of existing research relating to the
phenomenon of persistent/chronic/habitual offender, and what we know about the
experiences of women within this context. This material is covered in two chapters.
Chapter Two begins by exploring the definitional boundaries of the ‘life-course
persistent offender’, and locating such individuals theoretically within discourses and
research related to the ‘criminal career’ (as well as the ‘career criminal’) from the 19thcentury through to the present day. Establishing the timeliness of the current research,
the chapter draws attention to increasing focus on the ‘persistent offender’ in recent
years, and the growth and development of a ‘distinct breed’ of initiatives to tackle such
offenders (Farrall et al 2007), of which the 2004 Prolific and other Priority Offender [or
PPO] strategy represents a prime example. The chapter closes with what we currently
know of those individuals being managed under local criminal justice arrangements as
Chapter Three looks at the small body of research relating to the persistent female
offender, and seeks to contextualise this within what we know about women’s patterns
of offending in a broader sense. In engaging with this literature, the chapter establishes
that in the main, female career criminals (as established according to the definition
outlined in the previous chapter) have gone largely unstudied within criminology; a field
of study plagued by ‘sexist, patriarchal formulations of the habitual criminal’ (Pavlich
2010, p.37), which had previously seen women either ‘fleetingly referred to… in
disparaging terms’ or else ignored entirely. Utilising the framework of the criminal
career paradigm outlined in Chapter Two, it engages with the concepts of onset,
severity, frequency, and desistance in the lives of female offenders.
Chapter Four sets out the research design and methods of data generation and
analysis in the current study, discussing the methodological choices made and the
theoretical justifications for these. The chapter also engages reflexively with the
research experience, looking to the practical and ethical implications of generating the
primary data upon which the findings are based, which includes examining closely the
process of conducting research in a prison setting.
The first of four analytical chapters, Chapter Five, provides an analysis of the interview
data generated with the Criminal Justice Practitioner and Professional interviewees. In
doing so, it looks to the ways in which these individuals ‘make sense’ of women’s
prolific and persistent offending pathways across the life-course, in accordance with
their experience of working with such offenders. In short, this chapter asks what we
can learn about female PAOP offenders and the criminal justice response to them,
from those individuals working to reduce the incidence of their recidivism, as well as
engaging with the value systems, assumptions and stereotypes that exist around this
specific group of offenders, with a particular emphasis placed on the female PPO.
In Chapter Six, the focus is on establishing pathways of onset within the offending
careers of these twelve women, beginning by offering a more traditional, quantitative
examination of the data relating to ‘age of onset’ (i.e. first conviction) within the sample,
before engaging in a more narrative-centred analysis of the ways in which they storied
their pathway to the present. Crucially, in focusing on each of the women in turn, this
chapter provides depth to our understanding of the ways in which repeatedly
criminalised women in England and Wales experience the origins of their own
offending career and journey to PAOP offending.
Chapter Seven presents a thematic examination of the key phenomena identified by
the women interviewed as central to the persistent and/or prolific nature of their
offending. Broadly, the aim of this chapter is to engage with the breadth of the interview
data generated with the female offenders, looking to the ways in which their offending
patterns and trajectories developed over their individual life course, and to understand
the role of played by various relevant phenomena within this.
The final analytical chapter, Chapter Eight, engages with the women’s narratives of
their interactions with the criminal justice system and its associated agencies across
the life course and the ways in which each intervention – with specific reference to the
PPO scheme - acted to shape each individual’s trajectory. In doing so, it looks to what
the women identified as necessary in order for them to ‘break out of the life’ (cf.
Sommers, Baskin & Fagan 1994); that is, what support, services, and changes were
viewed as necessary to construct a future free of PAOP offending.
The concluding chapter, Chapter Nine, brings together the main findings from the
study in relation to the original aims identified above, assessing the new knowledge
acquired within the previous analytical chapters. It addresses the question of how
useful – in light of the findings of the current study – the Prolific and other Priority
Offender strategy might be as a criminal justice response in the attempt to drive down
women’s repeat offending. It also questions the expediency of the labels of ‘persistent’
and ‘prolific’ offending in understanding and making sense of the long- and short-term
characteristics of women’s offending across the life course; in doing so, it suggests
that the concept of frustrated desistance (as defined in the Abstract) may be of more
value in attempting to understand the PAOP offending of substance-addicted women
in particular. The chapter concludes with a discussion of implications for policy and
practice in relation to the substantive phenomena.
This final chapter is followed by the List of References, which details the sources
utilised in the writing of the thesis, and the Appendices, which provide copies of the
research instruments, including recruitment posters, information sheets, example
consent forms, and topic guides. The Appendices also provides copies of letters
granting access to the various organisations and establishments within which the
current study took place.
2 – On career criminals and criminal
careers: The rise of the ‘persistent
offender’, and the creation of ‘the PPO’
2.1 Introduction
While the concept of the ‘persistent offender’ is one that we ‘all readily acknowledge’,
it is often defined only in ‘vague’ terms (Soothill et al 2003, p.391), if at all (Maruna
2001). With this in mind, Section 2.2 is dedicated to exploring the various definitional
boundaries of ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending, with Section 2.3 providing a
contextual exploration of the ‘criminal career paradigm’, which has been central in
theorising the existence of the persistent offender.
Sections 2.4, 2.5 and 2.6 are focused on charting the construction of persistent
recidivists across time, from 19th century narratives of the ‘habitual criminal’, through
20th century concern with the ‘chronic offender’ and ‘career criminal’, and to the 21st
century creation of the Prolific and other Priority Offender. Particular focus is placed
on the development of the Prolific and other Priority Offender strategy (2004-Present)
- an initiative designed to provide ‘end-to-end multi-agency management of the most
active and locally damaging offenders’ (Ministry of Justice 2010a, p.4) - as it represents
the current contextual framework within which today’s most prolific recidivists are
managed. The chapter concludes with a critical evaluation of what existing research
tells us about the PPO strategy, in terms of the nature and characteristics of those
individuals being managed under its auspices, the interaction between gender and the
PPO initiative, and its potential impact on offending.
2.2 Defining ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending
This section should be regarded as foregrounding the methodological discussion in
Chapter 4 relating to the sample selection for the current study by demonstrating the
complexity and incongruity of this etymological pursuit (i.e. what it means to be
‘persistent’ in one’s offending).
The definitional boundaries of what constitutes a habitual, chronic, or persistent
offender have often been vague, and subject to temporal conditions, political whims,
and idiosyncrasies of individual policymakers. As identified in the previous chapter, the
need to hunt down and effectively deal with those individuals ‘leading persistently a
dishonest or criminal life’ (Prevention of Crime Act 1908, s.10 [2][a]) has spanned the
centuries from at least the early 1800s. This endeavour has, in the 20th century at least,
taken the form of attempting to measure offence ‘persistence’, or ‘chronicity’, most
typically in accordance with: a) the number of crimes committed by an individual; b)
the type and seriousness of crimes they have committed, and c) the level of ‘danger’
they present to wider society (Morris 1951, pp.5-6).
More consistency is to be found within the numerical threshold mentioned above, which
has most frequently been set at 5 or 6 relevant incidences of activity (be it arrest,
conviction, or other ‘indication’) in establishing offence chronicity/persistence (e.g.
Wolfgang, Figlio & Sellin 1972; Blumstein, Farrington & Moitra 1985; Farrington,
Loeber & van Kammen 1990; Kong & AuCoin 2008; Block et al 2010). This numerical
threshold was also adopted by the Home Office in defining the boundaries of eligibility
for its 2003 Persistent Offender Scheme (Home Office 2002a, para.4), and whilst no
standard definition of ‘a PPO’ was set at the national level (Home Office 2004c), some
PPO schemes (e.g. London PPO Steering Group 2007) have also set their criteria for
inclusion at 6 or more relevant incidences of activity. Thresholds of persistence have,
however, been as low as 3 convictions (Prevention of Crime Act 1908) and in
establishing ‘extreme career criminals’, as high as 30 arrests (DeLisi 2001). Other
definitions – specifically those created under the PPO strategy – have eschewed these
traditional measures of persistence, in favour of a risk/points-based system (e.g.
Cheshire East PPO Unit 2010), whilst others prioritise degrees of persistence – e.g. by
specifically seeking out those individuals with 10 or more previous offences (e.g.
Hopkins & Wickson 2013). The complexities pertaining to the differential processes of
selection and identification of PPOs is discussed in more detail in Section 2.7.1 below.
There has been some debate in relation to the appropriate temporal framework for
establishing ‘persistent’ offending. Many of the studies noted above had long
timeframes for measuring chronicity, ranging from 8 years (Wolfgang et al 1972), to 15
years (Blumstein et al 1985; Farrington et al 1990), and even as long as 75 years
(Block et al 2010), in an attempt to engage with the ‘life-course persistent’ offender
(Moffitt 1993). However, Soothill et al (2003) have argued that long temporal research
periods such as these run the risk that a study may not be focusing on the right
individuals, arguing that ‘three or four convictions over, say, a 20-year period can[not]
sensibly be regarded as ‘persistent’’ (p.391).
Offering a resolution of sorts, Hopkins and Wickson identify two different types of
persistent recidivists, as noted in Chapter One. Firstly, there is the ‘long-term
persistent’ offender, who remains ‘criminally active’ over a period of 10 or more years;
and secondly, there is the prolific persister, who may repeatedly re-offend over a period
of time, but does so in ‘short-term heavy bursts’ (Hopkins & Wickson 2013, p.610), an
idea also recognised within the notion of ‘offense velocity’ (committing lots of offences
in a relatively short, and specific, period of time) (cf. Danner, Blount, Silverman & Vega
1995, p.47). Such offenders would arguably represent the focus of the 2004 Prolific
and other Priority Offender strategy, which – to return to the London example – is
interested in individuals accruing a given number of offences not across the life course,
but within two years (London PPO Steering Group 2007). In the Surrey and Sussex
Probation Trust (n.d.), the timescale is even smaller, targeting individuals with six or
more convictions within a twelve month period.
One flaw with many of these definitional concepts of ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending
is that they rely on some form of officially-recorded police and/or court contact (e.g.
arrest, conviction, recordable offence, ‘sentencing occasion’). This is problematic
because it potentially tells us more about ‘who gets convictions and who does not’; that
is, it tells us more about what sort of individuals repeatedly find themselves the focus
of police attention than telling us ‘anything meaningful about who commits [the most]
crime in some general sense’ (Garside 2004, p.15). Relying on officially recorded data
in this way raises issues pertaining to the ‘dark figure of crime’ (cf. Hamilton & Campbell
2013) – that is, by using such statistics, we can only ever hope to capture the
experiences and offending of those individuals who ‘clutter up the court system and
disproportionately clog up penal institutions’ (Soothill et al 2003, p.390). The tendency
for law enforcers to focus disproportionately on such individuals in this manner also
raises, by way of an aside, the issue of legitimacy; that is, how ‘fair’ or ‘right’ is it that
the criminal justice system is unequally concerned to convict and re-convict those
‘persistent offenders’ who have the misfortune to also be some of the most visible and
politically-problematic offenders? Moreover, given the high number of drug-using
offenders identified within persistent (and prolific – see below) offending populations,
such a status is perhaps also indicative of the increasing commitment in the USA and
UK to the ‘War on Drugs’, which Bobo and Thompson (2006) suggest represents a
‘deep crisis of legitimacy’ within Western criminal justice.
In an attempt to evade the traditional problems associated with sole reliance on
‘arrest’/’conviction’ data as noted above, the Prolific and other Priority Offender
strategy expanded the definitional boundaries of a ‘prolific’ offender to include not only
individuals with, for instance, six or more convictions within a given timeframe, but six
or more ‘indications of criminal activity’, in addition to arrest and convictions data (e.g.
London PPO Steering Group 2007). This move is indicative of broader trends in
policing, whereby ‘intelligence’ has emerged as ‘a key element in law enforcement
strategies’ and in creating a more ‘holistic’ approach to crime control (Ratcliffe 2008,
p.5). These developments are also strongly linked to the ‘[g]rowth in demand for
information’, and need for ‘increased security and knowledge’, within the so-called risk
society (Ratcliffe 2002, pp.54-5). The creation of the National Intelligence Model [NIM]
in the UK has been a key development in this area, and is of central import to the PPO
model of offender management, which relies heavily on ‘intelligence gathering through
strategic partners’ (Home Office 2004c, p.12). The use of intelligence in this manner
may however pose problems in terms of penal legitimacy, particularly in relation to the
ethics and practicalities of ‘covert activity’ and the risks of ‘greater informant use’
(Ratcliffe 2002, 2008), which may see individuals identified as PPOs on the basis of
dubious information. These issues have thus far escaped scholarly attention.
2.3 The development of the ‘criminal career paradigm’
In the 1970s, plagued by seemingly ever-increasing crime rates, an inexorably rising
prison population, and the spiralling costs associated with these two phenomena, the
United States was a country at breaking point. Politicians, policy-makers, and the
criminal justice system itself, faced with ‘mounting evidence’ that existing crime control
policies and rehabilitative programmes were – at best - ‘relatively ineffective’ at
changing offending behaviour/preventing re-offending, were desperate to construct a
more effective means for cutting down crime (Blumstein et al 1986, p.ix). One popular
approach at that time was to focus law enforcement efforts on ‘high-rate’/‘long-duration’
offenders, who were thought to be responsible for disproportionately high levels of
offending; such offenders were known as career criminals (Blumstein et al 1986, p.ix).
The RAND research, studying rates of burglary and robbery, found that whilst the
majority of respondents committed relatively few burglaries or robberies each year
(averaging out to fewer than 5 per individual), a minority group (around 10 per cent of
respondents) reported committing between 50 and 200 burglaries or robberies each
per annum. The idea of being able to effectively identify and reduce the offending
behaviour of this latter group - the ‘career criminals’ - represented a ‘tantalizing’
prospect, since being able to do so could theoretically result in a ‘significant impact’ on
reducing overall rates of crime, with comparatively little resourcing (Tarling 1993, p.42).
At that time, however, little was known about such individuals, largely because
previous research had largely focused on ‘aggregate’ data of crime rates (Blumstein,
Cohen, Roth & Visher 1986). The ‘criminal career approach’ to this problem would be
to begin building a better understanding of all types of offender:
Any attempt to identify the career criminals in a population requires
examination of the criminal careers of all offenders to find the
characteristics that distinguish the most serious offenders; those
having the longest remaining careers, the highest frequencies of
offending, and committing the most serious kinds of offenses.
(Blumstein et al 1986, p.ix) (emphases in original)
Even contemporaneously, it has been recognised that when it comes to researching
career criminality, ‘most recent work is quantitative’ (Francis, Liu & Soothill 2010,
p.192), meaning that there is scope to explore the qualitative minutiae of the lives of
such individuals.
The model of criminal career research – which pertains to ‘the longitudinal sequence
of offences committed by individual offenders’ (Farrington 1992, p.521) – as developed
by Blumstein and colleagues was constructed within four ‘dimensions’ of interest.
These were as follows: (i) participation, which represents ‘the distinction between those
who engage in crime and those who do not’; (ii) frequency, or ‘the rate of criminal
activity’; (iii) the seriousness of the offences being committed; and (iv) career length;
that is, ‘the length of time an offender is active’ (Blumstein et al 1986, p.1). The attempt
to understand individual ‘initiation’ (onset) and the ‘termination of criminal activity’
(desistance) (ibid, p.ix) also feature strongly in the model. It is necessary to pause here
to note that in the decades that have passed since Blumstein et al were writing,
desistance has been subject to a definitional reconstruction by some scholars, and is
now recognised to be less of as a ‘termination event’ – that is, as the ‘abrupt cessation
of criminal behavior’ (Maruna 2001, p.22) – and more as a process over time.
Along with these changes in our understanding of desistance from offending, the
‘criminal career paradigm’ has generated a ‘wealth of information’ in relation to the
other aspects of the longitudinal patterning of criminal activity (Piquero, Farrington &
Blumstein 2003, p.362). One early - and highly influential – model, which attempted to
understand crime and its associated behaviours across the life span, was created by
Terrie Moffitt (1993), who devised a ‘dual taxonomy1’ of the relationship between
antisocial behaviour [ASB] and age. In studying the presence of anti-social behaviour
across individual lives, Moffitt argued that the broader concept of ‘delinquency’ was
acting to conceal two ‘distinct’ categories of individuals: firstly, those who are anti-social
‘only during adolescence’, and; secondly, those who ‘engage in antisocial behavior of
1 sort or another at every life stage’ (Moffitt 1993, p.674). Within any population, she
argued, the former group - characterised as adolescent-limited - would represent the
majority, whilst the latter group – those whose ASB was life-course persistent – would
represent only a small minority, in much the same way as research which identified
Moffitt also acknowledged a third group within her model – those who refrain from ASB across the
entire life course. Such individuals are, according to Moffitt’s data, ‘statistically aberrant’, since the
overwhelming majority of teenagers will engage in some form of ASB/’delinquency’ at this stage of the
life course, especially where it serves some purposeful or ‘instrumental function’ for them (Moffitt
1993, pp.685-686). In fact, it is the adolescent-limited group to whom Moffitt attaches the label of most
common’ behavioural pattern at during the teenage stage of life, rather than this somewhat unusual
group of complete abstainers.
chronic/persistent/habitual offenders as a minority of the wider offending population
(more on this in the following sections). For such individuals, the ‘underlying disposition
[towards ASB] remains the same, but its expression changes form as new social
opportunities arise at different points in development’, progressing from ‘biting and
hitting at age 4, shoplifting and truancy at age 10, selling drugs and stealing cars at
age 16, robbery and rape at age 22, and fraud and child abuse at age 30’ (Moffitt 1993,
Moffitt’s theory as to the aetiology and nature of life-course persistent ASB resonates
strongly with the ‘criminal careers’ concept, in part, through the shared notion that by
observing and understanding the patterns of such behaviours over time, the power to
predict their occurrence/continuation is enhanced; this could, in turn, facilitate the
development of – for example – ‘efforts to prevent individuals from even becoming
involved in crime’ (Blumstein et al 1986, p.1). This is crucial, since Moffitt constructs a
‘bleak’ picture of the future lives of life-course persistent ASB children:
Drug and alcohol addiction, unsatisfactory employment, unpaid debts;
homelessness; drunk driving; violent assault; multiple and unstable
relationships; spouse battery; abandoned, neglected, or abused
children; and psychiatric illness.
(Moffitt 1993, p.679)
This taxonomy provides a useful vehicle for moving away from thinking about what
constitutes ‘persistent offending’ – as outlined in section 2.2 – and looking more
towards what it means to be a ‘persistent offender’ in more qualitative and experiential
terms in the sections that follow.
Before this, however, it is necessary to pause and look backward, to the pre-history of
the ‘persistent offender’, in order to provide some context and foregrounding to the
development of the modern ‘career offender’ and ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offender.
2.4 The persistent offender in the 19th century: Professional
outlaws, petty misdemeanants, and the Habitual Criminals Bill
Towards the mid-19th century, the shape of penal policy in England and Wales was
drastically altered by the refusal of Australia’s colonies to continue to accept British
convicts. The end of transportation as a means for dealing with the criminal masses –
meaning that ‘flushing large numbers of England’s criminals to the antipodes’
(Radzinowicz & Hood 1980, p.1308) was no longer a viable crime-management
strategy - along with the rapid growth of cities, as a by-product of the Industrial
Revolution, and the growing professionalization of the police, ‘made the phenomenon
of crime appear more real and more tangible’ on English streets (ibid). In particular,
concern was increasing in relation to the ‘habitual criminal’; ‘professional outlaws’ who
had freely chosen ‘living by plunder’ as their occupation (Carpenter 1851, quoted in
Radzinowicz & Hood 1980, p.1311):
[The professional outlaw is] educated and hardened in crime… he talks
the slang, frequents the haunts, loves the fraternity, of crime...
despises every form of honesty, industry, and goodness as a milksop
and unmanly weakness.
(The Times, 1857, quoted in Radzinowicz & Hood 1980, p.1311)
They were, in short, ‘the real, genuine representatives of crime’ (The Times, ‘What is
an “habitual criminal”?’ 1869, para.2), and a ‘growing stain on […] civilisation’
(Radzinowicz & Hood 1980, p.1313).
However, emerging social and professional (specifically psychological and psychiatric)
perspectives within the new Industrial society were acting to construct a counternarrative to the ‘professional outlaw’ model of persistent re-offending. This new
narrative sought to re-narrate ‘habitual criminals’ as ‘petty misdemeanants’
(Radzinowicz & Hood 1980); ‘weak and indolent […] inadequates’ (Tallack, 1889, cit.
in Wiener, 1990, p.300-1) whose ‘dangerousness’ lay not in the seriousness of their
offences but rather in the sheer repetition of them. They were feeble-minded individuals
to be pitied and treated, rather than monsters to be feared and punished (Freiberg
2000; Davie 2003).
Either way, it was assumed that both the ‘professional outlaw’ and the ‘petty
misdemeanant’ suffered from a common malady; both were ‘unfit to take part in
working the modem industrial machine’ (Morrison 1891, in Radzinowicz & Hood 1980,
pp.1315-6). One early attempt at a legislative response to this problem, the Habitual
Criminals Bill 1869, was - much like contemporary means for managing persistent
offenders - centred on close supervision and monitoring, in an attempt to limit the
damage that such individuals could do through their continued criminality. Whilst
initially credited with some success in reducing crime, it was not long before ‘serious
deficiencies’ began to emerge, with the number of individuals requiring supervision
overwhelming the capacity of the nation’s (still relatively modest) police force to
manage them (Radzinowicz & Hood 1980, p.1342).
2.5 The 20th century: The rise and decline of preventative
detention, and the development of Criminal Career Programmes
By the turn of the 20th century, habitual criminality was fast becoming ‘the acid test of
the failure of the penal system’ (Radzinowicz & Hood 1980, p.1313). New powers to
tackle persistent recidivism were now created, including sentences of ‘preventative
detention’, allowing judges to imprison ‘habitual criminals’ for a further 5-10 years (in
addition to the original period of incarceration) where it was felt ‘expedient [to do so]
for the protection of the public’ (s.10(2)(a) Prevention of Crime Act 1908). This new
legislation was quickly criticised however both on the grounds that it was inefficacious
in reducing the number of ‘professional criminals’, whilst simultaneously clogging up
the justice system with ‘petty misdemeanants,’ whose offending was more likely
indicative of physical or mental ‘deficiency’ than an ‘active intention to plunder their
fellow creatures’ (Morris 1951, p.40). By the 1940s, the Act had been rendered a ‘dead
letter’ (MacDonald 1969).
With the outbreak of World War II, ‘law and order’ more or less fell from the political
agenda, and it was not until the 1970s that ‘habitual’ offenders – now reimagined as
the ‘career criminal’ - found their way back into mainstream policy, partially as a result
of Wolfgang, Figlio and Sellin’s (1972) study of ‘delinquency’ in a birth cohort. Their
most influential finding was that of the total arrests accrued by the cohort, just over half
(52 per cent) were attributable to a very small minority of individuals (6.3 per cent of
the total cohort) – Wolfgang et al termed these persistent recidivists ‘chronic offenders’.
Reflecting on the significance of these findings, Wolfgang, Thornberry and Figlio (1987,
p.2) commented that:
[a]lthough it had long been known that there was a relatively small
group of serious, habitual offenders in the general population, it was
not known that the chronic offenders constituted such a small
proportion while accounting for so much of the offensive behaviour.
(Wolfgang, Thornberry & Figlio 1987, p.2)
The impact of findings such as these, and the increasing acceptance of the idea that
‘removing such offenders from the street […] [could] produce a significant
communitywide reduction in major crimes’ (Abrahamse, Ebener, Greenwold et al 1991,
p.142), led to the re-routing of criminal justice resources in the United States away from
the ‘rehabilitation’ of offenders and toward ‘targeted prosecution’ through the
development of Criminal Career Programmes [hereafter CCPs]. First becoming
operational in the US in 1974, CCPs ensured that individuals who had demonstrated
a ‘consistent, serious pattern of criminal behaviour’ would receive ‘more intensive
prosecutorial attention’, in the hope that improving the ability of the system to convict
and incapacitate this particular group of offenders would ultimately reduce crime rates
(Chelimsky & Dahmann 1981, p.1).
Evaluations of the impact of CCPs (e.g. Chelimsky & Dahman 1980; Abrahamse et al
1991) found however, that such programmes had little impact on individual behaviour
(i.e. crimes being committed) or the rate at which offenders were re-processed through
the system (as had been hoped). Scholars were also beginning to question the validity
and strength of the ‘chronic offender’ concept, arguing that the distribution pattern of
‘chronicity’ found in the Wolfgang et al data was less meaningful than had been
assumed (Blumstein & Moitra 1980). Consequently, later research started to direct
attention away from past offending, and more towards other variables that were
thought to more strongly predict chronic offending in adulthood, such as early
conviction in childhood, poor junior attainment at school, and being ‘troublesome’
(Blumstein, Farrington & Moitra 1985).
Blumstein et al’s (1985) re-focusing of persistent offender theories onto the variables
which might contribute to continuation of offending behaviour is reflected in broader
research trends of that era. A new model was emerging in opposition to the ‘antirehabilitation rhetoric’ dominating mainstream criminology in that period and
‘retard[ing] progress’ in the attempt effectively rehabilitate offenders, and so reduce
crime (Andrews, Bonta & Hoge 1990, p.20). This model - the risk-need-responsivity
paradigm - is representative of broader shifts in penal trends, signalling the move away
from ‘punishing individuals’, and towards ‘managing aggregates of dangerous groups’,
underpinned the ‘language of probability and risk’ which, in the last decade of the 20th
century, was beginning to emerge as the primary discourse for responding to offenders
(Feeley & Simon 1992, pp.449-450).
As was the case in the century before – and to paraphrase Heidensohn on feminist
critiques of ‘conventional criminology’ as a whole – women remained ‘largely ‘invisible’
and at best [were] merely marginal’ (Heidensohn 1985, p.146) in 20th century studies
of persistent offending, a trend – which, as discussed below – has continued into the
21st century with the development of the Prolific and other Priority Offender strategy.
As outlined in Section 2.2, a detailed critique of the absence of women from the broader
study of ‘career criminality’ and ‘persistent’ offending is presented in the following
2.5.1 Beyond anti-rehabilitation: The RNR model for predicting
recidivism & a new means for managing the persistent offender
The need for criminal justice practice to be more ‘effective’ in reducing crime represents
the core principle of the risk-need-responsivity model [hereafter RNR] (Andrews, Bonta
& Hoge 1990), which created a ‘revolution in the way criminal conduct is managed’ in
Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand (Ward, Melser & Yates 2007, p.209), as
well as becoming central to probation practice in England and Wales (Bullock 2011;
Chapman & Hough 1998). There are three key component parts to the RNR model,
which represent ‘the characteristics of offenders that may determine levels, targets,
and type of rehabilitative effort’ (Andrews, Bonta & Hoge 1990, pp.19, 20). These
concepts relate to: (i) the risk of recidivism; (ii) criminogenic need; and (iii) ‘the
responsivity of offenders to different service options’ (ibid). We will now examine these
concepts in more detail.
The risk principle is predicated on the notion that offending behaviour is both
predictable and preventable, but that this is only the case where (i) tried and tested
‘evidence-based’ instruments exist to reliably measure the risk; and (ii) that the correct
‘treatment’ (i.e. criminal justice response), matched to the level of risk posed by the
offender, is prescribed (Andrews et al 1990, p.23; Bonta & Andrews 2007, p.1). The
risk principle dictates that resources should be focused on offenders who represented
the most high-risk of recidivism, since they require a more intensive and rigorous
service to reduce the probability of returning to crime (Bonta & Andrews 2007, p.9).
However, simply increasing resources for the management of such high-risk offenders
will not reduce crime – the response/resources must be appropriately matched to the
needs of each individual. Failure to respond appropriately not only wastes resources
(cf. Bonta & Andrews 2007) but could counter-productively lead to increased (rather
than decreased) likelihood of recidivism (cf. Andrews & Kiessling 1980, cit. in Andrews
et al 1990, p.29).
It is the second principle of RNR - the need principle – which is therefore concerned
with establishing the most appropriate ‘treatment’ (i.e. intervention) for a given
offender, tailored to their unique criminogenic needs (Bonta & Andrews 2007, p.i). A
criminogenic need is a ‘dynamic’ attribute (i.e. one that is fluid and malleable)
‘functionally related to criminal behavior’ ‘that when changed, [is] associated within
changes in the chances of recidivism’ (Andrews & Bonta 2010, p.45; Andrews et al
1990, p.31). Focusing on dynamic/changeable factors – for example, those related to
housing situation, employment status, substance addiction - represented a tangible
move away from the previous model for assessing risk, which had previously relied on
‘static’ factors (e.g. age, offending history, gender) (Bonta & Andrews 2007). However,
the proponents of RNR recognised that in addition to criminogenic needs, offenders
often need support regarding non-criminogenic needs; that is, those with a ‘minor or
non-causal relationship to criminal behavior’ (Andrews & Bonta 2010, p.45). Table 2.1,
below, serves to more clearly indicate the theoretical difference between ‘needs’ which
might be considered to be criminogenic or non-criminogenic within the RNR paradigm.
Table 2.1: Definition of ‘criminogenic’ and ‘non-criminogenic’ needs (Andrews & Bonta
2010, p.46)
The third and final aspect of the RNR paradigm – the responsivity principle – asks how
an intervention which has been designed in accordance with the above principle should
be applied to a certain individual in order to ensure maximum efficacy. This question
is answered in accordance with the tenets of cognitive social learning theory;
‘matching’ each intervention to each individual’s unique learning style, ‘personal
strengths and socio-biological-personality factors’ (Bonta & Andrews 2007, p.5).
The RNR paradigm has attracted critique along various lines (see Ward, Melser &
Yates 2007, for a detailed overview); of particular relevance to the current research are
those criticisms regarding the propriety of this model in relation to the management of
female offenders, and the number of women coming through the criminal justice
system – and in particular, out of prison - with ‘unmet’, and unidentified, ‘needs’ (e.g.
Hannah-Moffat 2006; 2009; Sheehan, McIvor & Trotter 2011; Buell, Modley & Van
Voorhis 2011). These issues will be revisited in more depth in the following chapters.
Despite these critiques, the RNR model now dominates much of the penal landscape
(Bullock 2011), particularly in relation to the management of offenders who pose the
most tangible threat to the ability of the criminal justice system to reduce re-offending
in the 21st century; the persistent, and prolific, offender.
2.6 The 21st century: Re-igniting the Persistent Offender debate,
ISMs, the POS, and creating ‘the Prolific & other Priority Offender’
2.6.1 Prime et al (2001), the ‘persistent offender’ theory, and
establishing Intensive Monitoring and Supervision schemes
The findings of Prime et al (2001) have been particularly influential in constructing the
contemporary response to the ‘persistent offender’. Extrapolating from the study’s
findings, the Home Office claimed that such individuals – while perhaps accounting for
only 10 percent of active offenders – were responsible for at least 50 percent of all
serious convictions’ (Home Office 2001, p.116), and that to ‘get to grips with crime’
necessitated ‘getting to grips’ with this particular subset of the general offending
The purported efficacy of targeting the ‘persistent offender’ as defined above (i.e.
individuals accumulating three or more convictions across the life course) (Home
Office 2001) was later heavily challenged by Garside (2004), who argued that the
statistical data in Prime et al’s study had been misappropriated by the government and
that ‘at best’ the data
tells us a certain amount about that tiny subgroup of all people who
commit certain crimes in given years who are also caught and convicted
[…] But as the basis for foundational statements about the nature of crime
or offending, or of policy initiatives aimed at targeting those individuals
who commit the most crimes, or who cause the most harm or damage, it
is virtually useless.
(Garside 2004, p.16) (my emphasis)
Hopkins and Wickson (2013, p.599) also raised questions about the potential of the
PPO programme to impact on reducing local crime rates in any meaningful way given
the comparatively small numbers of individuals meeting the ‘prolific’ threshold (ibid).
These later critiques notwithstanding, the Prime et al data has still been hugely
influential, underpinning governmental rhetoric in constructing and promoting a range
of new, national initiatives aimed specifically at the persistent and prolific offender. In
2002, for example, the Home Office supported the creation of 15 Intensive Supervision
and Monitoring schemes [ISMs] across England and Wales, many of which built on
existing, small-scale ‘Prolific Offenders Projects’ [aka POPs]. ISMs targeted individuals
aged over 18 who had committed 6 or more offences in the previous 12 months at
liberty, based on ‘crime type (acquisitive), volume and local intelligence’ (Farrall et al
2007, p.354), engaging these offenders in ‘intensive surveillance and supervision, with
fast access to services and support for rehabilitation alongside swift action and
penalties for non-compliance’ (Homes, Walmsley & Debidin 2007, p.1). This model for
managing repeat offenders with a focus on local priorities, targeting ‘prolific’ offending,
offering rehabilitative support for the compliant and harsh punishment for the noncompliant came to underpin subsequent schemes, as the following sections will show.
While Homes et al (2007) found ISMs to have been associated with reduced recidivism,
having had a ‘considerable impact in the lives of offenders’ (p.1), the schemes broadly
lacked critical challenge (Farrall et al 2007).
2.6.2 The Persistent Offender Scheme (2002-2004)
ISMs were quickly superseded by the development of a larger, national initiative to
tackle persistent recidivism. Persistent Offender Schemes [hereafter POS], which were
implemented across England and Wales in October 2002, sought to ‘support the CJS
in more effectively catching, bringing to justice and rehabilitating a core group of
particularly prolific offenders who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of
crime’ (Criminal Justice Chief Inspectors’ Group 2004, p.3). Similar to ISMs, the POS
engaged with individuals aged 18 or over with 6 or more ‘recordable offences’ (i.e.
arrests or convictions) across the previous 12 months (Home Office 2002a, para.4).
Returning to the issues in Section 2.2 regarding the (improper) use of the two concepts
interchangeably, the short timeframe here suggests a focus on ‘offence
velocity’/‘prolific’ offending, despite being named the Persistent Offender Scheme.
Whilst there was ‘some evidence’ that the short-lived POS had resulted in a ‘positive
crime reduction and rehabilitation effect’ (Criminal Justice Chief Inspectors’ Group
2004, pp.1), it quickly became clear that providing a uniform definition of ‘a Persistent
Offender’ was inherently problematic. Not only had this led to an ‘unmanageable’
number of individuals being identified for the Schemes, it was tending to draw in
persistent shoplifters, creating a cohort who were not ‘thought worthy of prioritisation
by practitioners’ (ibid, pp.3-4). No overarching evaluation of the Persistent Offender
Scheme was ever published (Farrall et al 2007).
In 2003, a scathing review of ‘correctional services’ in England and Wales concluded
that existing sentencing practices did not ‘bear down sufficiently on serious, dangerous
and highly persistent offenders’
p.4). Carter’s review was
‘enthusiastically received’ by the New Labour administration (cf Farrall et al 2007,
p.356), and their concern to both maintain and prioritise tackling the persistent offender
subsequently led to the creation in 2004 of the Prolific and other Priority Offender
2.6.3 The Prolific and other Priority Offender strategy (2004-Present)
Introduced in September 2004, the Prolific and other Priority Offender [hereafter PPO]
strategy narrowed its focus to a group of 5,000 ‘super prolific’ offenders who – based
on estimates from the Prime et al (2001) data – were thought to be responsible for one
in every ten offences (9 per cent of all recorded crime) in England and Wales (Home
Office, 2004c, p.3; Home Office, 2007 p.2), although as noted above, the statistical
accuracy of these figures has been questioned by Garside (2004).
The strategy envisaged ‘an end-to-end offender management approach’ (Home Office
2007, p.7) to the PPO problem, which was concerned with
those individuals who are the most prolific offenders, the most
persistently anti-social in their behaviour, and those who pose the
greatest threat to the safety and confidence2 of their local communities.
(Farrall et al 2007, p.356; emphases in original)
At the core of the strategy was a ‘joined-up’/multi-agency approach, with relevant
partners in local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships [hereafter CDRPs] (e.g.
probation, accommodation services, drug rehabilitation services, health services)
committing to prioritise resources for PPOs ‘with the explicit aim of putting an end to
the harm they are causing’ (Home Office 2004c, p.4). The Prison Service, as part of
the National Offender Management Service (2010, p.1), must also accord PPOs ‘due
priority for appropriate interventions’ and limit their transfers between prisons ‘so as
not to detract from their rehabilitation’. The concept of multi-agency partnership
working was identified as ‘vital’ to the effective operation of the PPO initiative, given
the myriad complex criminogenic needs of this particular offender group – one of
Dawson’s (2007) key findings highlighted this:
PPOs appear to have specific needs in terms of accommodation, drugs
misuse and education, training and employability problems compared
to other offenders. As such, it is beneficial that a multi-agency
approach is taken, and it is crucial that the appropriate services are
involved (for example, housing and drug treatment).
(Dawson 2007, p.iii)
Here, ‘confidence’ refers to the confidence of the public that the actions of the criminal justice system
(e.g. police, prisons, courts) could have any effect/impact whatsoever on the behaviour of the
persistently anti-social and prolifically offending individuals in their community, a problem identified in
the Narrowing the Justice Gap report (Home Office, 2002b).
In essence then, a central part of the PPO strategy is ‘about recognising that no one
agency has the ability to be able to stop prolific offenders offending, [and that] if we try
and do it through one we’re just going to fail’ (interviewee, in Dawson 2007, p.5).
The PPO strategy was also designed to amalgamate all of the various definitions of
persistent, priority, and prolific offenders which had been in operation across England
and Wales up to that point (Farrall et al 2007). Learning from the mistakes of the
Persistent Offender Scheme model, the PPO strategy did not attempt to set a
national/standard definition, allowing each CDRP to define PPOs according to their
particular local circumstances and crime problems.
The PPO strategy was comprised of three complementary strands. The first, Prevent
and Deter, was focused both on i) working to prevent children and young people (i.e.
aged 17 years and under) from ‘becoming involved in criminality’; and ii) where
offending was already in evidence, working to prevent the ‘most at risk young offenders
from becoming the PPOs of the future’ through appropriately targeted interventions
(Youth Justice Board 2004, p.3). This model – concerned with ‘appropriately targeted
interventions’ and ‘risk factors driving offending behaviour’ – highlights the centrality of
the RNR paradigm (as outlined in Section 2.5.1) to the PPO model of offender
The remaining two strands of the PPO strategy – Catch and Convict, and Rehabilitate
& Resettle – are aimed at adult offenders (aged 18 years and over), and also contain
elements strongly associated with the RNR paradigm. These are underpinned by a
decidedly responsibilising ‘carrot and stick’ ethos, drawing strongly on rational choice
theory – that is, PPOs are presented with ‘a simple choice: reform or face a very swift
return to the courts’ (Home Office 2004c, p.5). It is assumed that individuals will want
to avoid the Catch and Convict element of the strategy, which subjects offenders to
being policed in a ‘robust and proactive’ manner, and co-ordinates criminal justice
processes to ensure the ‘effective investigation, charging and prosecution of PPOs’
(Home Office 2004c, p.5). It is also assumed that, instead, individuals identified as
PPOs will want to engage with the Rehabilitate and Resettle strand of the strategy,
which aims to ‘support the rehabilitation of offenders […] [with] a particular focus on
the resettlement of offenders receiving custodial sentences’ (Home Office 2004b, p.6).
The structure for effective rehabilitation and resettlement of PPOs is based on the
’intervention pathways’ identified in the National Reducing Re-offending Action Plan
(National Offender Management Service 2004) which are as follows: (1)
accommodation; (2) education, training & employment; (3) mental & physical health;
(4) drugs & alcohol; (5) finance, benefit & debt; (6) children & families of offenders; and
(7) attitudes, thinking & behaviour (ibid, pp.7-8). Two ‘pathways’ which recognise the
needs of female offenders in particular have been created retrospectively: Pathway 8,
which offers support for women who have been abused, raped or who have
experienced domestic violence, and Pathway 9, which is centred on support for women
who have been involved in prostitution. However, these ‘have not been mainstreamed
into NOMS’ [the National Offender Management Service] work in the way one would
hope’ (Justice Committee 2010-2012, para.9), and form no part of the PPO strategy.
2.7 Who are the Prolific & other Priority Offenders?
This section details what we can learn about PPOs and the PPO model of persistent
offender management from existing policy and research. It also considers what data is
missing, facilitating the identification of the unique contribution of the current thesis.
2.7.1 Identification/selection for becoming ‘a PPO’
The PPO strategy was designed to target those offenders posing a ‘high risk’ of
recidivism, and who were ‘causing harm in types of crime and disorder considered to
be local priorities’ (Home Office, 2004c, p.20). The diagram below pictorially illustrates
this relative positioning of PPOs in terms of this high risk/high local priority model (
Figure 1, overleaf). According to Home Office documentation, PPOs were to be
identified by the following criteria: i) the ‘nature and volume’ of their offences; ii) the
‘nature and volume of the harm they cause’; and iii) ‘the detrimental impact they have
on their community’ (Home Office, 2007, p.4).
Central to the process of selecting PPOs within any given CDRP is the ‘Prolific
Offender Prioritisation’ assessment form. Whilst the initial Home Office guidance
provided an example form (Home Office 2004c) (APPENDIX I), the expectation was
that each CDRP would modify the form to fit their own local priorities. The form, which
is similar to the ‘omnipresent’ probation risk assessments (cf. Bullock 2011), ‘scores’
potential PPOs, who have been identified from the local offending population through
Stages 1 to 4 of the identification flowchart, shown overleaf at
Figure 2.
The PPO identification process (
Figure 2) at Stage 5, scores offenders according to an arrest, conviction, or intelligence
(as discussed above in section 2.2) in relation to a series of ‘crime categories’ (e.g.
Burglary, Auto-Crime, Theft, Fraud, Anti-Social Behaviour, and Violence), each of
which attracts a particular numerical value (e.g. a dwelling burglary is 4 points, robbery
is 5 points, shoplifting is 2 points). Extra factors are also taken into account, and these
accrue further points, for example: the type of victim (e.g. an elderly victim is 5 points);
the presence of an alcohol addiction (3 points), or a drug dependency (5 points). In
addition, certain offences can be weighted more heavily in accordance with local
priorities (e.g. if an area has a particular problem with
Figure 1: PPOs shown as high risk offenders, cross-referenced with locally-defined
high priority crime and disorder types (Home Office 2004c, p.21)
Figure 2: Flowchart for identification of PPOs (reproduced from Home Office 2004c, p.20)
shop-lifting, or drug-related acquisitive crime). PPO identification/eligibility assessment
forms may also obtain data/intelligence from existing OASys (Offender Assessment
System) forms, where one already exists (i.e. the offender is already ‘in the system’).
Like the OASys form – and as per the RNR model of offender management discussed
above – the PPO identification process takes into account both static (e.g. past
offending) and dynamic (e.g. substance addiction) risk factors.The score arrived at by
totalling up the points accrued is then used to define whether or not that individual
qualifies as a PPO – those individuals whose score crosses a particular threshold level
then become part of the final PPO cohort for a given area; for example, whilst a
‘Cheshire PPO’ is defined as an adult who scores 21 points or more on their PPO
assessment matrix across a 1-year period (Cheshire East PPO Unit 2010), one of the
PPO schemes in the current research required 45 points to reach PPO status. Whilst
engaging with PPO projects is, in such cases, broadly voluntary, it is now the case that
individuals can be statutorily required to engage with such schemes.
Early findings evaluations suggested that ‘in general the right people have been
identified for the scheme’ (Dawson 2005, p.1; Dawson 2007), although the actual
number of PPOs being managed is far higher than the Home Office’s original estimate
of a ‘super prolific’ offending population of 5,000. This could be related to problems
with selection, or the government’s original estimations of the size of the problem (as
Garside 2004 suggests). However, it could have more to do with de-selection of PPOs;
a recent governmental review of the PPO programme identified a series of flaws
related to this, specifically that many individuals remained on such schemes for ‘too
long’, and often retained their PPO status, despite the fact that they were no longer
offending ‘prolifically’ (Ministry of Justice 2009, p.8). We know little about the
phenomenon of ‘de-selection’ however, since the majority of PPO-based research has
given more consideration to issues of selection/identification (cf. Dawson, 2007; Millie
& Erol, 2006).
In addition to the lack of research into the organisational/procedural dynamics of deselection, there is also little understanding as relates to the personal processes of
moving away from offending (i.e. desisting) in accordance with the PPO programmes
(cf. Hopkins & Wickson, 2013). If we are to begin to understand the personal journey
by which individuals move away (or attempt to move away) from a PPO status - which
may better inform an understanding of the desistance process for such individuals then a more person-centred approach to PPO research may be beneficial. This issue
is discussed below.
2.7.2 A note on PPO cohort characteristics and existing data
The initial Prolific and other Priority Offender cohort (n=7,801) were allocated to local
projects between September and October 2004. They were a predominantly young
group, with an average of 25 years at the point of identification, and were primarily
White British (88 per cent), and male (95 per cent) (Dawson 2005).
Due to changes in the official measurement of proven re-offending statistics (details in
Ministry of Justice 2011, p.6), no current data comparative to the inaugural national
cohort exists in terms of age of onset, gender, ethnicity, et cetera. Instead, statistics
are now collated locally, and focus only on PPO’s proven re-offence rates within the
various Community Safety Partnership [CSPs, which replaced CDRPs] areas. The last
comprehensive breakdown of PPO data published in its own right relates to the April
2009–March 2010 cohort. This data, collected at the national level (prior to the
found the mean age of PPOs nationally to be 27 years old, and that in terms of gender,
97 per cent of all PPOs were male (Ministry of Justice 2011). No data was published
in relation to the national cohort and ethnicity or age of onset.
2.7.3 PPOs and age of onset
As noted in Section 2.3, the concept of onset is central to the criminal career paradigm.
It represents both ‘the emergence of antisocial behavior’ and the ‘initiation’ of the
criminal career (DeLisi 2005, p.39), and understood as ‘a discrete change in state,
namely from nonoffender to offender’ (Piquero & Chung 2001, p.190). This ‘discrete
change’ has often been conceptualised in terms of the age at which an individual was
first arrested (e.g. Blumstein & Moitra 1980; DeLisi 2001); first convicted (Dawson
2005), or first engaged in acts of ‘anti-social behaviour’/self-reported ‘deviancy’ (e.g.
Skardhamar 2009; Piquero, Farrington & Blumstein 2007; Pajer 1998; Moffitt 1993).
As these different definitions of ‘onset’ indicate, it is not a stable concept across the
In terms of prolific offenders’ age of onset, data is focused on age at first conviction.
There is little or no indication of PPOs’ trajectories from, say, ‘first act of deviancy’ to
this point. It is, however, likely that most are initiated into anti-social behaviour or crime
at young age, since the inaugural PPO cohort had begun accruing convictions on
average at 15 years old. This was ‘significantly younger’ than non-PPOs (identified
through the national Offender Index database), whose average age at first conviction
was 21 years (Dawson 2005). This finding is consistent with studies from life-course
criminology which suggest that ‘an early onset of offending predicts a long career
duration and many offenses’ (Farrington 2005, p.7) (see also e.g. Blumstein, Cohen,
Roth & Visher 1986; Nagin & Farrington 1992; Moffitt 1993; Piquero & Chung 2001;
Osgood 2005). In particular, ‘chronic’ offenders (i.e. those with five or more convictions
across the life course) in England and Wales have been found, using data from the
Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, as exhibiting an earlier onset of
offending than non-chronic offenders; i.e. first conviction at 14 years for the former,
versus at age 22.5 years for the latter (Piquero, Farrington & Blumstein 2007).
2.7.4 PPOs and age at identification for scheme
‘Prolific offenders’ tend to be young offenders. The average age at point of identification
for the inaugural PPO cohort was 25 years, with the most common age being 20 years
(Dawson 2005). Similarly, the mean age for the 2009 PPO cohort was 27 years, with
66 per cent of all PPOs aged less than 30 years-old at the point of data collection.
PPOs aged 40 and above accounted for only 6 per cent of the cohort (Ministry of
Justice 2011). These national-level findings are consistent with those of local PPO
project evaluations, which have shown - for example – that PPOs in Bristol had a mean
age of 29 years old (Vennard & Pearce 2004), and that over half of the Birmingham
PPO cohort fell between 18 and 25 years of age (Mille & Erol 2006) during the
respective study periods.
2.7.5 Conviction History/’Career Offences’
Data from the initial cohort study indicated that PPOs had accrued an average of 47
convictions across their offending career to the date of the study. Perhaps counterintuitively, this figure stood at 25 convictions less than the average offender from a
matched sample taken from the Offenders Index (Dawson 2005). When the data was
re-compared but only across the five years prior to identification, the PPOs had
accrued more than double the average number of convictions than offenders in the
comparison group (24 convictions compared to 10 respectively) (Dawson 2005). Put
another way, the PPO cohort demonstrated a higher offence velocity (i.e. commit many
crimes in short bursts of offending activity) (cf. Danner et al 1995) than non-PPOs, but
had accrued less long-term convictions over time (Hopkins and Wickson 2013).
Evaluations of the national PPO cohort (Dawson 2005; Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007)
also suggested that PPOs were more ‘criminally versatile’ (i.e. committed a range of
different offences) than individuals in the general offending population.
2.7.6 Offence Type
Whilst the original PPO Strategy anticipated that such offenders would be responsible
for ‘at least 50% of all serious crime’ (Home Office 2004c, p.3; my emphasis), the
statistics do not seem to support this assumption. PPOs are ‘predominantly acquisitive
offenders’ (Dawson 2005; Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007), who commit ‘theft’ more
frequently than any other specific offence (Ministry of Justice 2011). ‘Serious’
acquisitive crimes (domestic burglary, robbery, and vehicle crime) appear to be
comparatively rare when viewed on a national scale (e.g. they accounted for only 13
per cent of PPOs’ most recent offence in the 2009/10 cohort) (Ministry of Justice 2011),
although appear far more prevalent in smaller-scale studies of local projects (e.g.
Feasey et al 2009 identified burglary as the most recent offence for over half of the
sample). The second largest offence-type category identified in the 2009 cohort data
however are ‘breach’ offences (i.e. violating existing prison-release licence conditions,
community orders, or Anti-Social Behaviour Orders). This calls to mind Garside’s
(2004) critique of persistent offender statistics, suggesting that perhaps PPO status
tells us more about which individuals are being repeatedly caught and processed by
the police, or which individuals struggle most to adhere to official sanctions, than it tells
us about who persistently commits the most crime.
2.7.7 Criminogenic Needs
Existing research has identified that PPOs present ‘higher levels of most criminogenic
needs’, as measured by OASys, when compared to the general offender population
(Dawson 2005, p.3). These ‘needs’ are likely to be similar to those of members of the
general offending population, but are likely to exist in a ‘greater number’ (Criminal
Justice Joint Inspection Group 2004, p.13). Dawson (2005) identified a range of
complex and inter-related factors underpinning PPOs’ offending, as identified in Table
2.2 (overleaf). The top five issues identified here are now addressed in turn. Issues
which may be related to provision of support and services for such needs is discussed
under Section 2.7.3, on Managing PPOs, and arranging interventions.
Education, Training and Employability Problems (ETE)
Since long-term unemployment has a particularly strong association with persistent reoffending (Piquero, Blumstein & Farrington 2003; Drabsch 2006), it is perhaps
unsurprising that OASys risk assessments demonstrate high levels of ETE needs
among PPOs (Dawson 2005; Dawson 2007; Easton 2007; Joint Criminal Justice Chief
Inspectors’ Group 2009). 82 per cent of the inaugural national PPO cohort (as
compared to 55 per cent of the non-PPO comparison group) were found to have ETE
needs linked to their offending (Dawson 2005), whilst a study of PPO schemes in four
London boroughs found ETE needs of London PPOs to be nearly double those of the
general London population (Easton 2007).
Research has also shown that PPOs are more likely than a matched comparison group
of non-PPOs to have ‘significant problems’ with: (i) ‘school attendance, learning
difficulties and attitude to education’; and (ii) ‘work skills, employment history and
attitude to employment’, whilst being less likely to be in full or part-time employment
(Dawson 2007). These problems have been found to be more deeply entrenched for
older PPOs (Easton 2007).
Table 2.2: Factors related top offending for PPOs, as identified through OASys
(reproduced from Dawson 2005, p.3)
Practitioners working with PPOs appear to acknowledge that ETE-focused
interventions are key (Easton 2007), although are often frustrated by inefficacy of
partner agencies in moving forward with related support (Millie & Erol 2006). In a study
of one PPO project (n= 89), support related to ETE needs represented the service most
engaged with by the offenders themselves (Feasey et al 2009).
Thinking & Behaviour
‘Thinking & Behaviour’ was identified as a factor linked to the offending behaviour of
three-quarters of PPOs in the inaugural national cohort, compared with 55 per cent of
non-PPOs (Dawson 2005); a recent article, however, suggested that it is not clear
whether or not the PPO strategy can actually effect changes in prolific offending
behaviour (cf. Hopkins & Wickson 2013). The ‘carrot and stick’ ethos of the PPO
initiative reflects the broader ‘responsibilising’ tendencies inherent in contemporary
rehabilitative practices, which ‘require offenders to self-regulate or risk punitive
interventions’ (Bullock 2011, p.125). These demands are often made with little
acknowledgment of the inherent difficulties in expecting short-term programmes to
effectively modify the ‘decades of socialisation’ into prolific recidivism which PPOs in
particular had often experienced (cf. Easton 2007, p.21).
Criminal Lifestyle & Associates
The presence of ‘criminal associates’ in one’s life – which relates both to the presence
of ‘criminal friends’ as well as ‘isolation from prosocial others’ – represents one of the
‘big four’ risk factors relating to the probability of future offending (along with ‘criminal
associates’, ‘criminal history’, and ‘anti-social personality’) (Andrews & Bonta 2010,
p.46; Andrews & Bonta 2007). The inaugural PPO evaluation suggested that the
presence of a ‘criminal lifestyle’ and ‘criminal associates’ was relevant in the offending
of the majority of PPOs (73 per cent), particularly when compared to non-PPOs (37
per cent) (Dawson 2005). These represented the highest ranking issues in an
evaluation of the Sheffield PPO scheme (Feasey et al 2009), whilst Easton (2007)
noted that many PPOs in her London sample struggled to maintain desistance from
offending ‘when returning to drug using peers and neighbourhoods’ (Easton 2007, p.6).
Drug Misuse & Alcohol Abuse
Just as previous studies (e.g. Mosher & Phillips 2006; Maruna 2001; Weis 1986) have
identified the co-existence of substance use and addiction within the lives of persistent
re-offenders more broadly, recent analyses of the national PPO cohort have identified
‘drug misuse’ as a relevant factor in their offending. Dawson (2005) found this to be
disproportionately the case (61 per cent of PPOs) when compared to individuals in the
general offending population (26 per cent). PPOs are also: i) more likely to misuse
‘hard’ drugs (e.g. heroin, crack cocaine, as well as amphetamines); ii) less likely to
misuse alcohol; and iii) ‘more likely to be fully occupied by the pursuit and misuse of
drugs’, than their non-PPO counterparts (Dawson 2007).
It is also important, however, to note that the offending of over a third of PPOs (39 per
cent) in the inaugural cohort was not specifically linked to substance misuse (Dawson
Accommodation problems
Just as persistent male offenders are more likely to experience problems finding
permanent accommodation or be of ‘no fixed address’ than non-persistent offenders
(Fairhead 1981), so PPOs – the majority of whom are male – are also likely to struggle
to secure (and maintain) appropriate, permanent accommodation (Dawson 2005), and
more so than non-PPOs (Dawson 2007). According to Easton (2007), housing was the
‘most difficult’ need to meet of PPOs in her London sample, drawing attention to ‘a lack
of support from housing partners and limited resources with which to support PPOs’.
As the Social Exclusion Unit (2002) noted more broadly in relation to reducing reoffending by ex-prisoners, managing accommodation for PPOs is made all the more
difficult by the need to manage ‘vulnerable tenancies, rental arrears, or [other] housing
related problems’ occurring as a result of (often repeated) periods of imprisonment
(Easton 2007, p.6).
2.7.8 The PPO initiative and gender
Studies of PPO cohorts have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of
Prolific and other Priority Offenders are male, with estimates ranging from 95 per cent
(Dawson 2005) to 97 per cent (Ministry of Justice 2011) at the national level. At the
local level, PPO schemes may be entirely absent of females, or (very rarely) be as high
as almost one tenth female (these two instances represented the Lambeth and
Southwark PPO schemes, as detailed in Easton 2007); however, the majority have a
small number of women on them. As Farrall et al (2007) noted, it is because ‘there are
very few women accommodated within prolific/persistent offender projects’ (p.353) that
very little research exists exploring their experiences, or the extent to which the PPO
model does (or does not) support women to reduce or cease their offending. To the
credit of many of the small-scale project evaluations that exist, many undertook
interviews with both male and female PPOs (e.g. Millie & Erol 2006; Dawson &
Cuppleditch 2007; Easton 2007; Feasey et al 2009), even if this only amounted to
interviewing one or two women. Unfortunately, the write-ups often fails to demarcate
between the comments attributable to males, and those attributable to females,
describing them as, for example, ‘PPO’, ‘Sheffield PPO’, ‘Southwark Prolific Offender’
– only Millie and Erol (2006) differentiate between the gender of the data used in their
analysis, although since only two women were interviewed as part of the project, and
that they are only quoted twice, this data is of limited use. No studies solely focusing
on the experiences of female PPOs within the context of this initiative exist in the same
way that they do for male PPOs (e.g. Farrall et al 2007; Southern et al 2008), indicating
a gap in the substantive literature which requires further consideration.
2.8 Managing PPOs, and arranging interventions
As noted previously, the PPO strategy represents a coordinated response by local
CDRPs to tackling prolific offending ‘through a combination of enforcement measures
and incentives to change behaviour’ (Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007, p.3). If PPOs fail to
engage with interventions (as described below) or attend appointments then the Catch
& Convict strand of the PPO strategy is invoked. Practically, this results in a range of
enforcement measures – for example, home and prison visits by practitioners
(particularly in the wake of a missed appointment), compulsory drug-testing, and fasttracking through the court system where appropriate.
Effective communication and joined-up working is central to this type of offender
management. One means for facilitating this is the Joint Action Group [JAG]; a monthly
meeting which provides local PPO partners with an opportunity to share information
and intelligence, and to discuss existing PPOs, as well as cases for referral to, and deselection from, the programme. Another is the creation of service-specific policy - for
example, within the Prison Service, instructions have been created which promote
effective ‘flagging and tracking’ of PPOs across the prison estate, and require prison
staff to make partner agencies in the community aware when a PPO is being released
back into their local area (National Offender Management Service 2010, p.6; HM
Prison Service 2004).
The PPO model also demands that partner agencies work in accordance with ‘the
Premium Service’, which represents a commitment from all criminal justice partners to
‘put [their] best efforts into bringing priority offenders to justice’ (Home Office 2002b,
p.14) – the police, for example, are expected to consult the CPS before taking No
Further Action on a PPO who comes to attention, whilst courts must prioritise cases
involving PPO in setting a trial date. Research has shown feedback on the reality of
this multi-agency partnership model, however, has been mixed. On the one hand, it
was perceived to have facilitated the building of trust, rapport, and honesty between
offenders and practitioners, enabling them to engage – perhaps for the first time – in a
non-confrontational manner (Feasey et al 2009; Easton 2007; Cinamon & Hoskins
2006). The perception that the PPO scheme was able to facilitate the creation of
‘constructive two way negotiation[s] between offenders and their supervisors’ (Easton
2007, p.63) was viewed as a particularly positive aspect of it, as was the apparent
ability of the scheme to enable offenders to redefine their relationship with the police.
On the other, the potential impact of the PPO model was experienced as being
undermined by issues such as traditional differences in organisational cultures (e.g.
police versus drug workers), unclear boundaries as to responsibilities, lack of strategiclevel leadership, and serious breakdowns in communication (usually on the part of the
prison and health services) (Easton 2007; Dawson 2007).
In conjunction with these modes of enforcement, the PPO model also requires that
practitioners provide incentives to change behaviour; interventions which support
PPOs to ’address their offending related [criminogenic] needs’ (Millie & Erol 2006).
PPOs are expected to receive no less than 4 separate ‘interventions’ per week, which
most typically include ‘probation supervision, attendance at accredited programmes,
educational and vocational training, employment services, and referral to substance
misuse agencies’ (ibid, p.162). The latter tend to feature quite strongly within PPO
support structures, given the high levels of drug-related criminogenic need in PPO
cohorts identified above. Evaluative studies of PPO projects feature a great deal of
positive feedback regarding the provision of a range of interventions. In Birmingham
for example, waiting times for access to drug treatment were experienced by drugaddicted PPOs as being greatly reduced, as compared to their previous (non-PPO)
experiences (Millie & Erol 2006), whilst developing close, positive working relationships
between police and local housing providers in Plymouth’s PPO project made it possible
to secure private accommodation which would have been otherwise unavailable to
PPOs (Criminal Justice Joint Inspection Group 2009, p.49). Some modes of support
available to PPOs represent real innovation in terms of responding to offenders’
complex and multiple needs, acknowledging the role that mentoring/‘befriending’ work
(Millie & Erol 2006), and other therapeutic interventions (e.g. psychodynamic therapy
groups, mentoring schemes), could play in the creation of a more holistic model of
offender support (Easton 2007). Non-traditional interventions, such as paying small
bills, and providing ‘pay-as-you-go’ electricity, clothes and household goods, were also
indulged in attempting to reduce PPOs’ ‘need’ to offend (ibid).
There were, of course, also examples of less positive practice, and incidences where
the PPO model had not worked, but this most typically where effective multi-agency
partnerships or communication had broken down (or perhaps did not exist in the first
place). In some cases, local services developed to meet the needs of the initial cohort
of PPOs were not available in the long run, largely because such services were ‘not
financially sustainable’ (Southern et al 2008, p.iv). Those which did exist were rarely
‘configured to meet the needs of PPOs’ (Easton 2007, p.5), and there was perceived
to be a national issue in terms of a ‘mismatch between PPO offending-related problems
[and the availability of] […] appropriate agencies’ that could address such needs
(Dawson 2005, p.1). A lack of coordination between partners and lack of awareness
regarding the availability of certain services in a specific area was also identified as an
issue for concern (Millie & Erol 2006). Even where good practice appeared to be
occurring (e.g. assistance with bill-paying, purchasing of clothes), practitioners could
feel that such acts were ‘superficial’, and lacked a long-term perspective on attaining
the things that really mattered; that is, ‘stable opportunities […] good quality housing
and stimulating, satisfying opportunities to allow PPOs a legitimate alternative lifestyle
to that of drug use and offending’ (Easton 2007, p.44).
2.9 The PPO strategy and impact on reducing re-offending
Statistically, the PPO model appears to have been associated with some reductions in
re-offending of those engaged on such schemes3. The inaugural evaluation (Dawson
2005) noted a 10 per cent reduction in recorded convictions attributable to the initial
PPO cohort between the six months prior to their participation in the scheme (when
22,484 recorded convictions were attributable to the cohort) and their first six months
on the scheme (when the cohort accrued 20,188 recorded convictions). Of course –
and as Dawson noted – these results mean only that the PPO model of offender
management is ‘associated with a drop in recorded offending reflected in convictions’
(Dawson 2005, p.7). Many other issues may explain or have interacted to produce
these results – for example: a short-time frame which might not accurately represent
the phenomenon over time; national trend in crime; changes in policy and legislation
(ibid). Dawson’s concern that the above results lacked a comparison group was
addressed in a subsequent ‘impact assessment’ (Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007), which
compared the levels and rate of offending of PPOs over time (i.e. prior to, and
subsequent to, becoming a PPO) both within cohort and against a matched sample
from the general offender population. The results of the within cohort analysis are
presented, overleaf (Figure 3).
The data in Figure 3 indicated that the levels of offending attributable to PPOs (as
measured by recorded criminal convictions) – which had been steadily rising over the
three years prior to engaging with the scheme – exhibited a ‘sharp decrease’ after
becoming a PPO programme, ‘followed by a period of steady decline’ for two years
The drop in PPOs’ recorded convictions in the 17 months after identification for the
scheme - a timeframe almost three times longer than Dawson’s (2005) inaugural
evaluation – equated to a reduction of 62 per cent, whilst measuring the sum of PPOs’
criminal convictions pre and post-entry onto the PPO programme reflected a 43 per
Whether these associations were statistically significant is not discussed, however, in any of the
papers in this section.
cent fall, from 55,031 to 31,377 convictions (Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007). Individuals
rates of offending (as measured by mean number of convictions per month) also
dropped, by 24 per cent, in the year after inauguration onto the PPO programme,
indicating that even where PPOs had not desisted from offending, they were at east
doing so less prolifically. Dawson and Cuppleditch argued that these findings could not
be a result of an ‘incarceration effect’ (i.e. PPOs’ convictions dropped because a
greater number were in prison post-entry to the scheme), since this had been factored
into their analysis.
Figure 3: PPO cohort’s criminal convictions leading up to and following the PPO
scheme (reproduced from Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007, p.7)
More recent within-cohort data has continued to indicate reduced rates and levels of
re-offending associated with PPO schemes. Between 2006 and 2009, proven reoffending attributable to the national PPO cohort had fallen from a mean of 5.21
convictions per recidivist per year to 4.65 convictions (Ministry of Justice 2013d). Whilst
some of the changes may seem modest, or even ‘discouraging’, these must be
interpreted ‘in the context of the PPOs’ previous behaviour and frequency of offending’
– in this light, such reductions in re-offending attributable to PPOs represents ‘a
considerable achievement’ (Criminal Justice Joint Inspection Group 2009, p.49).
The impact of the PPO scheme has also been considered in terms of the efficacy of
the criminal justice system in more speedily processing prolific offenders, in an attempt
to limit the amount of harm resulting from the presumed voluminous nature of their
offending. Within the first few years of the PPO intervention being operational, Dawson
and Cuppleditch (2007) observed a ‘marked decrease’ in the time it took to process
PPOs through to sentencing compared to the time this took 12 months prior to the
scheme going live. Similarly, the PPO scheme has ‘enhanced’ the likelihood of prolific
recidivists being ‘swiftly’ apprehended and returned to court (Criminal Justice Joint
Inspection Group 2009, p.49), which must further contributed to the government’s
agenda of ‘narrowing the justice gap’ (cf. Home Office 2002b). One study, looking to
the fiscal impact of the PPO programme, estimated that PPO schemes in the area
under research had resulted in 1,712 less offences during the study period, estimating
this to be almost £5,000,000, with an average saving to the taxpayer of approximately
£52,000 per PPO in potential costs of future trials/sanction et cetera which had been
avoided (Bingham & Tanner 2006).
The comparative impact of the PPO programme, however, has been less easily
established. The sole study which attempted to measure this at the national level,
comparing re-offending rates of PPOs against a matched control group failed to
generate a ‘valid counterfactual’ (Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007, p.9), particularly since
offending levels in the control group fell without any input from the PPO intervention,
prior to the scheme going live. Given that the majority of subsequent studies have
chosen to focus on within cohort differences, often within particular PPO schemes in
specific cities (e.g. Cinamon & Hoskins 2006; Mille & Andrew 2006; Easton 2007), the
potential comparative impact of the PPO scheme on individual offending behaviour
remains unclear.
It is also important to remember that the majority of conclusions regarding the PPO
programme are based on officially recorded data, the issues which have already been
discussed above. It is also worth noting that the way in which ‘proven re-offending’ is
measured has changed over recent years (see Ministry of Justice 2013d for an
overview of these changes), which means that such statistics, and assumptions based
on them, should be treated with caution. The national statistics also mask extreme
variations in local level data – for example, the mean average of convictions accrued
by the Brighton and Hove PPO cohort was 8.6 per offender (Brighton and Hove
Partnership Community Safety Team 2004), 3.4 convictions higher than the national
average at around that time – although this might be less of an issue now that the
Ministry of Justice focuses its quarterly analyses of PPO data at the local level.
The other issue with focusing on ‘proven re-offending’, and measuring its presence or
absence as indicative of the impact of the PPO scheme, is that it looks only to the
presence of what is known as primary desistance – ‘any lull or crime-free gap in the
course of a criminal career’ (Maruna, Immarigeon & LeBel 2004, p.19). However, this
phenomenon is only the first stage of secondary desistance; that is, ‘the movement
from the behaviour of non-offending to the assumption of the role or identity of a
‘changed person’ (ibid). In terms of the PPO scheme then, to know that individuals
have reported a reduction or cessation of offending as a result of engaging with this
particular intervention is not enough; to paraphrase Palmer (1994, cit. in Maruna,
Immarigeon & LeBel 2004, p.9), there is a need to go beyond asking whether the PPO
scheme ‘works’ to also ask ‘how’ or ‘why’ this appears to be the case, if we are to truly
understand whether it can facilitate processes of both primary and secondary
desistance. Maruna and LeBel (2010) – outlining the ‘desistance paradigm’ – argue for
a shift in the focus of correctional research, from thinking about ‘programs’ to thinking
about ‘lives’. Such a position requires commitment to the notion of the cessation of
offending behaviour – and in particular, the maintenance of this over time – as a
process; a complex journey, bound up with each individual’s unique personal and
social circumstances, which is often subject to many attempts before the final objective
can be achieved (cf. McMurran 2002; McNeill 2004; Maruna, Immarigeon & LeBel
2004; LeBel, Burnett, Maruna & Bushway, 2008). In order to achieve this a shift from
thinking separately about recidivism/persistence and desistance is required,
embedding the study of the former within the attempt to construct a ‘developmental
understanding of offending across the life course’ from onset to desistance (Bushway,
Brame & Paternoster 2004, p.98).
Existing studies have made some attempt to consider the PPO scheme in these terms,
asking why or how individuals’ offending behaviours changed during their time as a
PPO. Dawson and Cuppleditch (2007) asked PPOs to provide ‘reasons’ for their
reduced offending. Respondent identified the following aspects of the PPO intervention
as central to this shift in their offending patterns: i) improved access to drug treatment;
ii) its ‘intensity and structure’ left them ‘with little time to commit offences’, and iii) the
increased police monitoring acted as a ‘deterrent’ to committing crime (ibid, p.12). In
this case, the picture presented is one of the PPO project as causally responsible for
the phenomenon of primary desistance. Subsequent studies found however that
PPOs’ change was solely ‘personal choice’, and that it was this and not the PPO
intervention which represented the catalyst for complying with the scheme (Feasey et
al 2009, p.23). Such research clearly struggles to separate ‘the chicken’ from ‘the egg’
(cf. LeBel, Burnett, Maruna & Bushway 2008) in relation to the process of PPOs’
desistance from offending, or to understand whether this was sustained/sustainable
over any length of time since follow-up is based on reconviction data, and only across
short periods of time (e.g. two years). This is typical of the majority of existing PPO
literature, which Hopkins and Wickson (2013, p.610) assert has ‘fail[ed] to provide a
nuanced understanding of the processes of desistance for PPOs’.
In order to develop such a perspective, more research is required which engages with
the interaction and impact of a given intervention – in this case, the PPO scheme –
specifically within the context of an individual’s developmental trajectory over time (cf.
Bushway, Brame & Paternoster 2004). This might be a means of moving forward in
developing a ‘theory of change’ for the PPO model (Hopkins & Wickson 2013, p.610),
in terms of how – and indeed, whether – it facilitates primary and/or secondary
desistance processes for those engaged on it. There appears, therefore, to be a
requirement for more research which considers prolific offending across the life-course
with particular attention paid to unpicking the ways in which the PPO scheme might
operate and interact at the individual level in relation to processes of change and
desistance; of ‘breaking out of the cycle’ (ibid) of persistent and prolific offending – this
is particularly the case in relation to persistent ad prolific female offenders, as is argued
in the following chapter.
3 - Understanding women’s ‘persistent’
and ‘prolific’ offending
3.1 Introduction
By the end of the 20th century, owing both to the broad tendency to exclude women
from studies on crime and criminality and the growing study of the (male) ‘career
criminal’, a large gap in knowledge regarding the ‘initiation, escalation, and termination’
of women’s criminal careers, and career criminality was clearly discernible (Sommers,
Baskin & Fagan 1994, p.126).
Arguably little more is known about the female ‘career criminal’ in the present day. An
(exceptionally) small degree of knowledge has been generated through studies
focused specifically on women’s chronic, habitual and ‘extreme’ career offending (e.g.
Brennan, Breitenbach, Dieterich et al 2012; DeLisi 2002; Danner et al 1995). The
majority, however, has been generated through studies where the ‘persistent female
offender’ is not the core focus of the project, often appearing only as an addendum in
studies which promise an analysis of habitual, chronic, persistent, or career offending
but which, ‘[o]n closer examination, […] deal only with men’, a problem identified as
plaguing post-1960s criminology more broadly (Gelsthorpe & Morris 1988, p.102). This
chapter will reveal the ways in which persistent female offenders remain mere addenda
– ‘as ’by the way’ and peripheral’ (ibid) – across the main body of criminological
research into this phenomenon, and even within the scope of feminist approaches to
criminological inquiry.
Even where research has engaged more committedly to women who have been
repeatedly processed through the criminal justice system, and where such women are
the focus of in-depth and biographical study (e.g. Parker 1965; Carlen, Hicks, O’Dwyer,
Christina & Tchaikovsky 1985; Baskin & Sommers 1998; Rockell, 2008) this is rarely
explicitly identified as a study of women’s persistent recidivism. Further, it is even more
rare that such works are incorporated into the heavily-androcentric canon of criminal
career and life-course criminology, marginalised as a ‘study of women’, rather than as
that of ‘persistent offending’ in its own right.
This chapter – structured in accordance with four key dimensions of the ‘criminal
career’, as identified in Chapter Two - aims to bring together these often-disparate
areas of knowledge regarding women who chronically, habitually, and persistently reoffend across the life course, in accordance to what we ‘know’ of the (i) onset, (ii)
participation, (iii) offence type and severity, and (iv) patterns of desistance both of
female offenders, and of female offenders who persistently and/or prolifically re-offend.
3.2 (i) Onset: Women’s pathways into offending
3.2.1 Pre-‘feminist’4 theories of what makes women ‘criminal’
[I]n much of the literature, the reason and motivations behind what a
woman does with respect to criminality remain unexplored and mired
in assumptions about forces that drive her to crime.
(Rockell 2008, p.5)
Prior to the 1960s, analyses of female offenders were ‘very rare’ (Heidensohn 1991,
p.111); those which did exist most typically viewed women’s crime through a lens
centring on their ‘biological impulses and hormonal balance’, or their ‘domesticity,
maternal instinct and passivity’ (Smart 1977, p.xiv). Since crime was considered ‘out
of character for normal women’ (Stanko 2001, p.15) (emphasis added), the academe
struggled to make sense of their behaviour outside of the idea that such individuals
were victims of the female ‘personality and pathology’ (Worrall 1990, p.81). The female
offender was typologised as either victim (‘sad’ or ‘mad’) or villain (‘bad’) - substanceabusing women of the era, for example, were either ‘exploited victims’ unable to
function independently of narcotics or alcohol, or ‘social misfits, fallen women […] [and
even] ‘monsters’ (Renzetti 2008, p.ix). Similarly, the criminal justice system struggled
to construct responses to women’s offending that did not relate to the ‘network of
correspondences between woman, nature, passivity, emotion, and irresponsibility’
(Smith 1981, in Loughnan 2012, p.214). Most often, women were processed through
the criminal justice apparatus in accordance with the ‘narrow range of feminine roles’
That which identifies a piece of scholarship as ‘feminist’ in orientation, methods, or goals is ‘not selfevident’ (Gelsthorpe & Morris 1988, p.93); after all, such individuals will ‘inhabit different social,
political and intellectual settings and do not necessarily share the same theoretical allegiances’ (ibid,
p.94). Neither will all ‘feminists’ share social characteristics, status, gender, sexual orientation, race,
age, et cetera, all of which will inevitably shape the form of feminism (or ‘feminisms’) to which one
subscribes. That said, certain core elements can often be identified within social and criminological
work concerned to adopt a ‘feminist’ perspective – these will be discussed in Chapter Four, in relation
to the development of ‘feminist’ methodologies of social research (cf. Cook & Fonow 1986). For now,
‘feminism’ should be construed within its context as an ‘emotional and political commitment’
(Gelsthorpe & Morris 1988, p.105) ‘to any form of social, political or economic discrimination which
women suffer because of their sex’ (Bouchier 1983, cit. in ibid, p.94).
available to them, based on traditional stereotypes of women in society at that time
(e.g. ‘wife’, ‘whore’) (Heidensohn 1991, p.59). Women who failed to live up to these
stereotypes attracted more punitive responses from the criminal justice system
(Cavaglion 2008).
Heidensohn (2010, p.127), reflecting on that era, has described the 1960s as a ‘cusp’
decade; one whereby ‘notable social and political shifts happened, yet much of the old
order remained’. It is perhaps this phenomenon which created the conditions for the
rise of ‘feminism’, the growth of women’s liberation movements, and the drive for a
more egalitarian society, to be identified as directly responsible for a dramatic upsurge
in female arrests in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s:
In the same way that women are demanding equal opportunity in the
fields of legitimate endeavor, a similar number of determined women
are forcing their way into the world of major crimes.
(Adler 1975, cit. in Chesney-Lind 1986, p.79)
Known as the ‘emancipation hypothesis’, this theory has been rightfully rejected as
‘simplistic’ (for instance, it ignored the fact that ‘women were still committing the same
types of crimes they had always committed’, failing to consider the role of changing
enforcement practices in the increased figures) (Brown 2006, p.140), and is perhaps
better understood as the continued inability of ‘male-stream’ criminology (Gelsthorpe
& Morris 1988, p.96) to ‘make sense’ of women’s offending in that era.
While women’s experiences of crime and criminality continued to be misrepresented
in this manner, Heidensohn (1985) concluded that – although perhaps ‘in the least
helpful way to women offenders’ - this particular branch of criminology had ‘at last
made female crime visible’ (p.160), offering ideas which finally began to ‘probe beyond
the [existing] stereotype of the woman criminal’ (Chesney-Lind 1986, p.79). In the
decades that followed, new perspectives on women’s routes into offending – largely
attributable to ‘feminist’ scholarship within criminology (cf. Renzetti & Goodstein 2001;
Gelsthorpe 2003) – began to emerge, and redefine the ways in which the discipline
‘made sense’ of the onset of female offending. One such seminal development in this
area of study was the ‘pathways approach’ to women’s routes into criminal careers; an
area of study which had received so ‘little attention’ that scholars of the era were
uncertain whether the female ‘criminal career’ actually existed (cf. Gilfus 1992).
3.2.2 The ‘pathways approach’ to the onset of women’s offending
In the 1980s and 1990s, a new focus on the processes of criminalisation, which sought
to unpick the circumstances by which individuals were drawn into the criminal justice
system, offered a means for drawing the criminological gaze away from the (more
traditional) focus on the criminalised individual themselves. Such approaches – and
particularly, the pathways approach - offered an original and important perspective with
regard to understanding the ways in which women’s criminal careers began, and the
ways in which they were first brought into the criminal justice apparatus. This meant,
for instance, that for the first time, scholars began to develop an appreciation of ways
in which criminal ‘justice’ agencies often – and unnecessarily – drew girls and young
women into the system for little more than what have come to be known as ‘status
offences’; non-criminal acts such as ‘running away from home, incorrigibility, [and]
truancy’ (Chesney-Lind 1986, p.82). Given that young men were rarely processed
through the courts or remanded in custody for such behaviours, an awareness of the
ways in which gender operated to differentiate the onset of criminal careers for women
and men began to develop.
The development of victim-centred perspectives within criminology was also important
in the growing understanding that pathways into crime were gendered, by highlighting
the differential role played by prior ‘victimisation’ in male and females routes to
offending careers. Such studies began to characterise women’s pathways of onset as
bound up with previous experiences of childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and physical
violence, identifying a link between these phenomena and women’s criminality in
adulthood. The tendency for adult women offenders to have progressed from ‘victim to
survivor to offender’ (Gilfus 1992), their histories demonstrating the path from ‘severe
childhood abuse’ - specifically physical and sexual victimisation - to the subsequent
employment of criminalised ‘survival strategies’ to escape this (e.g. running away from
home, the use of drugs, sex work) (ibid, p.63) are more typical of women’s experiences.
Such patterns have not been identified as readily within male pathways to onset, which
are more commonly related to issues such as ‘family adversity, low intelligence, difficult
temperament and hyperactivity’ (Moffitt et al 2001, cit. in Soothill, Fitzpatrick & Francis
2009, p.51).
The ‘pathways’ approach employs biographical narratives to explore women’s unique
‘crime etiology’ (Brennan et al 2012), focusing on the self-described events and
experiences which they themselves felt to be important in explaining the onset of their
criminalisation. Such studies (e.g. Daly 1992; Sommers et al 1994; Gilfus 1992;
Brennan et al 2012) attempted to obtain an insight into the complex and multidimensional phenomenon of women’s offending. For over twenty years, studies such
as these have consistently identified women’s ’pathways’ into, and through, offending
as substantively different from those of male offenders (see also e.g. Brown 2006;
Bloom, Owen & Covington 2003; Covington 1998; Maeve 2000). In practice, this
means – for example - that the onset of offending for females is far more likely to
represent an ‘outgrowth of histories of violence, trauma, and addiction’ than is the case
for their male counterparts (Brown 2006, p.137), identifying the ways in which women’s
sexual victimization and experience of violence ‘emerge as life-shaping events’ in
women’s pathways to prison (Maeve 2000, p.474). Most typically, gender
differentiation focuses on ‘risk/need’ factors which are far more prevalent in the lives
of female offenders and women in prison than in similarly-situated males; examples of
such ‘gender responsive’ factors include ‘abuse and trauma, parental issues,
relationship dysfunction, self-efficacy, safety, depression, anxiety, and others’
(Brennan et al 2012, p.1482).
Early pathways-influenced studies looked not only to the ways in which women’s routes
to offending and careers/trajectories were different from those of men, but also to the
coercive role played by males in the onset of women’s criminal careers. Miller (1986),
for example, identified the ways in which women in ‘deviant street networks’ in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin (United States) were more frequently ‘recruited’ by ‘exploitative,
manipulative, and physically brutalizing’ males than as an endeavour entirely of their
own free-will (ibid, p.35). Gilfus (1992), also interviewing women in the United States,
found too that much of women’s ‘street’ offending was bound up with relational factors,
and frequently arose as a result of intimate relationships with (older) males who were
already involved in street crime.
Similar to both Miller (1986) and Gilfus (1992), Daly’s (1992, 1994) seminal study of
young women’s pathways to felony court highlighted the role of physical and sexual
abuse, familial dysfunctionality, intimate partner violence, and substance abuse across
patterns of onset for female offenders. Daly’s five-fold typology - constructed according
to the pathways into offending identified in the lives of the women studied – remains
influential, and consisted of: (i) Harmed and harming women; (ii) Battered women; (iii)
Street women; (iv) Drug-connected women; and (v) Other women, who did not fit the
other pathways. The majority of Daly’s sample fell within Pathway (i) - these women
neglected’ as children,
often exhibited
violent/aggressive behaviour in childhood or adolescence, and were often drug or
alcohol-addicted. Pathways (ii) and (iii) strongly reflected the earlier findings of Miller
and Gilfus in identifying the relational and victimisation context of women’s routes into
offending, and included women who were, or had recently been, in a relationship with
a violent male and those who were ‘pushed out or ran away from abusive households
to the streets’. These two pathways also included women who had become substance
addicted, and whose patterns of offending - primarily theft, prostitution, and drug
dealing – were committed solely to support their addiction. The theme of substance
addiction and relational factors in routes into the criminal justice system were also
central to the women in Pathway (iv), who had most frequently become addicted to
drugs ‘via relationship with boyfriends, or sold drugs via relationship with children or
mother’ (Daly 1992, pp.27-8).
Synthesising previous research over the past two decades, Brennan, Breitenbach,
Dieterich et al (2012) suggest that the literature on women’s ‘pathways’ to date has
generated five broad intersecting and overlapping paths, which help to ‘make sense’
of women’s offending careers. One of these pathways related to the chronic serious
female offender; characterised by ‘complex’ patterns of early physical and/or sexual
abuse, ‘child behavior problems, school and family problems, delinquency, low selfcontrol, an aggressive, hostile personality, and ongoing criminality’ (Brennan et al
2012, p.1485).
Brennan et al critiqued existing studies of women’s pathways to offending as lacking
‘replication’ and ‘precise characterisation’; a symptom of the primarily small-scale and
qualitative nature of much prior research in this area (p.1485). Incorporating lessons
from ‘life-course’ criminology, Brennan et al sought to identify the latent subgroups, or
trajectories, that characterised the women in their sample, and quantitatively ‘test’ each
pathway in order to identify which statistically held strongest amongst the sample. Their
sample consisted of female prisoners (n=718), incarcerated in California, USA, who
were within 60 – 180 days of their expected parole release date. The overall project
was focused on the challenges of re-entry. The study drew on data generated through
recently-developed assessment tools known as the WRNA (Women’s Risk/Needs
Assessment), and the COMPAS Reentry Assessment (which also included the
women’s ‘official’ criminal record). Designed in accordance with literature on ‘gender
responsive’ risk/need factors (a term the authors identify as ‘reflect[ing] salient
distinctions between the risk and treatment needs of women and men’) (p.1482),
Brennan et al argued that the pathways generated by these methods indicated as
many as eight inter-related - yet distinct – pathways into offending (see
, overleaf) (as compared to the three to six they claimed were more often identified
within the literature), indicating women’s routes to crime to be far more complex than
previous research had found. The four broad pathways – each of which contained two
sub-pathways - were as follows: Paths 1 and 2 - Relatively “Normal-Functioning” but
Drug-Abusing Female Offenders, who have ‘more positive vocational and educational
resources, less poverty, minimal abuse either as children or as adults, very few mental
health or psychological issues, and minimal homelessness’, yet still experience
‘chronic’ substance abuse problems and multiple arrests (Brennan et al 2012, p.1494).
Paths 3 and 4 - Battered Women, who had ‘lifelong physical and sexual abuse’, and
were both ‘stressed single mothers’ and older women, who had histories of substance
abuse but rarely other mental health problems (e.g. psychosis, antisocial personality)
(ibid, p.1495).
Figure 4: A Classification of Women’s Pathways to Serious Habitual Criminal behaviour (core features and suggested labels within each
pathway are in bold) (reproduced from Brennan, Breitenbach, Dieterich et al 2012, p.1490)
Paths 5 and 6 – Socialized Subcultural Pathways With Less Victimization and Few
Mental Health Problems, which included women whose routes into offending reflected
‘serious social marginalization, educational–vocational deficits, residence in higher
crime neighborhoods, and stronger antisocial SO [significant other] influences’. These
women had experienced less sexual abuse and violence, with little evidence of mental
health issues, but had above-average offence histories, primarily related to drug use
and trafficking, as well as evidencing ‘stronger links to subcultural crime’ than any other
path (Brennan et al 2012, p.1496); and Paths 7 and 8 - Aggressive Antisocial Women;
extremely marginalised women whose paths to crime represented the ‘most extreme
risk and need’ profiles of the entire sample, dominated by ‘lifelong sexual and physical
abuse, antisocial families, hostile antisocial personality, mental health issues,
homelessness, antisocial SO relationships, and so on’ (ibid, p.1497). Brennan et al
claim that women following Paths 7 and 8 overlap closely with Moffitt’s (1993) ‘lifecourse persistent’ offenders, and – in containing those women with ‘well above
average’ offence histories (Brennan et al 2012, p.1497).
These progressive moves within the literature, however, have borne little fruit in terms
of their impact. In the United States, for instance, Bloom, Owen and Covington (2004)
identified the ways in which public policy has consistently ‘ignored the context of
women’s lives and that women offenders have disproportionately suffered from the
impact of ill-informed public policy’ (p.31). In England and Wales, some small measure
of success was achieved when policy changes were made following the
recommendations of Baroness Corston in her report on the ‘particular vulnerabilities’
of women in prison (Corston 2007) when NOMS amended their (previously genderneutral) ‘Seven Pathways’ model of offender resettlement, in order to account for some
of the specific ‘needs’ and pathways into offending for women. This provided guidance
for supporting female offenders who had been abused, raped or who had experienced
domestic violence, and for women who had been involved in prostitution (Corston
2007, p.7). The importance of ‘gender-responsive’ awareness among criminal justice
practitioners is outlined by Covington and Bloom (2006); however, implementation of
the additional, woman-centred pathways across all NOMs regions and departments in
England and Wales has been slow, particularly within the women’s prison estate (cf.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons 2010, p.10; Women in Prison 2012, 2013). In fact, Women
in Prison (2013) argue that ‘little has fundamentally changed’ since the Corston Report
in terms of the experiences of women in prison across their day-to-day lives.
Women within the criminal justice system do not suffer disproportionately solely
because of their gender, however, and while all female offenders may suffer
discrimination as a result of gender inequality, other women may experience further
discrimination based on their identity as, for example, as women of non-White racial
heritage, as women of indigenous populations, as women with substance addictions,
and as women with (often multiple) mental health issues (Brown 2006; Bloom, Owen
& Covington 2003, 2004; Women in Prison 2013).
Gaps in the ‘pathways’ literature
The ways in which these issues might specifically relate to the experiences of female
PAOP offenders in England and Wales remain under-investigated, as does the study
of women’s ‘habitual’ offending more broadly, which remains ‘at a relatively early stage’
(Brennan et al 2012, p.1482), and room remains for development in a series of
avenues. The tendency of the pathways approach to reduce women’s lived
experiences to a series of ‘subgroups’, for example, may be problematic, providing
only a ‘loose reflection of [their] reality’ (Laub & Sampson 2003, p.248); both Daly’s
(1992) and Brennan et al’s (2012) pathways, for instance, rely primarily on
amalgamated placeholders in building their theories, and therefore lack a sense of
depth and a holism in terms of the women whose lives they are characterising. This
has the effect of presenting such women – including those who habitually re-offend –
as ‘pawns’, stripping them of a sense of agency (cf. de Charms 1968, cit. in Maruna
2001, p.76) yet failing to engage with the potential structural conditions of their
repeated recidivism, the importance of which is laid out in the discussion on desistance
below. This net result is evident in much of the more recent examples within this body
of work, from which person-centred qualitative studies are notably absent. The reliance
on ‘official’ records (e.g. criminal records, probation reports) and quantitative
measurements (e.g. ‘risk/needs assessments) – even where ‘gender-responsive’ –
suggest that the dominant narrative provided within these studies is not actually that of
the lived experience of female offenders themselves, providing blunt tools for engaging
with the depth and complexities of women’s routes to offending. Finally, it is worth
considering that the majority of data generated in this field of study is based in the
United States, and that these findings may therefore lack cultural relevance in terms of
how well they can be utilised to make sense of women’s PAOP offending in England
and Wales, particularly since intra-national and inter-national comparative studies of
offending have identified key differences in women’s experiences of ‘criminal careers’
according to national identity and ethnicity (e.g. Brown 2006; Bloom, Owen &
Covington 2004).
Temporal factors are also important to consider, and many of the seminal pathways
studies (e.g. Miller 1986; Baskin & Sommers 1998; Carlen et al 1985; Gilfus 1992; may
require updating in the attempt to ascertain the routes into offending of 21st-century
women, and whether these broadly correspond or deviate from those findings. Within
this, perspectives on women’s experiences of being a ‘Prolific and other Priority
Offender’ are also conspicuous by their absence, given the relative novelty of the
The development of a more experientially and theoretically informed understanding of
the pathways to crime of female offenders – particularly female PAOP offenders – is
important not only for the academic community, but in order to better inform policy
makers and practitioners in the criminal justice system about the lived experience of
women who offend. Furthermore, it would facilitate a better-informed practitioner body
in relation to ‘trends and developments’ in effectively managing and supporting female
offenders and women in prison, in a manner which promotes a model centred on
helping women to ‘build on their strengths in order to flourish for themselves, their
families, and [broader] society’ (Women in Prison 2013, p.iii).
These factors, then, point to a lacuna in the current literature – one which calls out for
studies located outside of the context of the United States, and which could provide a
more cogent and deeper reflection of the reality of women’s experiences of ‘onset’,
engaging with women’s lived experiences via person-centred methods (instead of
utilising ‘official’ records, such as probation reports, and tools such as risk/needs
assessments) in a way which might provide a response to the challenge of Laub and
Sampson (2003) above.
3.2.3 Age of onset within women’s ‘criminal careers’
The problems with measuring ‘age of onset’, and its use as an indicator of when an
individual’s ‘criminal career’ truly begins – i.e. first law-breaking incident? First caution?
First arrest? First conviction? – have been discussed in the previous chapter and will
not be repeated here; however, the limitations of this concept should be borne in mind
while considering the evidence in the current section.
As indicated in the previous chapter, age of onset is an important concept in the
criminal career literature, and has been traditionally associated with attempts to predict
career duration, severity, and frequency (e.g. Farrington et al 2003; Piquero, Farrington
& Blumstein 2003). As also noted in the previous chapter, the study of the criminal
career, and – of particular relevance here – of the career criminal, has traditionally
been associated with the male offender. The comparatively small body of work which
has focused on women’s criminal careers has indicated that age of onset is patterned
in accordance with relational, personal, and monetary factors; patterns which are
heavily influenced by gender (e.g. Gilfus 1992; Moloney et al 2009a; Barry 2007).
Broadly, women are traditionally assumed to exhibit a ‘later onset’ of offending when
compared to their male counterparts (e.g. Eggleston & Laub 2002; Simpson, Yahner
& Dugan, 2008); that is, that young men broadly begin their criminal careers much
earlier than young women (Denno 1994; Piquero et al 2003; DeLisi 2002). Similar
findings led Silverman and Frick (1999, cit. in Francis, Liu & Soothill 2010) to claim that
Moffitt’s early onset life-course persistent offender group ‘does not exist for females’,
but that they instead exhibit ‘delayed onset’, which may then persist into adulthood.
The findings of Francis et al (2010) support this claim, with a UK dataset, reporting the
majority of women in the most persistent offending group as aged 21 and over, while
Blokland and Van Os (2010), using data from the Netherlands, also identified their
‘high-frequency chronic’ female offenders as a ‘late-onset’ group. Brennan et al (2012),
examining data from the United States, did not find ‘early onset’ to be a diagnostically
significant factor among any of the eight ‘pathways’ of ‘serious and habitual’ female
As Moffitt, Caspi, Rutter and Silva (2001) note however, the literature on ‘sex
differences’ within age of onset is rife with ‘conflict’ (p.81), with some sources reporting
little difference between self-reported onset of offending in young males and females
(15 years and 16 years respectively) (Budd, Sharp & Mayhew 2005). Similarly, the
average age of ‘self-reported delinquency’ differed little between male and females in
the Dunedin Health and Development Study in the United States (average age of
female onset = 13.7 years, compared to males = 13.3 years), or between their mean
age of first conviction (females = 17.9 years, versus males = 17.7 years) (Moffitt, Caspi,
Rutter & Silva 2001).
In terms of ‘chronic’ offenders, that gap seems to widen a little. DeLisi (2002) found
that the average age of onset – as measured at ‘first arrest’ - differed by 2.8 years
between his male and female ‘extreme career criminals’, who were first arrested on
average at 18 and 21 years respectively. A far larger age gap, however, has been
identified within female-only offending cohorts – that is, that while the majority female
offenders may tend towards late/adult-onset, chronic female offenders receive their
first arrest some 4 years earlier than their non-chronic female counterparts (21.11
years versus 25.5 years respectively) (Danner et al 1995). This seems to indicate that
while male offenders may experience an earlier onset of offending than both
chronic/persistent and non-chronic female offenders, it seems that the former group
mirror the patterns of chronic male offenders, in terms of exhibiting an earlier age of
onset compared to non-chronic offenders within their own gender group, but that – inkeeping with much of the data identified above - persistent female offenders may still
be more likely to exhibit ‘delayed’/late onset of offending compared to their male
counterparts. This suggests that further study of the life course of chronic/persistent
female offenders is warranted in the attempt to understand why onset (in all is forms)
might occur early on in the life of such women, and to investigate whether they fit the
pathways identified with broader samples of female offenders.
3.3 (ii) Participation: Frequency, ‘persistence’, and ‘criminogenic
3.3.1 Offence & conviction statistics: How frequently do women engage
in offending?
One of the most consistently documented observations regarding women and crime is
their ‘low criminal-participation rate’ (Heidensohn 1985, p.2). In 2010/11, for instance,
women accounted for only 16 per cent of the 1,360,451 arrests recorded in England
and Wales in that period. This figure was broadly consistent with women’s share of
total arrests in England and Wales since 2006, which had remained stable at 17 per
cent across that period of time (Ministry of Justice 2012a, p.34). The minority status of
women within offence statistics becomes even more pronounced when studying
specific offence types; for example, sexual, and violent offences – this is discussed in
detail below, in Section 3.5. Women’s low rate of criminal participation holds true
across the globe – in Canada, for example, just one in five persons charged of a
Criminal Code offence is female (Kong & AuCoin 2008), while figures from Scotland
show that in 2000, women accounted for only 16,366 (14 per cent) of the total 117,574
proven offences in Scotland (Burman 2004).
The majority of women are also ‘infrequently repeat offenders’ (Kong & AuCoin 2008,
p.1). In findings generated from official police records in Canada, the authors reported
that almost three quarters (72 per cent) of the 422,500 female offenders who had a
police contact in the 11-year timeframe of the study period were one-time offenders
(i.e. did not come to police attention again during the study period). 7 per cent of the
sample, however, met the criteria for chronic offender (5 or more police contacts during
study period) (Kong & AuCoin 2008). An early study of the ‘female chronic offender’
similarly identified that in their sample of incarcerated women in Florida, USA
(n=1,076), ‘non-chronics’ (women with four or less felony arrests, n = 725) were in the
majority, and far outweighed ‘chronics’ (women with five or more felony arrests, n =
351) (Danner, Blount, Silverman & Vega 1995). Historical birth-cohort data from the
UK also indicates that women account for a far higher number of total one-time court
appearances (74.3 per cent) than their male counterparts (50.2 per cent) (Prime et al
2001), and that while 16.4 per cent of males in that particular birth-cohort went on to
receive a second court-appearance, this was only the case for 12.3 per cent of the
women (ibid). Extrapolating from these findings, we can infer that females are less
likely to recidivate (or perhaps to subsequently be caught and re-convicted) than
3.3.2 ‘Persistence’ among female offenders
Despite the commonality or daily presence of chronic low-level female
offenders in most urban jails, we actually know relatively little about
these women.
(Rockell 2008, p.5)
The comparative absence of women within repeat and ‘chronic’ re-offending statistics
indicated above has led to the conclusion that ‘life-course persistent offenders are very
rarely female’ (Piquero & Chung 2001, p.192). It is true that this is statistically accurate
– women are ‘less likely to be recidivists or professional criminals’ than their male
counterparts (Silvestri & Crowther-Dowey 2008, p.26). However, this knowledge has
also resulted in a scenario whereby the study of the persistent female re-offender has
suffered; undermined by ‘sexist, patriarchal formulations of the habitual criminal’ which
have historically seen female PAOP offenders either ‘fleetingly referred to… in
disparaging terms’, or else ignored entirely (Pavlich 2010, p.37). In particular, personcentred and biographical explorations of the persistent and/or prolific female offender
- for example, of the sort to be found in Parker (1965), Carlen et al (1985), Rockell
(2008) - are comparatively rare. It is therefore the case that when it comes to ‘chronic
low-level female offenders’, we perhaps know more about their lives in statistical terms
than we do in terms of ‘the whole person; how she accounts for lifestyle choices she
has made and not made and how she portrays her activities, conventional and
otherwise, to survive’ (Rockell 2008, p.5).
In short, what is lacking is a biographical account of the lives of women behind the
persistent offender label in England and Wales, as well as those currently being
identified as Prolific and other Priority Offenders, since we have no idea who these
women are. In fact, it remains true that women at the extreme end of the recidivist
spectrum continue to receive such comparative inattention that as recently as 2005,
DeLisi argued not simply for more research but even simply to ‘recognize that habitual
female offenders do exist’ (DeLisi 2005, p.36) (emphasis added). In a similar vein,
Brennan et al set out to investigate whether Moffitt’s (1993) life-course persistence
behaviour patterns ‘really exist among women’ (Brennan et al 2012, p.1483).The
implication here seems to be then that the battle lies not simply in promoting further
study of female PAOP offender, but merely in creating a situation whereby the
criminological academe believes they exist.
The following studies indicate both of these factors to be relevant; i.e. that persistent
female offenders do exist, but also that they exist in far lesser numbers than males.
Demonstrating the comparative rarity of female ‘extreme career criminals’, DeLisi
(2002) found that of the 25,640 women and men processed at a particular urban jail in
the USA between 1995 and 2000, just 55 women (less than 1 per cent) met the criterion
for ‘extreme career criminal’ (30 or more arrests across that time period), compared to
500 males (2 per cent). Ethnic minority groups were greatly overrepresented across
both genders meeting this criterion (ibid). Block et al (2010) identified only 432 ‘chronic’
female offenders in The Netherlands’ Criminal Career and Life-Course Study dataset
for a given timespan, compared to 4,180 males, while Soothill, Ackerley and Francis
(2003), using birth cohort convictions records drawn from the Offenders Index in
England and Wales, similarly found far lower numbers of female than male ‘persistent
offenders’ – 54,000 (0.4 per cent) versus 640,000 (4.7 per cent) respectively of their
total populations.
Some smaller studies do present anomalies, however – an evaluation of the Women’s
Information & Resettlement project, a third-sector charity supporting women leaving
prison in London, UK, found that 62 per cent of the project’s clientele were ‘prolific
offenders’ (i.e. ten or more ‘proven offences’) (Sutherland 2012). This is far higher than
any other estimates. It is possible that the small sample size (n=165) skews the
importance of this finding, or that the particular individuals that the project was
attracting/engaging with were somehow unusually ‘prolific’ compared to the wider
female PAOP population. In any case, it is worth bearing in mind that there may be
some environments or geographical locations (i.e. urban/inner-city location in
developed nation) in which women may be more disproportionately engaged with the
criminal justice system than others.
Further challenges to the standard narrative of persistent offending identified above
(i.e. that it is primarily the preserve of the male offender; that female persistent
offenders exist but in very small numbers) have also presented themselves through
recent data from the Ministry of Justice, and the work of Soothill and colleagues (2003),
which suggests that women are not only offending more persistently, but that in some
instances, they are offending more persistently than their male counterparts.
3.3.3 Are women offending more persistently?
What does the substantive data show?
Soothill et al (2003) found that the proportion of ‘persistent’ female offenders in their
birth cohort sample (i.e. women with three separate sentencing occasions within eight
years, and then another sentencing occasion within three years of the last) was
‘considerably lower’ than that of the males. However, their data also led them to
conclude that the differential gap between the genders – in terms of the proportions of
persistent offenders in each birth cohort - had shrunk ‘quite dramatically’ over the
decades since 1953 (ibid, pp. 398-399). Moreover, young female offenders in England
and Wales appeared to be ‘catching up with the males in terms of persistent offending’
(Soothill et al 2003, p.404).
Soothill et al also drew attention to the fact that these differences were evident not only
at the point of onset of persistent offending careers, but were also identifiable in the
later stages of this phenomenon. They found that the often-‘dramatic’ decreases in
crime within the general offending population traditionally associated within increasing
age (in accordance with ‘the age-crime curve’ theory) were not reflected amongst older
male offenders (i.e. aged 20 years and over) in the study sample to the extent that it
was with female offenders. This finding led Soothill and colleagues to conclude that
‘we neglect gender differences [in persistent offender research only] at our peril’,
predicting that the future would see both a continued decrease in male persistent
offending, but also a continuing increase in women’s persistent offending (Soothill et
al 2003, p.408).
Using recent statistics from the Ministry of Justice (2011) to assess these predictions
almost a decade later, it is clear that while the predicted fall in male persistent offending
has not materialised, the data does appear to indicate both i) that female re-offending
has increased over the previous year, and ii) that this increase had been far larger than
that recorded for male recidivism, documenting a 16.4 per cent rise for females vs. a
4.2 per cent rise for males. Furthermore, in 2008 - for the first time ever - female
recidivists appeared to have been ‘more prolific’ in their re-offending than their male
counterparts, with women being arrested for (measured) 422.6 offences per 100 reoffenders compared to the 383.1 offences committed by men (Ministry of Justice 2011,
p.15). This gap increased, in part, because of the unusually and comparatively high
increase in the total number of female offenders with more than 10 previous offences
(ibid, pp.15-6).
However, figures from June 2011 show a different picture, indicating that the proportion
of women with a proven re-offence against them is now far lower than that of males
with a proven re-offence against them (17.8 versus 27.2 per cent, respectively). Yet
over the timeframe of the analysis (2000-2011), one could also look to the average
number of re-offences per female offender (2.84 proven re-offences) and male
offender (2.89 re-offences) to see that gender does not appear as an experientially
differentiating factor. The integrity and reliability of this data is discussed below.
Few statistics exist to document the specific behaviour of ‘prolific’ female offenders;
i.e. women being managed under the Prolific and other Priority Offender initiative. The
initial data collection in 2008 and 2009 documenting offending patterns of PPOs –
which, at that time, included a break-down by gender - suggested that the re-offending
rates of female PPOs had overtaken, and were outstripping, those of their male
counterparts, with female PPOs in the 2009 cohort having a higher rate of proven
offending (3.06 offences per individual) as compared to the males (2.37 offences per
male) (Ministry of Justice 2011, p.9).
Alternative explanations for the data
So, what does this data tell us? Are women in England and Wales truly offending more
persistently and more prolifically, both comparatively and in a standalone context? It is
difficult to answer this question with any sense of clarity or confidence, particularly
since the government no longer requires each CDRPs to provide individualised data
on their PPOs centrally to the Home Office (see Home Office 2011). The new national
measure of adult re-offending – which affected data related to PPOs – now focuses on
generating a measurement of PPOs who had been convicted, cautioned, released
from prison or had a positive drug test in the relevant time period. Therefore, from 2011
on, no data is available on the gendered distribution of PPO offending, or factors such
as age at previous conviction, et cetera – which might provide a more person-centred
picture of the activities of the PPO cohort – meaning that we now know nothing of the
current figures for ‘prolific’ re-offending for women/female PPOs.
While a critical appraisal of the recent home Office and Ministry of Justice statistics
cited above currently remains absent from the literature, we can learn lessons from a
variety of other critical appraisals of rising numbers of women within the criminal justice
context. For instance, concerns relating to women’s apparent increasing participation
in crime, and the extent to which these concerns may or may not be legitimate, have
long featured in scholarly texts (e.g. Adler 1975, cit. in Chesney-Lind 1986; Smart
1977, 1979; Heidensohn 1985). It is crucial to remember that such figures do not occur
in a social vacuum, and that such figures do not necessarily mean what they appear
to, a point raised by Batchelor and Burman (2004, p.269) in relation to the growing
number of young women coming into the Scottish justice system.
It is possible, for instance, that these ostensible increases in women’s PAOP offending
is more strongly related to changes in policy and law enforcement practices - meaning
that certain women are now more likely to be arrested, and re-arrested, for particular
offences than was previously the case – than the behaviour of female offenders
themselves. Historically, a series of apparent ‘increases’ in specific areas of female
offending have been exposed as artificially created by changes in criminal justice
legislation, policy, and law enforcement practice; for example, changes in police
practice in relation to the standard response to a heterosexual domestic violence callout – i.e. increasingly to engage in ‘dual arrests’ of both parties – have resulted in a
sharp upsurge in the number of women being arrested, and re-arrested, for domestic
violence (Miller 2001), meaning that women who repeatedly call the police in relation
to a domestic dispute may now be represented statistically as a ‘persistent’ offender.
Similarly, changing attitudes, priorities, or sentencing frameworks might impact on the
number of women being repeatedly convicted and sentenced in the courts. The ‘war
on drugs’ – rebranded by Bush-Baskette (1999) as a ‘war on women’ - has been a
significant factor in incarcerating and re-incarcerating women who repeatedly come to
attention for the use, possession, intent to supply, and trafficking of drugs, and who
may have previously escaped formal processing (Balfour 2006, p.165). Elsewhere, a
similar ‘war on women’ appeared to have been behind the recent ‘spike’ in the number
of women and girls being incarcerated in Afghan jails (cf. ‘More Afghan women jailed
for ‘moral crimes’, says HRW’, 2013).
Of course, it is also necessary to consider that the increase in the number of women
persistently re-offending, and the rise of the ‘prolific’ female offender, may be accurate.
This could be for any number of reasons - a result of the individual ‘will to crime’ (Crewe
2009); an agentic choice of more women to commit more crime. It is also possible that
broader social and structural conditions are producing circumstances in which certain
women are compelled to commit an increasing number of certain offences. For
instance, the global recession, which has further entrenched the economic
marginalisation and impoverishment of women, may have created an increasing need
for women to commit crime; according to the ‘economic marginalisation theory’ – which
posits that ‘as women’s economic conditions worsen relative to men’s, their crime
participation rises’ - this is the ‘most broadly supported explanation’ for the overall trend
which has seen the ‘gender gap’ between the number of offences committed by men
and women closing over recent decades (Becker & McCorkel 2011, p.81).
Furthermore, the increase in women’s persistent offending is accurate, we should
perhaps consider the links between recidivism and desistance (cf. Bushway, Brame &
Paternoster 2004), and ask not why women are offending more, but perhaps why they
might be desisting less; that is, what new ’structural impediments’ (cf. Farrall, Bottoms
& Shapland 2010) to women’s desistance might now be in place which did not exist
before. For example, a decrease in resources for woman-centred support services
might engender a subsequent reliance on those inherently-androcentric interventions
already identified as problematic. This event might, in turn, create a situation where
the primary response to women’s offending are services which are less successful in
promoting change with women than with men (cf. Reisig et al 2006), and in some
cases, may even contribute to keeping women locked in a cycle of re-offending (cf.
Chesney-Lind & Pasko 2004, p.103). It may also be the case that, as in Canada, that
the apparent increase in women’s recidivism might be more related to the tightening of
parole/licence conditions – whereby a breach of these conditions is now counted as a
new ‘offence’ – meaning that individuals repeatedly ‘reapprehended for technical or
administrative breaches of their often untenable parole conditions’ (Maidment 2008,
p.5) - end up on paper as a ‘persistent re-offender’.
In the end however, this theorising and hypothesising tells us as little as
the ‘bald statistics’ of the matter themselves, which can act to ‘conceal [the] complex
lives and important stories’ behind the phenomenon of interest (Jewkes 2013, p14); in
this instance, the apparent rise in women’s persistent and/or prolific offending. If we
are to understand the lives and stories behind these statistics – which are incongruous
with what we (think we) ‘know’ of persistent recidivism – a different, more ethnographic
approach to the issue is perhaps required; that is, a reflexive approach which aims to
engage with ‘the multiple ‘truths’ that operate in the social world […] [and] the stories
people tell one another about the things that matter to them’ (Denzin ,p.xv).
3.3.4 The ’criminogenic needs’ of female offenders
If ‘onset’ is concerned with what ‘makes’ individuals set out on a criminal pathway, the
study of ‘participation’ Is perhaps best described as what keeps people on that path.
As discussed in Chapter Two, the concepts of risk and (criminogenic) need within the
context of contemporary criminal justice practice relate to the creation of the RNR
model of working with offenders. To briefly reiterate, the RNR model believes criminal
behaviour to be both predictable and preventable (‘the risk principle’). This is
achievable through the use of evidence-based assessment tools, which identify the
risk level of an offender (i.e. the probability of recidivism) and their ‘criminogenic needs’
(‘the needs principle’). These can then be measured and ‘treated’, with offenders
‘matched’ to interventions in accordance with their individual capacity to respond to
specific treatments (‘the responsivity principle’) (cf. Andrews, Bonta & Hoge 1990;
Bonta & Andrews 2007; Andrews & Bonta 2010).
As also briefly noted in Chapter Two, the RNR paradigm has attracted heavy critique
in respect of its propriety for working with female offenders, across a number of areas.
Firstly, the focus dictated by the ‘risk principle’ of directing resources towards those
offender presenting the ‘highest risk’ of recidivism means that support and intervention
services for women – who traditionally represent ‘low risk’ offenders – rarely take
precedence over those created and implemented with their male, ‘higher risk’
Secondly, the ‘big four’ risk/need factors (criminal history; criminal personality – i.e.
impulsivity, grandiosity and egocentricity - criminal thinking, and criminal associates)
(Andrews & Bonta 2010) were designed around the experiences of male offenders.
They are therefore widely believed to be ‘not relevant’ to female offenders (Buell,
Modley & Van Voorhis 2011, p.57) (see also Hubbard & Matthews 2008), meaning that
interventions designed around these rarely fit with the ‘needs’ of female offenders.
Moreover, those factors which did appear relevant to women’s experience of offending
at that time - e.g. ‘dysfunctional relationships, depression, parental issues, self-esteem,
self-efficacy, trauma, and victimisation’ (Buell et al 2011, p.55) - were actually excluded
from the RNR model as having no impact on ‘risk’ of crime. Such factors have
traditionally been relegated to the category of ‘non-criminogenic need’ (i.e. not
‘functionally related’ to offending), or regarded as ‘simply responsivity factors’
(Hannah-Moffat 2006, p.186; Hannah-Moffat 2004).
Thirdly, ‘standardised’ risk assessments – e.g. that provided by the Home Office
(2004d) in their original guidance for the Prolific and other Priority Offender strategy,
and the ubiquitous NOMS Offender Assessment System [OASys] forms – appeared
‘ill-equipped’ for classifying the differential risks and needs of female offenders,
particularly those with histories of abuse, violent victimisation, and drug addiction
(Reisig et al 2006). This could present a particular issue for ‘chronic’ female offenders
who, for example, have been identified as more likely than male chronic offenders (but
as likely as non-chronic female offenders) to have experienced lifelong abuse and
victimisation and employment problems in a manner related to their offending trajectory
across the life-course (cf. Danner, Blount, Silverman & Vega 1995). While genderresponsive/sensitive risk assessment tools such as WNRA and COMPAS (discussed
above) (Brennan et al 2012) have been developed, their use has primarily been limited
to research, and have yet to infiltrate the standard practice of criminal justice agencies,
particularly in England and Wales. It is also not empirically proven that gender-specific
assessment tools predict risk with any more certainty than gender-neutral tools (cf.
Rettinger & Andrews 2010).
Little is known specifically of the ‘criminogenic needs’ of persistent female offenders or
female PPOs – the following therefore focuses on providing a brief framework of the
‘criminogenic’ and ‘non-criminogenic’ needs of female offenders more broadly, within
which to locate the discussion of female PAOP offenders in relation to this in the later,
analytical chapters. The focus here is not on the ‘traditional’ criminogenic needs, as
identified in Chapter Two, but on those which have been identified in more recent
studies as having an impact specifically on women’s offending, and anything we might
already ‘know’ in relation to these phenomena and women who persistently and/or
prolifically re-offend.
Experiences of trauma, and ‘lifelong’ and physical sexual violence
Incidence of both physical and sexual violence, in childhood and adulthood, is high
among criminalised women. Shaw et al (1991, cit. in Comack 2006) found that 68 per
cent of their sample of women serving federal sentences in Canada had been
physically or sexually abused as children or adults. Among Aboriginal women in Shaw
et al’s sample, however, rates of abuse were considerably higher - 90 per cent had
experienced physical abuse, while 61 per cent reported ‘ever experiencing’ sexual
abuse – indicating the role that gender, intersected with race, can play in the
experience of trauma among criminalised women. Comack (1993, cit. in Comack 2006)
found that 78 per cent of women of her sample in provincial Canadian jails had been
subjected to physical or sexual abuse within the previous six years. The prevalence of
‘trauma histories’5 such as these among criminalised and incarcerated women is not a
spurious one; indeed, they have a ‘strong influence on offending behaviour’ and
shaping women’s pathways to crime (Moloney et al 2009a, p.426). As noted above,
such experiences have traditionally been regarded as ‘non-criminogenic’ (i.e. not
functionally related to offending behaviour).
Danner et al (1995) and Brennan et al (2012) have similarly identified a high prevalence
of ‘trauma histories’ in the lives of ‘chronic’ and ‘habitual’ female recidivists. A shared
history of physical and sexual abuse, for instance, was one factor which led Danner et
al (1995, p.61) to conclude that their female chronic offenders ‘were not distinguishable
from non-chronics in [the myriad] ways that the literature on males suggested that they
might be’. Here, then, the conclusions of Adelberg & Currie – based on a life-history
study of seven women sentenced to federal prison in Canada – fit the findings of
Danner et al, namely that
Defined as ‘any form of interpersonal or domestic physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect which
is sufficiently detrimental to cause prolonged physical, psychological or social distress to the individual’
(Moloney et al 2009a, p.427).
[t]he problems suffered by women offenders are similar to the
problems suffered by many women in our society, only perhaps more
(Adelberg & Currie 1987, cit. in Comack 2006, p.37)
If this is the case, it likely that these experiences will also be ‘acutely’ present in the
lives of female PAOP offenders broadly, and perhaps more so; certainly the findings
of Messina and Grella (2006) indicate this might be the case, having not only found
the effects of trauma histories in the lives of female offenders to be ‘significant and
additive’ (emphasis added), but – importantly – found the number of childhood
traumatic events to be ‘positively correlated with lifetime number of arrests’. So, with
increased trauma came increased probability of high-frequency arrest patterns across
criminogenic/functionally related to offending. However, why this might be the case –
or whether it is more a matter of increased susceptibility to amplified criminalisation is unclear, and little else is known in respect of the links between trauma histories and
female PAOP patterns of offending; that is, of the ‘‘the ‘black box’ between one’s
experiences of victimization as a child and criminal activities as an adult’ (Daly 1998,
Being a mother
Childcare and rearing ‘remains a highly gendered activity’, with the burden primarily
falling on the mother (Giordano et al 2002, p.1039). When female offenders are
incarcerated, childcare therefore becomes a concern which disproportionately affects
mothers - as opposed to fathers - in prison (Shaw 1994, cit. in Maidment 2008).
Evidence suggests that the ‘majority’ of incarcerated women in the United States are
mothers (Dodge & Pogrebin 2011), and in England and Wales, it is estimated that
between 17,000 and 18,000 children per year are affected by the incarceration of their
mother (Fawcett Society 2009; Corston 2007). The direct and indirect ‘collateral
consequences’ of imprisoning women with children, particularly where she may be the
sole means of family support prior to incarceration, are dire (Dodge & Pogrebin 2011;
Dorotik 2008). Rowe (2012), for example, notes the devastating emotional impact that
occurs during the first occasion a woman is separated from her children by a period of
imprisonment; this is an experience which often represents ‘the most difficult aspect of
imprisonment’ for incarcerated mothers (Celinska 2013; Kruttschnitt 2005), particularly
given the ‘very real concern’ of the potential loss of custody of a child while in prison
(Loucks 2004, p.150).
Of course, for some female offenders, entering custody does not necessarily represent
the inaugural separation between mother and child. The majority of the women ‘street
hustlers’ in Rockell’s (2008) study - with a methodological inclusion criterion of no less
than previous 5 incarcerations in the county jail, hinting at a potentially ‘persistent’
population – had a child or children residing with their mother prior to the current period
of imprisonment. For women in this position, each repeat conviction or return to jail did
not represent the first separation, but it might be the final separation; that is, ‘the formal
repeate/persistent female offenders seem slightly different to the ‘pains of
imprisonment’ (cf. Sykes 1958) experienced by mothers who are first-time offenders,
or who serving their first prison sentence, as documented above, and therefore warrant
further study. According to Brown (2006, p.149), ‘compared to what is now known
about the nexus of abuse, trauma, and addiction, very little is known about how the
loss of children through the termination of parental rights affects women’s trajectories
through life’. This is certainly the case in relation to motherhood and female PAOP
offenders, with scant attention paid to the lived experience and emotive aspects of the
interaction between motherhood and persistent and prolific offending in studies which
almost always generate and analyse their (primarily quantitative) data via an
offence/crime-focused lens (e.g. Danner et al 1995; DeLisi 2002; Brennan et al 2012;
Block et al 2010).
Accommodation is a significant issue for women in the criminal justice system (Baldry
2010; Fawcett Society 2009; Maidment 2008; Corston 2007). An analysis of 12,000
OASys records indicated that a third of women under the supervision of probation had
problems with accommodation (Social Exclusion Task Force 2009); problems that
were often exacerbated by the disproportionate increases in women serving (short)
sentences in prison, during which around 30 per cent of women lose their
accommodation (Corston 2007). Loucks (2004) suggests that this is an issue which
disproportionately affects women – statistics in Scotland show that women are more
likely to lose their home in prison than are men, which she suggests is related to women
more often being single parents and having tenancy agreements in their own name,
while males are more likely to have a partner to maintain the home for them during
their absence.
Again, the work of Rockell (2008) is instructive in indicating the myriad ‘material and
personal losses’ (p.168) associated with repeated periods of incarceration, which are
more likely the preserve of the persistent and prolific recidivist, rather than the one- or
two-time offender. Brennan et al (2012) found ‘unsafe’ and/or ‘unstable’ housing to be
problematic across a number of the ‘pathways’ they identified to women’s ‘habitual’
offending, with ‘housing problems’ statistically ‘diagnostic’ in predicting this across two
pathways in particular. However, ‘chronic’ female street hustlers in New York also
revealed how, after repeated re-incarcerations, prison begins to “feel like home”
(Rockell 2008, p.168). For these women then, incarceration is not about loss but about
gain; for still others, prison as accommodation becomes about necessity, with another
of Rockell’s interviewee’s explaining the various ways in which “jail saved [her] life”
(p.167). Others (e.g. Girshick 1999) have also documented the ways in which prison
becomes a place of accommodation in which women can feel “the safest [they’ve] ever
These examples alone indicate the complexity of the issue of accommodation,
particularly when considering this alongside the concept of ‘the jail as home’, and
perhaps the ‘prison as saviour’ in the lives of persistent female offenders with a
‘revolving door’ relationship with the criminal justice system, which necessarily
demarcates them – and perhaps their issues and problems – from the one-time female
Mental health
The experience of ‘mental health problems’ dominates the women’s criminal
justice/correctional systems, both in the United States and Canada (see e.g. James &
Glaze 2006 for an overview and statistics in the United States, and Maidment 2008 in
Canada), and in the United Kingdom (Ministry of Justice, 2010b; Corston 2007; Social
Exclusion Unit 2002). In England and Wales, the Social Exclusion Unit (2002)
estimated that approximately 70 per cent of sentenced female prisoners had been
officially diagnosed with two or more such disorders relating to mental health,
compared to just 2 per cent in the general population, while the Ministry of Justice
(2009) reported that approximately 26 per cent of women in prison had been treated
for a mental health or ‘emotional problem’ in the year before custody, compared with
16 per cent of men (of course, it is important to bear in mind that – as with all official
statistics - these figures represent only those individuals with a diagnosis; it is therefore
unlikely that the true extent of mental health problems within the offending population
will ever be accurately known).
The majority of studies relating to female PAOP offenders fail to consider the issue of
‘mental health’ beyond substance abuse (discussed below), but those who did found,
for example, that diagnoses of ‘bipolar, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder’
were so common among ‘chronic’ low-level female street ‘hustlers’ as to be considered
‘normal’ (Rockell 2008), while depression, psychotic symptoms, and antisocial
personality disorder were identified as relevant in two out of eight pathways for chronic
female recidivists (Brennan et al 2012). High-frequency offending careers have also
been specifically linked with women with ‘dual-diagnosis’ disorders (i.e. those who with
mental health disorders and substance addiction) (Hartwell 2008). This small amount
of data suggests that incidence of mental health might be even more prevalent across
the offending careers of repeatedly criminalised women.
Substance use and addiction
As noted above, the ‘war on drugs’ was re-branded by Bush-Baskette (1999) as ‘a war
on women. Bloom, Owen and Covington (2004) draw attention to the ‘critical impact’
of ‘ill-informed’ drug policy on female substance users in recent decades, ‘punishing
them disproportionately to the harm they cause society’ (p.31). They argued further
that current drug policy represents one of a series of areas in which the criminal justice
system ignores the ‘gendered realities’ of women’s lives, which in turn acts to both
‘propel women into and return them to’ its grasp (ibid, p.32).
The disproportionately high prevalence of substance use among women in prison – as
well as criminalised women in the community – as compared to their male counterparts
has been well documented (e.g. Daly 1992; Mosher & Phillips 2006; Corston 2007;
Maidment 2008; Loucks 2004). A recent estimate suggested that 90 per cent of female
prisoners in England and Wales have a ‘diagnosable mental disorder, substance
misuse, or both’ (World Health Organisation 2010, p.157). The high level of drug and
alcohol addiction among women in the criminal justice system has been linked to the
equally high prevalence of ‘trauma histories’ within this same population (cf. Gilfus
1992; Bloom & Covington 1998; Maidment 2008; Moloney et al 2009a) and identified
as a ‘survival strategy’ (Gilfus 1992); a strategy which in many cases pre-dates the
onset of offending behaviour (ibid; Baskin & Sommers 1998). It is trauma, both past
and present, which Lawrie (2003, cit. in Moloney et al 2009a, p.428) identified as the
principal driving force in the enduring drug use documented within her sample of
Australian Aboriginal women in prison. Unfortunately, such ‘destructive coping
mechanisms’ (i.e. substance abuse) remain a notable characteristic of many within the
prison system (cf. Finlay & Jones 2000; Dembo, Wothke, Shemwell et al 2000).
Weis (1986, p.27) identified the existence of a ‘symbiotic relationship’ between
substance abuse and crime among chronic offenders, a trend identified in more recent
studies involving female persistent offenders in the United States (e.g. Sommers,
Baskin & Fagan 1994; Danner et al 1995; DeLisi 2002), with DeLisi concluding that
women’s drug-centred offending ‘exacerbates their adverse involvement in the criminal
justice system’ (p.40). The strength of this relationship is such that ‘drug abuse’
featured in all eight pathways to women’s ‘serious and habitual crime’ identified by
Brennan and colleagues (2012), reaching diagnostic significance in half of these, and
was also found to be the second best predictor (after ‘age at first adult arrest’) of
offence chronicity among women by Danner et al (1995). In most cases, substance
use pre-dated the onset of women’s offending (cf. DeLisi 2002; Sommers et al 1994),
although conversely the ‘drug-addled’ female chronic ‘street hustlers’ in Rockell’s
(2008) sample were more often engaged in crime ‘long before they were addicted’
(p.55). The findings of Block et al (2010) also departed from the substance-crime links
presented above – which may reflect cultural differences, given that the women in this
study were Dutch, and the majority of studies feature American participants – with drug
dependency being far less common among their women exhibiting ‘long term patterns
of offending’ in The Netherlands (Block et al 2010).
Education, Employment, and Economic Circumstances
The Social Exclusion Unit (2002) identified lack of education as one of nine key factors
influencing re-offending; this is a particular issue for women in the criminal justice
system, who – compared to male prisoners and the general population – have ‘inferior
educational attainments and employment records’ (Moloney et al 2009a, p.427), and
are often ‘lacking in basic job skills and experience’ (Brown 2006, p.144). Over 90 per
cent of women in Scottish prisons left school before the age of 16, with around a third
being expelled; roughly three-quarters of the women had a history of truancy, so it is
possible that they were disengaged from education long before the school records
show (Loucks 1998, cit. in Loucks 2004). A review of the ‘particular vulnerabilities’ of
women prisoners in England and Wales identified a lack of formal and social education
(i.e. ‘life skills’ and ‘emotional literacy’), and the presence of ‘socio-economic factors
such as poverty, isolation and unemployment ‘(Corston 2007, pp.2, 7), as contributing
to a ‘crisis point that ultimately results in prison’ (ibid). Of course, what may appear to
be ‘unemployment’ might actually represent a mother’s decision to stay home and look
after her children, so the evidential relationships between a lack of employment and
female offending are hardly ‘robust’ (cf. Hedderman 2004, p.237).
Poor educational achievement has been identified specifically in the lives of women
who go on to offend persistently, or are persistently antisocial, across the adult life
course (Brennan et al 2012; Pajer 1998), in much the same way as their male
counterparts (cf. Blumstein et al 1986; Moffitt 1993; Sampson & Laub 1995). Women
in one sample of street offenders in the United States, all of whom had ‘long histories
of criminal involvement’, were typically ‘high-school dropouts’, and possessed ‘limited’
work experience (Sommers et al 1994), perhaps suggesting a lack of education
underpinning the offending careers of female PAOP offenders.
A lack of both formal education, and sustained employment, are linked to poverty
which, according to Monroe (2005, p.69) represents ‘a breeding ground for many
negative and highly stigmatized behaviors’. For women, she argued, this frequently
presents as entry into ‘street-level’ sex work. Economic disadvantage has long been
associated with women’s offending – the ‘poverty thesis’, for instance, represents the
understanding that women commit crime ‘in the name of the family - to feed, clothe,
provide for and sustain’ their children and their partner (Davies 2002, p.28). While this
theory has since been largely discredited (ibid), economic disadvantage and a lack of
social capital still appear to resonate as key features in some women’s offending, with
Reisig et al (2006) identifying poverty as ‘significantly’ related to women’s risk of
recidivism (p.196).
Male partners
Coercion by (usually older) male partners ‘feature[s] strongly in women’s pathways into
crime’ (Corston 2007, p.3). While both coerced and non-coerced paths into offending
exist for women (Daly 1992, 1998), studies have identified a strong link between
women’s relationships with drug-using or drug-selling male partners, and their own
routes into ‘street’ offenders (e.g. Rockell 2008; Miller 1986; Baskin & Sommers 1995;
Sommers, Baskin & Fagan 1994). At later stages of a criminal career, women’s
relationships with active male offenders may also ‘broaden’ their involvement in crime
beyond the traditional canon of female crime (Daly 1998); that is to say co-offending
with men often ‘changes the character of women’s criminal involvement’ (Becker &
McCorkel 2011, p.104), facilitating her participation in more offence types and with
increasing severity, in ways that committing crime alone or with a female co-offender
do not (ibid). As well as featuring directly in women’s pathways into offending, intimate
male partners also feature indirectly by contributing to female offenders’ experiences
of trauma and victimisation, with Daly (1989) identifying ‘being (or having been) in a
relationship with a violent man’ as a prominent feature in the lives of women who go
on to become criminalised (her ‘Battered women’ pathway). The extent to which
intimate partner violence may be a problem for criminalised women is such that it
represents ‘a fundamentally and significantly different experience compared with their
male prisoner counterparts’ (Baldry 2010, p.260) (see also Snell & Morton 1994, cit. in
Chesney-Lind & Pasko 2004, pp.149-150).
As noted above, much of the research specifically focused on the female PAOP
offender has more often looked at their criminal than personal/emotional histories (e.g.
Block et al 2010; Francis, Liu & Soothill 2010; DeLisi 2002; Soothill et al 2003), and
thusly largely failed to engage with the potential role of intimate relationships in onset,
or continuation, of women’s persistent offending. The small amount of data which does
exist on this subject is somewhat mixed; for example, Danner et al (1995) identified
their sample of female chronic offenders as experiencing ‘less spous[al] abuse’ than
their non-chronically offending female counterparts, while conversely Brennan et al
(2012) – arguably offering a far more comprehensive and ‘gender responsive’ study of
the substantive issue – found experiences of ‘adult victimisation, ‘relationship conflict’
and ‘relationship dysfunction’ with ‘significant others’ to be present in six out of their
eight pathways to women’s ‘habitual’ offending. In addition, Brennan et al (2012)
identified two ‘battered women’ paths – as Daly (1992) before them – but suggested
that these were specifically implicated in women’s routes to ‘habitual’ offending.
Furthermore, they identified particularly ‘extreme’ experiences of such abuse within the
offending paths of the most chronically offending women in the sample, indicating that
this area of study may be particularly relevant to the current thesis.
Sex work
As noted above, street-level sex work is believed to be ‘intrinsically related to poverty’
(Monroe 2005, p.69); a decision often triggered by unemployment, and ‘mounting
financial responsibilities’ (ibid, p.70). Sex work/prostitution is the only offence type in
which women regularly outrank men, although in jurisdictions where prosecution of
‘clients’ (i.e. persons – usually male – who ‘buy sex’) is starting to increase, the
‘offending’ gap between sex worker and client is starting to decrease (cf. Kong &
AuCoin 2008).
A number of studies including reference to women’s PAOP offending in the United
States have identified the centrality of sex work in the lives of female ‘street’ offenders,
many of whom have ‘long histories of criminal involvement’ (Sommers et al 1994,
p.125), where sex work is a fundamental part of ‘hustling’ (Miller 1986; Sommers et al
1994; Rockell 2008). Sex work also represented a significant bulk of the offending
committed by DeLisi’s (2002) female ‘extreme career criminals’. This is not to say,
however, that sex work is endemic within the lives of female PAOP offenders, with
many of the studies noted above failing to refer to sex work as relevant either in the
United States (Danner et al 1995; Brennan et al 2012; Giordano et al 2002), The
Netherlands (Block et al 2010), or England and Wales (Soothill et al 2003; Francis, Liu
& Soothill 2010). The data on this matter, then, is decidedly mixed.
3.5 (iii) Offence type/Crime mix: What offences do female
offenders most typically commit? How serious are these offences?
3.5.1 Offence type & severity
You quite regularly come across them in shoplifting cases because
women don’t commit that many other kinds of crime – you don’t get
many women burglars or many who are involved in violence – it’s
mainly theft, quite a lot of social security frauds.
(Interviewee in Worrall 1990, p.78)
While there is perhaps ‘no such thing as the “typical” criminal woman’ (Carlen et al
1985, p.10), there exist clear gendered similarities across patterns of offending which
make it fair to say that some offence types are more typical of women than of men.
That is to say that while women appear as offenders in all categories of offence - from
the most to the least serious (Heidensohn 1985) - offence statistics consistently
demonstrate that some types of crime are more dominated by men, whilst others (albeit
very few) by women, and that the former are often more violent, and more serious than
those committed by the latter group (Denno 1994; Chesney-Lind 1986; Blumstein et al
1986). In this way, what we know about the characteristics of all known offending is
structured by gender.
Offending committed by young women and girls - who, as noted above, frequently
come to crime via pathways dominated by trauma, physical and sexual abuse, and
substance use – has traditionally been identified in terms of ‘status offences’ (e.g.
‘running away from home, incorrigibility, [and] truancy’), and minor crimes (e.g.
shoplifting) (Chesney-Lind 1986, p.82). Meanwhile, those offences most commonly
committed by adult women are ‘larceny theft, drunk driving, fraud (the bulk of which is
welfare fraud and naive check forgery), disorderly conduct, drunkenness, and
prostitution’ (ibid); that is, ‘petty’ property offences and offences associated with
personal conduct in public, particularly when intoxicated. Conversely, it is far rarer for
women to commit offences of high severity, and over time, space, and place, women’s
contribution to rates of ‘serious’ crime (e.g. murder, rape and other serious sexual
assaults, robbery) has remained so comparatively low as to be considered ‘miniscule’
(Chesney-Lind 1986, p.82). In England and Wales, the ‘minor offence’ picture is
broadly similar, with court figures from recent years showing ‘theft and handling stolen
goods’ (including shoplifting) as the most common indictable offence for which both
females and males attend court, with women making up the bulk of offenders in this
category (52 per cent of females, versus 33 per cent of males sentenced for indictable
offences in 2011) (Ministry of Justice 2012a, p.12).
Many of these patterns appear to hold for female PAOP offenders – for example, the
offence types of female ‘extreme career criminals’ in the US were highly (although not
significantly) correlated with ‘the traditionally high female prevalence in crimes such as
forgery and fraud’, with ‘theft’ making up the bulk of women’s ‘extreme’ persistent
offending (DeLisi 2002, p.37). Women in the same study were also far less likely than
their male counterparts to be engaged in violent offending - females averaged 0.18
arrests for robbery and 0.82 arrests for aggravated assault, whilst males averaged 0.89
and 2.37 arrests respectively) (ibid). Highlighting gendered differences between
patterns of ‘chronic’ offending, Danner et al (1995) found that female offenders in their
sample were incarcerated for offences far ‘less serious’ than the literature on male
chronic offenders – whose offence severity often escalates over time - ‘would have had
us expect’ (Danner et al 1995, p.61). This finding draws attention to the broader
overuse of custody against women committing comparatively non-serious offences (cf.
Corston 2007), which has continued to pose a problem despite governmental attempts
to promote alternative sanctions for female offenders (e.g. Ministry of Justice/National
Offender Management Service 2008).
There are indications, however, that this acknowledged fact – that is, the comparative
rarity of women’s serious crime - may be shifting. Violence against the person remains
the most common offence type for which all men and women were arrested during
2010/2011 (Ministry of Justice 2012a); in that same period, however, the number of
women arrested for violence against the person (34 per cent of all individuals arrested)
was slightly higher than the number of males arrested (31 per cent). These figures
were reported as broadly consistent over the previous four years (Ministry of Justice
2012a, p.39). This trend could be considered as in-keeping with recent concerns
regarding the rise of women’s violent offending in the UK, as well as in the United
States, where arrests of adult women for ‘both aggravated and other assaults’ have
also increased (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004, p.101), and in Canada, where the rate
of ‘serious violent crime’ among its female youth (while still quite low) have more than
doubled since 1986 (King & AuCoin 2008). Of course, anxieties regarding rising violent
crime rates – particularly those attributed to women – represents somewhat of a
cyclical concern; for example, Heidensohn (1985, p.6) identified a ‘moral panic’
regarding allegations of increases in women’s share of violent crime in the 1970s and
the links drawn between this and women’s emancipation, which bore a striking
resemblance to the response to similar fears in the 1990s:
The rise in violent female crime and the increase in reports of female
bullying suggest that girls are using violence with almost as much
enthusiasm as boys. Women's lives have been transformed by a
growing sense of equality with men, yet it is as if the next generation
of women are taking up some of the darkest aspects of male behaviour
and making it part of their own response to their frustrations and fears.
(Fowler 1996, p.15)
Of course, it is always important to study figures in context, as they may tell a different
story – for instance, Kong and AuCoin (2008) reported that ‘serious violent crime’ had
doubled among female youth in Canada; in real terms, however, the figures remained
exceptionally low, at only 132 incidences per 100,000 of the population. The issues
with reliance on official statistics in this manner have already been discussed above,
and will not be rehearsed here. Whether the apparent rise in women’s violent crime
bears any relevance to the apparent increase in women’s ‘persistent’ and ’prolific’
offending (also identified above) remains to be seen.
3.6 (iv) Desistance: Women’s pathways out of the criminal career
3.6.1 Developments in desistance theory, and the absence of women
Despite once being conceptualised as a ‘one-off’ event, whereby an individual
morphed from ‘offender’ to ‘non-offender’ overnight (i.e. ‘instantaneous desistance’)
(primarily as a result of age/maturation), ‘desistance’ is now made sense of as a
process; a ‘glide path’ (Sampson & Laub 2003), whereby individual offending rates
decline steadily over time, to zero (Kurlychek, Bushway & Brame 2012). Central to this
development was the understanding of desistance not as a linear path, but as a ‘zigzag’ (Burnett 2004); an insight generated over a decade prior to Burnett’s work by
Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross (1992) who, in attempting to understand the
‘stages of change’ associated with giving up smoking tobacco, identified a ‘spiral’
pattern of desistance. Prochaska et al identified that would-be desisters often ‘relapse’
on numerous occasions before finally achieving ‘maintenance’ of the desired
behaviour. This model underscores the difference between primary desistance (the
achievement of, in this instance, an offence-free period) and secondary desistance
(the maintenance of this behaviour over time) (Maruna & Farrall 2004, cit. in McNeill
2006). Further advances have come with theorising the importance of re-narrating
one’s own identity to the desistance process (Presser 2008), along with understanding
other ‘cognitive’ changes (Giordano et al 2002) and ’structural impediments’ (e.g.
Farrall, Shapland & Bottoms 2007) on the road to desistance. The net result of these
developments has been a better, more theoretically-informed understanding of ‘how
change works’ in the move from offender to non-offender, and a re-conceptualisation
of the role of the criminal justice system in a supporting or ‘complementary’ role in the
desistance process, rather than as the main instigator of change (e.g. through
‘interventions’) (cf. Maruna & LeBel 2010).
Such theoretical advancements have – incorrectly, according to Bushway, Brame and
Paternoster (2004) – failed to account for the concept of recidivism, arguing that a more
fluid relationship exists between re-offending and desistance than is currently given
credit (a point of particular relevance to the current study). More importantly, such
developments have been made more or less entirely devoid of the experiences of
female offenders. Indeed, there exist ‘very few studies’ which focus specifically on
desistance among female offenders (Farrall et al 2007, p.353) (although Brown & Ross
2010, and Baldry 2010 represents important exceptions). This is problematic, since it
is likely that women’s experience of desistance may differ from the male experience,
and thus theories that are androcentric in nature cannot be straightforwardly applied to
the lives of women. For example, romantic relationships (Sampson & Laub 1995),
‘fatherhood’ (Moloney, Mackenzie, Hunt & Joe-Laidler 2009b) and considering oneself
to be a ‘family man’ (LeBel, Burnett, Maruna & Bushway 2008) are important narratives
in the male desistance literature. This appears to be less so for women, since it is
comparatively less likely for female offenders to find prosocial ‘romantic’ partners to
support desistance (Leverentz 2006), while the ‘practical difficulties’ associated with
maintaining desistance from crime for women may limit the degree to which being a
mother can contribute to this process (Michalsen 2013).
Farrall et al (2007) argue – correctly – that there exists little work theorising processes
of desistance for women within the central canon of the desistance literature. This is
perhaps evidence of the continued disjuncture between ‘masculinist’ critiques of
modern penality (which more effectively engage in ’new theorisations’ of punishment
regimes) and ‘feminist’ critiques (which focus more often on the ‘impact of disciplinary
power on female bodies’; i.e. how current state policy and practices in relation to crime
reduction affected women) (Howe 1994, p.2). Much of the work relating to female
desistance, then, has not traditionally engaged with ‘desistance theory’, although
Baldry (2010) has argued that imposing a ‘generalised’ theoretical frame of
‘desistance’ is unhelpful in attempting to understand the interaction between women,
criminogenic need, the criminal justice system, and recidivism; this is particularly the
case, she argues, with respect to women serving very short sentence and remand
prisoners, and those with ’combined and multiple mental health and substance abuse
disorders’ (Baldry 2010, p.253). Most importantly, perhaps, Baldry accuses desistance
theory of failing to account for ‘the marginal space from which most [female offenders]
come and to which most return’ (p.253).
This is perhaps why scholars working with female offenders and re-entry have worked
hard to document the structural barriers (such as a lack of social capital, or the
tendency to more severely stigmatise mothers who commit crime), and personal
barriers (e.g. absence of a pro-social identity) negatively impacting on women’s
processes of desistance (cf. Reisig et al 2006; Rumgay 2004). Moreover, there exists
a large, and growing, body of work outside the boundaries of the androcentric
desistance developments identified above, which focus on the more practical
challenges facing the would-be female desister; this lies primarily within the study of
‘What works?’ in supporting women’s pathways out of crime, through the development
of ‘gender-responsive’/sensitive initiatives. Much of this important work is – unlike the
work on onset and persistence stated above – located within England and Wales, and
Scotland, and focused both on macro-evaluations of developments in this field over
the years (e.g. Worrall & Gelsthorpe 2009; Trotter 2007) and micro-evaluations of a
range of woman-centred initiatives to support female offenders, for example, in terms
of drug addiction (Malloch & Loucks 2007), community-bed offending programmes
(Martin, Kautt, & Gelsthorpe 2009), and ‘one-stop shop’ woman centres (Loucks,
Malloch, McIvor & Gelsthorpe 2006), and the growing body of work focused on the
challenges of ‘re-entry’ to society for women leaving prison (e.g. Cobbina & Bender
2012; Cobbina 2010; Baldry 2010; Brown & Ross 2010). These developments, which
contribute both to theory and practical knowledge in relation to working with female
offenders, are discussed further below.
The broader ‘what works’ movement has been heavily criticised on a number of
grounds, including: a focus on ‘quick results’; a ‘narrowness of thinking’; and
contributing to the target-driven, risk-obsessed probation practice of the present day,
which ‘has little time for the realty of complex human motivation or a proper
appreciation of difficult social circumstances’ (Bhui & Buchanan 2004, p.195).
However, this could hardly be said of the many woman-centred studies cited above,
and the women’s ‘What works?’ movement itself, which has at its core ‘helping women
offenders’ (Sheehan, McIvor & Trotter 2007, p.vii), and aiming to expose existing
criminal justice programmes and practices which fail to account for the specific
female/gendered experience of desistance. A body of literature which includes
focusing particular attention on: women’s health needs; ‘family and parenting roles’;
the role of addiction in women’s offending; and the ‘political and societal responses’ to
women’s offending (ibid) could hardly be fairly criticised for ‘narrowness of thinking’ or
failing to appreciate the ‘difficult social circumstances’ women face in attempting to
desists from crime. Indeed, it could be said that this is the very raison d’être of the
women’s ‘what works’ movement.
3.6.2 Women and prison
Baroness Jean Corston’s (2007) report on the ‘particular vulnerabilities’ of women in
prison, and the criminal justice system more broadly, was a seminal piece of work,
although it rehearsed much of what had been said – but not necessarily heard – before
(cf. Gelsthorpe 2009). Corston championed the use of ‘resettlement’/community
centres, and the decarceration of the majority of women in prison, the majority of whom
are there for ‘nonviolent, petty persistent offending’ (House of Commons Justice
Committee 2013-2014, p.26), on the basis that prison is experienced as ‘both
disproportionate and inappropriate’ for many women, also drawing attention to the
‘catastrophic’ effect of imprisoning mothers on their children (Corston 2007, p.i). The
Corston Report made 43 recommendations for improving the response to women
within the criminal justice system, the majority of which were accepted by the New
Labour government (1997-2010) in power at that time (Ministry of Justice 2013b). As
a consequence, a number of positive changes – including the appointment of a
Women’s Minister – resulted. However, a number of commentators (e.g. Women in
Prison 2012; House of Commons Justice Committee 2013-2014; Corcoran 2010) have
argued that
despite some
‘distinct’ changes,
progress to implement the
recommendations has been ‘slow’ (Justice Committee 2013-2014, p.26). Moreover,
the commitment to radically overhaul the penal sector to construct a more ‘womancentred’ process has since experienced a loss of ‘momentum’, with ‘little concrete
action’ arising in the period since the publication of Corston (Corcoran 2010). This is
particularly problematic in an era of ‘mass incarceration’, which has seen ‘soaring
numbers of women [going] under lock and key’ (Chesney-Lind & Pasko 2004, p.140)
despite there being ‘little foundation’ for this, given women’s broadly consistent crime
rates (Gelsthorpe 2009, p.30).
Whilst it is true that both women and men have suffered as a result of the Western
‘imprisonment binge’, women have arguably suffered disproportionately. For instance,
in England and Wales, the average number of women in prison increased by 173 per
cent between 1992 and 2002 (Sudbury 2005), a phenomenon which has seen rates of
female incarceration ‘far outpac[ing] that of men’s imprisonment’, similar to their
American counterparts (cf. Owen 1999, p.81). More recent data from the UK indicates
that in the decade between 1998 and 2008, the female prison population in England
and Wales increased by 44 per cent, compared to the 26 per cent increase
experienced by men (Ministry of Justice 2009). A comparative analysis of the rising
prison population in neighbouring Scotland found that while the number of male
prisoners had increased by 29 per cent between 1999 and 2009, the number of women
being incarcerated doubled in the same period (Nugent & Loucks 2011), This disparity
in the ways in which custodial sentences are meted out to male and female offenders
has also been witnessed in other Western countries, such as the United States, where
‘zero-tolerance, ‘three strikes’ laws, and draconian anti-drug legislation have narrowed
the long-standing gender gap’ (Snider 2006, p.334). Despite the fact that women’s
rates of imprisonment in the United States continue to outpace that of their male
counterparts, Snider (2006, p.334) argues that ‘no comparable increase in female
crime rates [exists] to explain or justify this mania for incarceration’ of women; this point
has been supported by various other commentators in the UK (e.g. Balfour 2006;
Corston 2007; Gelsthorpe 2010).
The exceptionally high reconviction rates for women leaving prison – in 2010, just over
half of all women leaving custody were reconvicted within one year; for those serving
short sentences (12 months or less), this rate increases to 62 per cent (Prison Reform
Trust 2010) – provide some indication of the impact of short custodial sentences on
women, and the fact that they appear to offer little to support the desistance process.
Such sentences are often long enough that women will lose accommodation, fiscal
support/benefits, and stability, in addition to the broad ranging ‘effects of imprisonment’
that we already know about from the prisons sociology literature (e.g. Liebling &
Maruna 2005). However, they are too short for stability to be regained. Short sentences
provide ‘little opportunity to adequately address the needs’ of those serving them,
offering ‘limited access’ to offending behaviour and vocational courses (Howard
League for Penal Reform 2012, p.1). This appears even more problematic once it
becomes clear that many women serving prison sentences have not technically
committed a new ‘crime’, but rather have more likely breached a community order
(Women in Prison 2013, p.iii; Maidment 2008), resulting in the ‘ratcheting up [of] the
use of custody [for women] to little avail, despite the range of alternative community
solutions’ available (Corston 2007, p.i).
The Ministry of Justice (2013c) has recently pledged, through its Transforming
Rehabilitation reforms, to continue to divert women from custody ‘where it is
appropriate to do so’, and to introduce more community-based sentencing options.
However, it ‘does not agree that prison is ineffective’ for women and, whilst
acknowledging that gender differentiates needs, argues ‘that there should be one
justice system for all offenders who commit crimes’ (Ministry of Justice 2013b, p.5)
(emphases added). This seems to be a step in the wrong direction, forgetting that
‘gender equality’ does not necessarily mean equal treatment, but parity of service, as
acknowledged in the Corston Report (2007).
These matters aside, data does exist to suggest that prison can provide a positive
function for female offenders, for example as a ‘safe’ space for those whose lives on
the outside are ruled by fear (cf. Bradley & Davino 2002), or as a ‘convalescent center’
[sic] – particularly for those women with addictions – ‘providing an environment in which
much-needed food, rest, and medical care were possible’ (Rockell 2008, pp.167-8).
These narratives - which typically take the form of a story whereby ‘jail saved my life’
(cf. ibid) – are comparatively rare within the literature on women offenders and their
various mechanisms of desistance and persistence in offending.
3.6.3 Women and traditional probation supervision
probation/parole services. Worrall suggests that rather than ‘chivalry’ (i.e. enabling
women to avoid incarceration), historically this was about de-responsibilising women,
and encouraging them to ‘talk’, ‘for the purposes of transforming them into ‘normal’
women’ (Worrall 1990, pp.83-84). In 1982, women made up 12 per cent of all
individuals sentenced at court in England and Wales, but 30 per cent of those placed
on probation; more recently in the United States in 2003, similar figures show women
as representing 9 per cent of those sentenced at court, but 22 per cent of individuals
sentenced to community supervision.
While there is a ‘paucity’ of such research, and what evidence does exist provides
mixed views, there is ‘support for the value of probation and parole’ for female
offenders, in terms of supporting desistance processes and reducing future reoffending (Trotter 2007, p.127). Reisig et al (2006) found that when community
corrections officers in the United States supported female offenders with low social
capital into suitable accommodation, the women subsequently re-offended less. A
study of parole in Victoria, Australia found that just 4 per cent of women released from
prison on parole subsequently re-offended within the 20 month follow-up period;
conversely, 42 per cent of women without the support of a parole order were reincarcerated within a matter of months (Trotter 2007). Of course, what such studies do
not indicate is how or why this change occurred, just that it appeared to – in this way,
this body of literature is somewhat reminiscent of the PPO strategy and its lack of a
‘theory of change’ (cf. Hopkins & Wickson 2013). Moreover, these findings conflict with
the data above, which highlights community orders/parole as a breeding ground for the
‘breach’ phenomenon contributing to women’s disproportionate incarceration rates.
A central part of contemporary probation practice is the use of cognitive behavioural
programmes, which also grew out of the RNR model of crime reduction, and are based
on the ‘what works’ principle (i.e. ‘what works’ in supporting desistance). It is perhaps
of little surprise that the majority of evaluative studies have focused on the male
experience, owing to their numerical predominance. One Home Office (2004, cit. in
Trotter 2007, p.134) study which did explore the experience of cognitive behavioural
programmes for women found them to have ‘no significant difference’ on women’s
subsequent re-offending. This may be because women’s offending is frequently less
to do with ‘cognitive behavioural deficits’ – the programmes were designed around the
needs of males, which have been repeatedly identified as different – and more strongly
related to issues of substance abuse, mental health, and welfare dependency (Trotter
According to the Ministry of Justice, the ‘spread and availability’ of community-based
provision for female offenders in England and Wales has been ‘increasing’ in recent
years; a situation which it aims to consolidate alongside the new Transforming
Rehabilitation reforms, which lay the groundwork for offender supervision in the
community for all female offenders, who will now receive twelve months’ statutory
supervision and support on release from prison (Ministry of Justice 2013c, p.3). While
many agree that prison is, for many reasons, problematic for women (cf. Corston
2007), the commitment to prioritising community-based sentencing for women (e.g.
Ministry of Justice 2013a) may also be problematic, perhaps failing to take account of
the damages caused by ‘doing time on the outside’ (cf. Maidment 2008). Indeed, the
‘extension of punitive elements to all community sentences’ (Justice Committee 20132014, p.32) [emphasis added] can impact disproportionately on women in certain
circumstances (the example given is of the use of electronic tag monitoring on women,
who may be living with domestic violence), who can react negatively to a service which
is seen as centred on ‘punishment’ more than ‘rehabilitation’ (ibid, p.30). Such
concerns have been raised by the advocacy group Women in Prison (2014) specifically
in relation to the new provisions under the Transforming Rehabilitation strategy.
3.6.4 Alternatives to custody & traditional probation supervision
There has been wide-ranging and ‘unequivocal’ support of alternatives to custody
which approach the needs of women offenders ‘in an holistic, rather than piecemeal,
fashion’ (Worrall & Gelsthorpe 2009, p.338). Given that the number of women under
post-prison supervision has recently hit an ‘all-time high’, there is an ‘increased need’
for projects which support the ‘unique needs of re-entry women’ in the post-release
period (Scroggins & Malley 2010, p.146) to support desistance. Concepts such as
‘safety’, ‘a sense of community’, ‘empowerment’, building self- esteem and confidence,
and mentorship, have been identified as central to the provision of such ‘alternatives’
(Gelsthorpe 2007). Elsewhere, in the US, Petersilia identified five broad areas of need
as ‘essential to the postincarceration success of women’:
(a) childcare and parenting skills development; (b) healthcare, mental
health counseling, and substance abuse treatment; (c) housing and
transportation services; (d) education, employment, and job training
services; and (e) and social support programs.
(Petersilia 2004, cit. in Scroggins & Malley 2010, p.147)
Huebner, De Jong & Cobbina (2010) noted similar issues among their US sample of
female offenders, finding that women’s long-term patterns of recidivism were
influenced by drug dependency (nb. not simply substance ‘misuse’), poor education,
and ‘more extensive criminal histories’ – a point of particular relevance to the current
study – are ‘more likely to fail on parole and to recidivate more quickly’ following release
from prison (Huebner, De Jong & Cobbina 2010, p.225). In Victoria, Australia, Brown
and Ross (2010) – in a rare example of commitment to both the ‘masculinist’ and
‘feminist’ critique projects (cf. Howe 1994) – sought to evaluate the efficacy of
‘mentoring’ within the domain of criminal justice, and in doing so highlighted ‘social
capital’ as crucial to women’s successful ‘re-entry’.
A range of women-centred ‘one-stop shops’ and programmes have been designed
around these needs and ideals in the UK. Flagship examples in the UK include: the
Women’s Offending Reduction Programme (WORP), launched in 2004; the ‘218
Centre’, located in Scotland, and the Together Women Programme (TWP); a £9m
government initiative to create a series of ‘one-stop shops’ for female offenders. Initial
evaluations of these projects were ‘positive, with workers and women recognising that
they filled ‘an important gap in provision’, and left female offenders feeling ‘more
optimistic’ about an offending-free future (Hedderman et al 2006; Hedderman et al
2008). Such services also supported women ‘’on the path’ to custody’; these women
were often ‘vulnerable’, and ‘believed they were likely to die without some sort of
meaningful help’, which they felt could be provided at the 218 Centre (Loucks, Malloch,
McIvor & Gelsthorpe 2006, p.82). The creation of these ‘one-stop shops’/women’s
centres not only provided a safe place for female offenders to meet probation officers,
arrange benefits, and access housing support, for example, but in keeping all services
in one place, women’s non-attendance was reduced, as was the number of nonattendance related breaches (Gelsthorpe 2009), which represents the primary reason
for female offenders on licence being recalled to prison (Maidment 2008).
In the US, however, the demand and need for re-entry projects which are specifically
constructed in accordance with what we know of ‘gender responsive treatment’ and
the unique needs of female offenders (e.g. Covington & Bloom 2006; Bloom, Owen &
Covington 2004) is not being met (Scroggins & Malley 2010). Referring particularly to
the TWP and WORP, Gelsthorpe (2009, p.30) has suggested that funding of such
‘Rolls Royce’ projects is hardly sustainable in the long run – particularly in the current
financial climate. The current Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government
(2010-present) however has pledged its commitment to continuing to fund women’s
criminal justice initiatives, arguing that the new Transforming Rehabilitation agenda will
allow them to ‘deliver better outcomes for women offenders’ (Ministry of Justice 2013c,
p.16). They have also acknowledged in various legislative and policy-based papers
that female offenders have ‘a different profile of risks and needs’ (Ministry of Justice
2010c, p.30) and developed a specific set of ‘strategic objectives’ to support women
getting off ‘the conveyor belt of crime’ (Ministry of Justice 2013a, p.3). As noted above,
these appear to centre on increased statutory support from probation services and the
provision of ‘robust’ community-based sentencing options (ibid, p.4), which – perhaps
despite best intentions – serve only to keep women locked in a cycle of re-offending.
4 - The Study
4.1 Introduction
It is sometimes the case with social research that the study initially proposed or
designed does not, for any number of reasons, necessarily turn out to be the one which
makes it into the final write-up. It is also often the case - or so I have been led to believe
- that the processes by which these initial plans fall by the wayside, and that the journey
between this and the design and intentions of the research as presented in the final
piece, frequently remains hidden from sight.
There are many reasons for ensuring that this phenomenon be avoided, and that such
processes do not succumb to the curse of academic opacity. Many – and most notably
feminist academics - centre on the concepts of research integrity and reflexivity; on the
necessity of a transparent account of events (Cook & Fonow 1986), and the importance
of laying bare the ‘underside’ of the research process (Gelsthorpe 2007, p.353).
However, for the doctoral thesis, reasons beyond this emerge - if Coffey’s (1999, cit.
in ibid) perception of fieldwork research as a set of practical, intellectual and emotional
‘accomplishments’ is accurate, then the current chapter is important not simply
because it documents the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the doctoral research process, but also
my accomplishments as a fledgling researcher through reflections on my own practical,
intellectual, and emotional journey in producing it.
Beginning with a reiteration of the research questions, shaped in accordance with the
epistemological lacunae identified in the preceding chapters, I go on to explain the
research design, and the link between the two. The chapter then moves onto the
methods used for defining and recruiting the samples in the study (including the
difficulties encountered during this process), and the means of data generation and
analysis. These various methods of knowledge production are then critically discussed,
examining and challenging some of the epistemological assumptions which underpin
them, as well reflecting on my own place within this process. The chapter concludes
with a discussion of the various ethical issues and implications of the research process
undertaken, and the limitations (potential and experienced) of the study.
4.2 Research design: Connecting questions to data
To reiterate, the research sought to answer the following questions:
1. How do persistent and/or prolific female offenders in England and Wales
narrate their pathways into offending? To what extent do these fit with
existing narratives for understanding persistent and habitual reoffending?
2. How do criminal justice practitioners and professionals make sense of
women’s ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending - that is, what ‘standard
stories’ (Abma 1999) do they draw upon in seeking to construct and
understand the lives and offending of such women, specifically those
women identified as PPOs? What issues and concerns do they highlight
as central to their ‘prolific’ recidivism?
3. What factors and events do female PAOP offenders identify as shaping
the enduring nature of their offending career? How and why did they
return to offending time and again? What role have the various criminal
justice interventions – including the PPO strategy – played within this
4. What implications regarding the ways in which female PAOP offenders
are managed broadly within the criminal justice system, and specifically
within the PPO scheme, can be drawn from the data?
The study seemed to immediately lend itself to a qualitative research design, given the
central focus of the research questions on the ‘interpretations, experiences,
interactions... [and] perceptions’ of social beings, which represents the hallmark of
qualitative investigation (Mason 2002, p.63), as well as the importance of adopting
qualitative modes of research specifically with female offenders (Hedderman, Gunby
& Shelton 2010). I wanted to engage with the ‘texture and weave of everyday life’ for
women who engaged in offending over long, or intense, periods of time, as well as the
‘understandings, experiences and imaginings’ (Mason 2002, p.1), of women’s
experiences of persistent and/or prolific [PAOP] offending.
Because studies which ‘look in more than one direction to account for social
phenomena’ are likely to do a ‘more adequate job’ in this endeavour than those which
do not (Bottoms 1999, cit. in Liebling 2001, p.481), it seemed prudent to seek out other
viewpoints on this phenomenon (cf. Pawson & Tilley 1997). Since I wanted to better
understand the nature of the interaction over time between female PAOP offenders
and the criminal justice system, an important desired aspect in the design of the
research was to seek out further appropriate ‘stakeholder knowledge’ (ibid) from
individuals who might be endowed with knowledge or experience of such these
matters. It seemed to me that the perspectives of such ‘stakeholders’ represented a
vital piece of the ‘puzzle’ of the nature and lived experience of women’s persistent and
prolific offending, in terms of existing organisational stereotypes and assumptions
regarding the characteristics of these offenders. Few detailed narratives of the work
done with persistent and/or prolific female offenders exist, in the same way that many
of the various roles undertaken by other criminal justice practitioners and professionals
– e.g. prison officers (Libeling, Price & Shefer 2010) and probation officers (Farrall
2002) - have been largely overlooked in terms of their work and interactions with
offenders. Moreover, engaging with the ‘state’ perspective – using practitioners as a
proxy for this – might go some way to addressing Howe’s (1994) concerns regarding
the ‘radical disjunction’ between the ‘masculinist’ critique of penal power (which
focuses on ‘the emergence of punishment regimes’ and the state’s ‘power to punish’
in the Foucauldian tradition) and the ‘feminist’ critique (which is centred on ‘the
differential impact of disciplinary powers on lived female bodies’) (Howe 1994, p.2),
since engaging with the women themselves clearly fulfils the latter criterion rather than
the former.
Taking on the perspectives of criminal justice practitioners and professionals working
with female PAOP offenders would represent another important viewpoint from which
to ‘confirm, to falsify, and above all, to refine [any] theor[ies]’ (Pawson & Tilley 1997,
p.155) (emphasis in original) generated within the current study. So, for instance, if one
theory of the current research was that since female offenders are often overlooked in
policy and practice (owing to their lesser numbers) (cf. Heidensohn 1991), then female
PPOs might also be overlooked in terms of resources and support, criminal justice
practitioners represent well-placed candidates for commenting on the potential veracity
(or not) of this theory. Given the importance of the ‘officer-offender relationship’ in
probation practice more broadly (cf. Burnett & McNeill 2005), investigating the ways in
which this operates from the perspective of both of these parties is considered to be
of central import in understanding the interaction between female PAOP and those
working with them to reduce their offending.
The primary means of data generation6 was decided upon as qualitative interviewing,
which had been used in other studies with similar aims and interests to the current
study (e.g. Rockell 2008; Maidment 2008). The style of interview could best be
described as an amalgamation between what Patton (2002, pp.344-348) calls the
‘standardized, open-ended interview’, and Hollway and Jefferson’s (2000) ‘narrative
interview’. This combination was used adopted for a number of reasons. The first was
data-oriented, in that the review of the literature had highlighted specific gaps in
knowledge, and so it made sense to pursue these through targeted questioning of each
individual. The second reason could best be described as temporal, ensuring that
interviews are ‘highly focused so that interviewee time is used efficiently’ (Patton 2002,
p.346). This was important when interviewing the CJPPs as interviews often happened
in the middle of the working day, and so the time allocated to these sessions was often
brief, and needed to be utilised as effectively as possible (i.e. maximum data in
minimum time). In an attempt to offset these temporal restrictions, I released the
interview schedule to CJPP interviewees approximately a week prior to interview to
allow them to prepare to some extent. Considerations regarding time restrictions were
even more relevant when interviewing the PAOP women, since interview time was
limited both by prison regime hours and NOMS’ conditions of access, which dictated
that only a certain number of days research in each prison were permissible. The third
reason for adopting a standardised, open-ended format was centred on analytical
concerns, in that the responses it creates are often ‘easy to find and compare’ in the
data analysis process (Patton 2002, p.346). Given the novitiate status of the researcher
as an interviewer and data analyst, and the planned use of a thematic model of
analysis, this seemed a sensible strategy. Finally, the standardised element of the
interview schedule also proved to be useful in negotiating access/’getting in’ to the
prisons, as research contacts – particularly where these were psychology-based –
were keen to know the exact nature of the questions to be asked; a loose ‘topic guide’
would not have been sufficient.
Of course, introducing standardised elements into a qualitative interview schedule
increases its rigidity, which can smother the type of flexible interviewing crucial to
effective and deep data generation (Patton 2002); in fact, even semi-structured
interview formats have been identified as acting to close down opportunities for the
type of in-depth, typically-storied responses prized by the qualitative researcher (cf.
Hollway & Jefferson 2000). I was therefore concerned to adopt a method of data
generation which would facilitate the telling of stories; a concern which led me to
This term is used in lieu of data collection when referring to qualitative data in acknowledgement of
the co-constructed nature of interview data; that is, the stories told to researchers come into being as
an a joint enterprise between two social actors, rather existing ‘inside of the narrators, waiting to be
expressed’ or ‘collected’ (Presser 2008, p.123).
incorporate a number of lessons learned from the literature on ‘the narrative turn’ in
the social sciences (e.g. Riessman 2008; Hollway & Jefferson 2000; Atkinson 1997;
Polkinghorne 1988; Bruner 1987) in constructing the research design. ‘Stories’
represent a key means of engaging with the ways in which social actors ‘make sense
of’ and ‘experience’ their lives, and various phenomena within it (Coffey & Atkinson
1996, p.68) – they can act as important ‘explanatory devices’ within social research
(Presser 2010, p.433), and are ‘especially valuable in uncovering issues overlooked in
more traditional quantitative approaches’, (Laub & Sampson 2003, p.9). This made it
an appropriate choice for addressing those research questions which required
engaging with processes of ‘sense-making’ and the ways in which CJPPs and female
PAOP offenders narrate/story the lives of women who persistently and/or prolifically
Theoretically, these methods of qualitative data generation - that is, the rigid
standardised, open-ended interview, and the flexible ‘narrative interview’ – may appear
to exist at almost opposite ends of the methodological spectrum. This is an issue which
I believed I could reconcile, thereby according the benefits of both approaches while
using the other to balance out the potential pitfalls as described above. This was
achieved through the use of interview schedules which incorporated a number of
‘narrativised’ questions (i.e. those capable of ‘eliciting stories’) (Hollway & Jefferson
2000) when biographical or autobiographical data was being sought – that is, stories
about female PAOP offenders from a CJPP perspective, and stories of PAOP offending
from the perspective of women engaged in it. The centrality of the flexibility to the
‘narrative interview’ (Hollway & Jefferson 2000) would be adopted as far as was
reasonable within the timeframe allowed for the interview, imbued with all the
‘humanistic’ impulses of narrative inquiry (cf. Riessman 2008) in the attempt to make
the interview feel like a (fairly structured) ‘conversation with a purpose’ (Burgess 1984,
cit. in Mason 2002, p.62).
In addition to the qualitative interviews, it was important to be able to say something
more concrete about the female PAOP sample, and how they compared in relation to
various characteristics to populations relevant to the study (e.g. female offenders,
Prolific and other Priority Offenders). It was therefore necessary to also collect
quantitative data which could contribute to building a profile of the female PAOP
sample (e.g. age, age at first conviction, number of offences and convictions over time).
Such data was identified both during interviews and via the Offender Assessment
System [OASys]. Basic descriptive quantitative data would also be useful in generating
a profile for the CJPP interviewees, in order to say something about the sort of
individuals making up the sample (e.g. age, years in service). This was elicited during
the interviews.
4.3 Methods
4.3.1 Constructing the sampling frames
Eligibility for the sample: CJPPs
The research questions necessitated a ‘purposive’ sampling strategy in attempting to
identify potential interviewees, in that it was essential to purposefully seek out
individuals with experiences that were meaningful in terms of the substantive
underpinnings of the research. This meant deliberately targeting individuals who would
represent relevant, and thus ‘information-rich’, cases for study (cf. Mason 2002; Patton
2002; Wengraf 2001). To adopt a representative or random sampling strategy would
be to defeat the point of the research, as there would be no guarantee that individuals
chosen in this way would have the requisite experience.
That said, I wanted to seek out a range of experiences, in case the ‘standard stories’
(Abma 1999) regarding female PAOP offenders might be specific to a particular job
role, organisational culture, or locale. To this end, I aimed to undertake interviews with
CJPPs from a range of different services, in several different counties, and whose
involvement with female PAOP offenders ranged from front-line work to
senior/management positions. I considered it important to interview both frontline and
non-frontline workers, as both groups were likely to have slightly different perspectives
and experiences of the issues affecting PAOP female offenders; that is, while some
(front-line) would be based on personal experience and engagement on a personal,
micro-level, while others (non-frontline) might be based on a more distant, yet strategic
and more macro-level perspective.
The eligibility criteria finally set for qualifying as a potential participant in the CJPPs
sample was simply that the person in question was an individual who, in their
professional capacity a) was working, or b) had worked with female PAOP offenders
and issues related to them, either (i) on the front line, engaging directly with such
women, or (ii), worked in a managerial or strategic capacity which meant that they
could comment on women’s persistent or prolific re-offending more generally.
Eligibility for the sample: Female PAOP offenders & defining ‘persistent’
and ‘prolific’ offending
Again, the research questions leant themselves to a purposive sampling strategy in
attempting to identify potential PAOP interviewees, in that it was essential to engage
women with experiences that would provide meaningful answers to these questions.
I therefore aimed to seek out two groups of women who I thought would have
experiences relevant to the research questions: i) those women who were ‘prolific’ in
their offending (i.e. committing crime in ‘short-term bursts’) (Hopkins & Wickson 2013),
and those who were ‘persistent’ (i.e. committing crime over a long period of time, e.g.
10 or more years). Since I was already interested to learn more about women in the
context of the PPO scheme, as well as understanding their ‘prolific’ offending, ‘females
identified as a Prolific and other Priority Offenders’ (the process of which was set out
in Chapter Two, and will not be rehearsed here) represented the first criterion for
inclusion in the sample group. I anticipated that these women would be fairly easy to
identify, via NOMIS [the National Offender Management Intelligence System]; an
operational database used in prisons for the management of offenders. It contains a
host of details on each prisoner, including personal details (e.g. name, age, and
ethnicity), records of their arrests and convictions, and – crucially – whether or not they
have a PPO status. This information could also be accessed via OASys (see below for
data generated via OASys).
Deciding on a sampling frame for the ‘persistent’ female offenders was potentially more
complex, as it required me to define what might constitute a ‘long period’ of offending.
Hopkins and Wickson (2013) had suggested a decade; however, Soothill et al (2003)
argued that individuals with only a handful of convictions over a 20-year period could
not ‘sensibly’ be considered ‘persistent’. However, given the focus of the research
questions on the life story, and patterns of offending over time, adopting a life course
approach to this – which can help to identify the ‘criminal trajectory’ and other various
‘behavioral and social pathways’ (Doherty, Laub & Sampson 2009, p.187) – seemed
appropriate. Having set the temporal criterion, I then adopted the following numerical
definition of ‘persistent offending’ - to be eligible for the sample, women must have
accrued 6 or more convictions during their life to date. Defining ‘persistence’ in
accordance with 6 or more life-course convictions represents a fairly standard
academic characterisation of the phenomena (e.g. Blumstein & Moitra 1980;
Blumstein, Farrington & Moitra 1985; Farrington, Loeber & van Kammen 1990).
In sum then, the sampling frame would seek to identify women who (i) had been
identified as Prolific and other Priority Offenders, and were either currently being
managed under this model, or had been de-selected from it, and (ii) women whose
official records - as accessed via NOMIS – indicated that they had accrued 6 or more
convictions (of any type) across the life course.
4.3.2 ‘Getting in’: Gaining access to conduct research
I am often asked by doctoral researchers or aspiring PhD students how I managed to
gain access to conduct research within two criminal justice organisations – the police,
and the prison – which have been notoriously reticent and reluctant to admit social
researchers into their ranks. Often they are interested in the practical aspects of
‘getting in’, such as discussed below. However, if I were to trace my own personal
journey through time and social space and place to a point where I was able to ‘get in’,
it would begin not with the practical detail of a letter to Chief Constable, but with the
myriad circumstances and relational factors which led me to a place where I was in a
position to send such a letter.
As noted in Chapter One, I worked for an independent early intervention project as an
Independent Domestic Violence Advocate and as an Independent Sexual Violence
Advocate prior to undertaking my doctoral degree at the University of Surrey. It was
through this position (which required extensive liaison with local police) that I came to
know Detective Inspector Jackson, who – as the following sections document – was
central in helping me to successfully gaining official approval to conduct my study
within, and with the support of, the police. While providing incentives to gate-keepers
is most likely an ethical ‘no-go’, I should confess that DI Jackson’s7 support of the study
did come with the request that in return I would help him with his Criminology Masters
degree, which he had just started (although by this point we had developed a firm
friendship, so I am fairly confident he would have endorsed the study even had I
declined!). Since this symbiotic agreement did not seem to be unethical to either of us
– after all, each of us was getting what we wanted from the other – the issue was not
considered except retrospectively.
Without the support of DI Jackson, gaining access to research within the police service
would most likely have been far more problematic and time-consuming, as he
facilitated the sort of ‘informal social access’ which is crucial to carrying out research
in criminal justice institutions such as the police force (Hughes 2000, p.341).
Part I: The practicalities of ‘getting in’ to the Police
Gaining access and conducting research within criminal justice institutions is a highly
political process (Hughes 2000), and the nature of the research, the previous
experiences of the researcher, and party politics at the time access is being negotiated,
may all affect the researcher’s chances of ‘getting in’ (Smith & Wincup 2000). These
processes become more complicated when the research potentially involves access
A pseudonym.
to more than one criminal justice institutions/organisations, in more than one locality –
this, unfortunately, was the nature of the current study!
Taking up the story of my own access ‘journey’ from above, I was asked by DI Jackson
to write a letter to the Chief Constable of Countyshire (a pseudonym), in order to gain
the appropriate level of official support for the study. The Chief Constable represented
the first (but by no means the last) ‘gatekeeper’ encountered on this journey; that is,
an individual who, while not necessarily in charge of the [overall] institution or
organisation of interest, still has ‘the power to grant or withhold access to people or
situations for the purposes of research’ (Hughes 2000, p.239). The contents of the
letter to the Chief Constable – the bones of which were suggested by DI Jackson documented the research, its aims, and how – when completed – it might support
officers in Countyshire (in providing more detail on female PAOP offenders). In the
letter, I requested permission to conduct interviews with practitioners working within
Prolific and other Priority Offender scheme, and also with women being managed
under these schemes. DI Jackson had also spoken personally with the Chief Constable
on my behalf in favour of my research and its potential gains for their force.
The Chief Constable replied to my letter in March 2010, formally granting access for
me to conduct research across the PPO schemes of Countyshire with both female
offenders and PPO practitioners (a copy of this letter granting access can be found in
the Appendices) (APPENDIX II). It was through this that I was able to begin sampling
and recruiting CJPPs for interview, for example from the police, probation, and
substance use services. It soon became apparent however that having theoretically
gained access to interview female PAOP offenders meant very little when actually
finding these women in the community was nigh-on impossible. Initially, this was a
numbers issue, i.e. there were so few of them – for example, DI Jackson’s PPO
scheme had 3 female PPOs (compared to 37 males) when I applied for access; by the
time access was granted, there were none, having been de-selected, or returned to
prison. Another PPO team I contacted in Countyshire had 41 PPOs; none were female.
In the second instance, those few female PPOs who were ever ‘on the books’ were
highly transient, and it was usually only a matter of days or weeks before these women
disappeared; mostly, I was told, back to prison. A further issue arose when, having
been alerted to the identification of a female PPO within the local area, the officers with
whom I was liaising simply could not find her, and trying to do so was a time
commitment on their part which they could not afford to make, in the face of growing
work pressures and the loss of team members owing to public sector cuts.
I contacted several others PPO schemes Countyshire, many of which had no female
PPOs; others had perhaps one or two, or three at most, but never more than that.
Perhaps this should have been less of a surprise given that if averaged out across the
173 Local Strategic Partnerships across England and Wales (each of which have a
PPO scheme), every PPO scheme would have only one and a half female PPOs each8.
While such an even spread is unlikely (as indicated by my experience above), these
figures do serve to indicate the mathematical disadvantage in this instance.
Seeing my lack of success in locating PAOP offenders to interview, one of the CJPP
interviewees – a PPO Police Coordinator – suggested to me that I might have better
luck targeting my recruitment efforts inside the prison estate, giving me a few names
of women’s prisons to which the female PPOs in Countyshire were most frequently
sent, on the basis that they were likely to be a more static population than PAOP
offenders in the community.
Part II: The practicalities of ‘getting in’ to prison
Having gained access to conduct my research in the community, with both CJPPs and
PAOP offenders, it was then necessary – if the project was not to fail – to embark on
the process of ‘getting in’ to prison. The necessity of interviewing individuals located
within a ‘total institution’ – places ‘symbolized by the barrier to social intercourse with
the outside’ they generate through, for example, ‘locked doors, high walls, barbed wire’
and so on (Goffman 1961/1991, p.15) - generated a whole new host of unique
‘methodological landmines’ (Schlosser 2008) in terms of ‘getting in’. This is often an
issue for the inexperienced doctoral researcher (cf. Smith & Wincup 2000) – indeed,
Patenaude (2004, p.69) suggested it would be ‘far easier to gain access to study the
residents of a remote Alaskan community than to study the lives of prison inmates
and/or those persons whose task it is to keep them within the prison walls’. It was at
this point that I found myself facing a new ‘gatekeeper’ – the National Offender
Management Service [hereafter NOMS]. This necessitated an entirely different access
process to that of gaining county-wide access from the Chief Constable of Countyshire;
here, it was clear that a simple letter would not suffice.
According to Martin (2000), one often needs experience of prisons to ‘get in’ to prison,
and I was fortunate that I not only had the backing of ‘the police’ (through DI Jackson
and the Chief Constable of Countyshire supporting the research), but – as mentioned
in Chapter One – I had spent over a year as a key-carrying member of the Independent
Monitoring Board at HM Prison Kingston, a then-Category B male training prison,
This was worked out using figures from the most recent Ministry of Justice (2011) PPO data available,
by taking the 2009 national PPO cohort figure of 9,651 individuals and - working on the basis that
women represent only 3 per cent of this figure (because men were identified as making up 97 per cent
of it), which works out at 290 women - I worked out the average number of female PPOs per LSP by
calculating the mean of 290 women, divided across the 173 LSPs.
several years prior to the commencement of my doctorate. While NOMS do not provide
feedback on the reasons they decide to grant access, I consider it highly likely that my
prior experience of working effectively within the ‘total institution’ of the prison
contributed to their favourable opinion of my research. My year on the IMB would have
communicated both that I could conduct myself appropriately within a prison
environment, and that I understood the daily regimes and rules of prison life and could
work within these.
The process began with an electronic application to NOMS via the Integrated Research
Application System, an online, single system for applying for the permissions and
approval of various health and social/community care bodies for research in the UK.
This was a lengthy application, although – while I am not sure I appreciated this at the
time – the depth and range of questions IRAS posed in relation to the research forced
me to think forward and focus on the development of the practicalities of the study
more than I had been doing up until that point. An important part of this task was
ensuring that the proposed research could ‘fit’ with NOMS’ strategic objectives and
business priorities. It was somewhat difficult to prove this, especially as the IRAS form
did not – at that time – seem to ‘fit’ with the ethos of small-scale, qualitative biographical
studies such as this. I was therefore keen to focus on the potential of the research to
add to NOMS practitioners’ understanding of the individuals with whom they work – an
attractive benefit, particularly in an era of budget cuts and time constraints which limits
the extent to which practitioners themselves can achieve this. I was also sure to detail
the ways in which my IMB experience had engendered an appreciation of the need to
research independently within the carceral environ, and documented in the IRAS
application my plans to conduct myself and my study with only minimal requirements
on institutional resources (especially staff time).
Following this (fairly arduous) procedure, access was initially granted in August 2010
by NOMS to conduct research with female PAOP offenders in four sites on the
women’s prison estate in England: HM Prison A (open conditions, sentenced women);
HM Prison B (closed conditions, sentenced & remanded women); HM Prison C (closed
conditions, sentenced women); and HM Prison D (closed conditions, sentenced
As Hughes (2000) and Smith and Wincup (2000) observe, there is usually more than
one ‘gatekeeper’ within criminal justice institutions who must be satisfied if research is
to progress. This was certainly the case in the current project where, having
successfully negotiated access to research in the police forces and PPO schemes of
Countyshire at a county-wide level, as well as satisfying NOMS to the point that access
was granted at the national level, further negotiations still were required within each
individual prison. This was because – notwithstanding the NOMS approval - research
access remained at the discretion of the Governor of each of the four establishments.
Access was negotiated successfully (via email and telephone) with three out of the four
Governors (further details below); the Governor of HM Prison B, however, refused
access on the grounds that they would not allow a Dictaphone in the establishment.
Given the heavy reliance of the life story mode of data generation on verbatim data to
the study – subscribing to Patton’s maxim that when conducting this type of research,
‘it all comes to naught if you fail to capture the actual words of the person being
interviewed’ (Patton 2002, p.380) – I therefore decided to abandon plans to conduct
interviews at HM Prison B. I successfully negotiated access for myself and the
Dictaphone to conduct research at HM Prisons A, C and D.
This left me with a pool of three research sites; however, having visited two of the three
remaining establishments (HM Prisons A and C) only to find that there were no female
PPOs in residence, I contacted NOMS to explain the situation, and sought permission
to interview at one further establishment – this was granted, and HM Prison E (closed
conditions, sentenced & remanded women) became the fifth prison in the study.
4.3.3 Recruiting individuals to the study
Recruitment: CJPP interviewees
Nb. All of the names which appear in this following section are pseudonyms.
The approach to recruiting CJPPs varied, depending on whether they were i) already
known to me; ii) known by someone known to me, who was acting as an introducer; or
iii) completely unknown to me. Those individuals interviewed who were working in a
community setting were mostly identified and recruited via the ‘snowball’ method
(within a broader ‘purposive’ framework), in which many of the interviewees within the
sample were recommended by previous participants as potentially useful to the study
(Patton 2002). For example, following the Chief Constable’s approval for research to
be undertaken within the county, DI Jackson facilitated meetings with officers working
on the Prolific and other Priority Offender initiative in his jurisdiction, and encouraged
me to attend a regional PPO meeting. This meeting was attended by front-line
practitioners and key managerial/strategic stakeholders, and it was at this meeting that
I met the first of my interview participants; Giulia, a senior civil servant within the
Ministry of Justice who worked in a strategic context to reduce women’s re-offending.
During the course of our interview, Giulia asked whether I had visited any of the
Corston-funded ‘Women’s Centres’ (i.e. those funded by monies generated in the wake
of the Corston Report 2007, the importance of which was detailed in the previous
chapter). I had yet to do so, and so Giulia suggested that it would be useful for me to
do so, giving me the names of several Centres. She also suggested that it might be
useful for me to speak to Zetta, a Senior Probation Officer who Giulia knew through
strategic-level meetings in relation to criminal justice provision for women. As a result,
Zetta became my third interviewee.
While ‘snowballing’ potentially risks introducing a level of bias into the sampling
procedure, this possibility had to be balanced against the fact that I was working in
fairly closed organisations, where contact details and job roles were not commonly
available as public information; it was therefore necessary for me to rely on the CJPPs
I already knew to act as facilitators, and introduce me to new and relevant individuals.
Therefore, Zetta (my third interviewee) introduced me to Zoe, who was the manager of
a Corston-funded Women’s Centre – one explicitly identified to me by my first
interviewee, Giulia, as a particularly outstanding example of this type of intervention who subsequently became my fourth interviewee.
A small number of my interviewees were already known to me through my position as
a domestic abuse/sexual violence advocacy and support worker, as they were
members of partner agencies with whom I worked on a weekly or even daily basis, and
so proved to be slightly easier to recruit to the project than those described above, and
below. While this may appear to represent an example of ‘convenience sampling’ –
arguably the ‘least desirable’ method for obtaining research participants, given the
potential biases it may introduce into the study (Patton 2002, p.242) – the primary
justification for recruiting those particular individuals remained underpinned by a
purposive focus, since all individuals concerned worked closely with female PPOs.
There were, however, no such opportunities for recruiting participants working in
prisons via such methods since such individuals were neither known to me, nor to any
of my community-based CJPP contacts on the outside. The prison-based interviewees
were therefore recruited in a slightly different, and more formal, manner. Having been
granted access, I contacted the Governor of each establishment (who had received a
copy of my access approval letter from NOMS), explaining my research and requesting
permission to interview female PAOP offenders in their prison. I was then referred to
the individual responsible for research in each prison/regional area who could facilitate
my research requests (an example copy of letter received from one of the participating
prisons is included in the Appendices) In three of the four prisons visited, CJPP
interviewees were recruited; in all three of these prisons, I interviewed the PPO Single
Point of Contact/Co-ordinator.
All CJPPs were interviewed between June and November 2010.
As Table 4.1 (overleaf) indicates, the majority of interviewees occupied positions
within closed institutions in the criminal justice system of England and Wales, primarily
within the National Offender Management Service, meaning that 11 of the 15
interviewees were prison or probation officers. The remaining respondents were drawn
from a range of other organisations; the police [R2], the Home Office/Ministry of Justice
[R1], a statutory Drug Intervention Programme [R5], and a third-sector Corston-funded
women’s centre. All had regular contact, and/or awareness of issues related to, women
who fell within my definition of ‘persistent’ re-offenders or had been identified as PPOs.
The CJPP sample characteristics are discussed further in Chapter Five.
Table 4.1: Demographic characteristics of CJPP interview sample
Years of
Job Role
Home Office /
Ministry of Justice
NOMS [Probation]
Women’s Centre
PPO Coordinator
[rank: PC]
Senior Offender
Manager, and
case worker
Drug Intervention
Manager, and
Case Worker
NOMS [Probation]
PPO Practitioner
NOMS [Prison A]
Deputy Governor
20 +
NOMS [Prison A]
NOMS [Prison A]
NOMS [Prison A]
PPO Single Point
of Contact
Probation Lead
NOMS [Prison D]
NOMS [Prison D]
NOMS [Prison C]
NOMS [Prison C]
PPO Single Point
of Contact
Deputy Governor
PPO Single Point
of Contact
Public Protection
NOMS [Probation,
Prison C]
Recruitment: Female PAOP offenders
For reasons noted above, interviewees could only be recruited from two sites: HM
Prisons D and E. In all instances, women meeting the sample criteria were identified
by my point of contact (PoC), who was then responsible for facilitating the research
from the prison end. I provided each PoC with the eligibility criteria which resulted in
19 women being identified as appropriate across the two prisons. I also provided the
PoC with a Recruitment Flyer; an A4 leaflet, explaining the study, which tried to strike
a balance between being informative (without being too ‘wordy’, in light of the literacy
issues that abound within imprisoned populations) but not being overly complex or
academic. Each PoC then delivered – or arranged to have delivered - a copy of this
leaflet (which can be found in the Appendices (APPENDIX IV) to each of the 19 women
identified across the two prisons. Of these, 16 women replied saying that they would
like to be interviewed. I was asked to provide my PoC in each case with the times and
dates I would be in the prison, and they then organised the interviews for those days
and times.
From the potential pool of 16 women who initially agreed, 3 women (all from HMP E)
dropped out prior to me attending the prison on Day One of this part of the fieldwork.
One other woman who initially agreed to be interviewed dropped out on the day she
was scheduled to be interviewed (Day Three), since our time-slot clashed with a
doctors’ appointment, for which she had been waiting two months. I asked if she
wanted to rearrange the interview, but when she realised I was not from the Psychology
department and this was not an offending-based course, she declined, telling me:
“I’ll be honest yeah, I’ve got a hundred and twenty seven convictions,
right? This is my thirtieth time in here, and I’ve done all the
programmes, and no offence but I ain’t doing anything that’s not gonna
help keep me out of this place” [Field-notes, May 13th 2010, HMP E]
The final number of interviewees in the female PAOP offender sample, then, was
twelve. Table 4.2 (overleaf) below gives the basic demographic characteristics of each
woman interviewed. I asked the women to choose their own pseudonyms by which
they would be known throughout the study – these are the names given above, with
two exceptions; Alex and Badger, whose original chosen names were the names by
which they were known in prison which, on later reflection, I realised represented an
obvious compromise of their anonymity, and so these were changed during the writing
up process. While most of the women stated that they did not care if people knew their
real names, researchers have a duty to act to protect participants’ future interests;
therefore, while X might not care about being publically identified as a persistent or
prolific offender, and their associated offences recorded, in the present time, this could
damage their future interests (e.g. personal safety, job prospects), as well as having
potential implications for any victims of their offences.
Table 4.2: Demographic characteristics of female PAOP offenders sample
History of
Of the 12 women eventually interviewed, 6 had been officially identified as PPOs (thus
fitting the criterion for ‘prolific’ offenders), whilst the remaining 6 fit the criteria for
‘persistent’ offenders, on the basis of the number of convictions accrued across the life
course. The women ranged in age from 23 to 62 (average 34.3 years; median 31
years), although the prolific offenders/PPOs (range 23-40 years, average 30.5 years)
were, on average, seven and a half years younger than their persistent offender
counterparts (range 24-62 years; average 38 years). I had initially thought that Lennox,
who at 62 years was by far the oldest woman in the sample, was an exceptional case;
however, DeLisi’s (2002) sample of female ‘career criminals’ in the United States
similarly ranged in age from 20 years to 64 years.
In terms of ethnicity, the majority were White British (a mixture of English, Scottish, and
Welsh nationalities), with Alex (who identified as Black British) and Mary (who identified
as White Irish) being the only exceptions. This was a key departure from US-based
studies of female persistent offenders, where Latino/Latina, Hispanic, and AfricanAmerican women far outweigh White Americans (e.g. Brennan et al 2012; DeLisi
2002). However, with such a small sample, no conclusions relating to race and
persistent offending can be inferred from this data.
As DeLisi (2002) found in his study of ‘extreme career criminals’, the number of
convictions accrued by the women in the current study ‘dwarfed’ that of traditional
estimates of ‘persistent offending’, with an average of 30.6 convictions across the life
course in the current sample, and where the upper end of the range was a staggering
95 convictions (range lower end = 9). Broken down into PPO/non-PPO categories, the
PPOs had received on average less convictions (27.8) that their non-PPO counterparts
(33.5), a finding which mirrors Dawson’s (2005) initial study of the national PPO cohort,
who also had less average convictions (47 per offender) as compared to their nonPPO counterparts - drawn from a matched sample from the Offender Index (average
72 convictions per offender) – across the span of their offending careers. While
Dawson did not speculate on the reasons for this finding (when one would expect the
reverse to be true), these figures fit Hopkins and Wickson’s (2013) model of ‘prolific’
offending (infrequent ‘short burst’ of offending) as compared to ‘persistent’ offending
(a steady continuation of offending over time).
The fact that in both the current study and Dawson’s national cohort evaluation, PPOs
were on average several years younger than their non-PPO counterparts may also
play a part in the comparatively fewer convictions accrued by prolific offenders, having
had less time to accrue similar numbers of convictions over their thus-far shorter
offending career. This seems to have been the case in the current study where, on
average, the PPOs had experienced a far shorter ‘career’ to date (average = 12.5
years) than their non-PPO counterparts (20.4 years) (measured as the difference
between average age at first conviction, 18.5 years, and average age of sample, 34.3
years; raw data presented in Table 5.1 in Chapter Five and 4.2 in Chapter Four).
Fieldwork took place between May and November 2011.
4.3.4 Research tools
Given the different types of data that were required in order to answer the research
questions (i.e. both quantitative and qualitative), different tools were required to access
this information; however, the two separate study populations, along with the further
subdivision within these two groups (i.e. front-line and non-front line CJPP
interviewees, and ‘prolific’ offenders/PPOs and ‘persistent’ offenders) and the different
type of data I wanted from each group, meant that four separate interview schedules
had to be designed, as well as sourcing data from the Offender Assessment System
This section outlines each ‘tool’, and critically analyses its propriety, and contribution
to answering the research questions.
Interview schedule for CJPPs [Appendices IX and X]
These interview schedules were directed towards answering the third research
question, exploring issues such as the ways in which criminal justice professionals and
practitioners ‘make sense’ of PAOP female offenders, and their experiences of working
with such individuals (or, if non-frontline, what knowledge they have of such individuals,
and their management within the CJS). Other issues of concern were the factors
CJPPs believed to be ontologically relevant to women’s repeat offending, or PPO
status, and the pathways into – and potentially out of – offending careers.
Given that I was aiming to interview both front-line CJPPs (i.e. those with direct, microlevel experience of working with PAOP women) and non-frontline CJPPs (i.e. those
with indirect, macro-level experience of the strategic/managerial issues related to
working with PAOP women in a criminal justice context), two separate interview
schedules were designed (see APPENDIX X for a copy of the ‘front-line’ schedule, and
APPENDIX XI for a copy of the ‘non-front-line’ schedule). This was because it would
make little sense, for example, to ask a Ministry of Justice employee, working at
strategic level, to tell me about their personal experience of day-to-day working with
PAOP offenders and PPOs, and while it was possible that frontline PPO Coordinator
and officers might have an in-depth awareness of managerial and strategic issues, this
was not necessarily the most useful information they could offer (although the interview
schedule did also allow for such data to be generated). To an extent, this decision was
also informed by the fears of an inexperienced researcher who, rather than having all
of the questions on one document and risk asking irrelevant questions to the
participants (causing embarrassment and wasting time), felt it was more sensible to
create separate schedules.
As noted above, both CJPP interview schedules corresponded broadly with the tenets
of the ‘standardized, open-ended’ approach interviewing. Some of the questions were
designed simply to seek straightforward detail regarding the interviewee (e.g.
occupation, years of service) and the population under investigation (e.g. “How would
you describe a ‘typical’ female PPO, if such a thing exists?”, “What sort of offences are
these women committing?”). It also featured a number of ‘narrativised’ questions,
constructed in accordance with the advice of Hollway and Jefferson (2000) in an
attempt to elicit practitioners’ own (autobiographical) stories of working with persistent
and/or prolific female offenders - for example, the first question asked of all
practitioners is to “start by briefly setting some context to your current work by telling
me the story of about your career trajectory so far, and how you got into working with
offenders” - as well as (biographical) stories about the lives of the women themselves,
often asking for specific examples in order to engage with what they know of women’s
lived experience of the substantive issues (for example, “In your experience, what have
been the main causal factors driving the persistent/prolific nature of offending
behaviour in the lives of the female PPOs you have worked with?”, followed by “Can
you give me a particular example of this in terms of a specific individual, please?”).
Each schedule included set questions under a particular heading, often with a number
of ‘probes’ for eliciting further detail in line with areas of importance identified through
the review of the literature, for example “It would be really useful to me if you could
explain what you understand of the PPO scheme, the ideas behind it and how – in your
experience - it works in practice, please?” [Probe: Identification/Selection, Catch &
Convict, Rehabilitate & Resettle and Prevent & Deter; De-Selection].
Because the experience of the criminal justice system is assumed to be ‘gendered’ i.e. that gender dictates or in some way changes the experience of this phenomenon
depending on whether the individual in question is male or female (see, for example,
Corston 2007 on how women experience prison differently to men, or Giordano et al
2002 on how men and women differently experience desistance from offending),
questions were designed with the intention of testing the extent to which the experience
of being a PAOP offender or a PPO might differ according to gender, e.g. “Do you find
differences between working with female and male PPOs? [Probe: If ‘yes’ but no detail,
ask for specific examples]”.
Interview schedule for female PAOP offenders
Just as different interview schedules were required for the CJP interviewees, so
separate schedules were necessary both for the prolific offenders/PPOs (APPENDIX
VIII) and the persistent offenders (APPENDIX IX). Again, this was primarily a matter of
relevance – i.e. there would be no sense in asking a woman about her experience of
being a PPO if she had never been identified as such.
Based upon the review of the substantive literature, a number of key areas were
identified for inclusion in the interviews, for example: pathways into offending; role of
substance misuse in offending career trajectory; turning points/’disorienting events’;
ontology of ‘persistence’/‘prolific’ offending; episodes of desistance; experience of
criminal justice interventions in relation to the trajectory of offending career;
relationships with criminal justice agencies and institutions (e.g. police, probation,
prison); experience of/barriers to ‘re-entry’. Questions focused on exploring
experiences, and eliciting autobiographical information relating to such issues; for
example, trying to ascertain the relevance of substance misuse to the onset,
persistence, or prolific nature of the women’s offending (“Would you say that alcohol
or drugs played a part [in the onset of your offending] in any way?”). They also sought
to engage with each woman’s own perspectives and understanding of why their
offending ‘persisted’, again using probes generated by relevant topics identified in
Chapters Two and Three (e.g. “What do you see as the main issue or problem driving
your re-offending in the past? [Probe with issues from literature: relationships; financial
situation; substance use; environment; historical or recent experiences of
physical/sexual abuse; mental health]”). Again, many questions were ‘narrativised’
(constructed in manner conducive to eliciting stories) (Hollway & Jefferson 2000), for
example, asking “Can you tell me about a time when you had been released from
prison or the police station and thought ‘Life will be different’?” to elicit stories of past
attempts at desistance.
Getting the positioning of questions right is always important in constructing an
interview schedule, and questions or topics of a sensitive nature should of course be
located towards the end of an interview (Harvey 2008). For instance, it would make
chronological sense to have located questions relating to ’Childhood’ at the start of the
interview schedule; however, owing to the prevalence of sexual/physical abuse in the
childhoods of women in prison, this could have been problematic. I therefore
consciously decided not to probe for this information at this point, and did not ask
explicitly about sexual abuse at any point during the interview - I would be spending
only a short amount of time with the women, and was aware that that they may have
mental health conditions which might be exacerbated by uninvited intrusion into such
sensitive areas. Informed by the University of Surrey and British Society of Criminology
ethical guidelines regarding to the commitment to not ‘do harm’ to participants, I
therefore took the position that any data collected would not have been worth the
potential damage done. If the women wished to disclose this information, the
opportunity would be made available, but I would not directly ask about it (as it was, a
number of the women disclosed such experiences).
The interview schedule also included questions at the end which asked participants
whether there was anything they wanted to discuss or say that had not already been
covered. This was not simply a trick for eliciting more information, but a mechanism
whereby participants may feel they have some input into the interview schedule
(Condry 2007; Harvey 2008).
Offender Assessment System [OASys] records: Demographic and offence
While the interviews were very much about data generation, this part of the data
collection process was very much one of straightforward ‘excavation’; that is, ‘digging
up’ data which already exists (Mason 2002), in this case from the OASys database.
The Offender Assessment System (OASys) is a standardised risk/need assessment
tool used uniformly across the Prisons and Probation estate in England and Wales.
Prior to the development of OASys, the Level of Service Inventory – Revised (LSI-R),
developed by Andrews and Bonta (1995) and adopted by the Canadian Correctional
Services (as described in Chapter Two), and the Assessment, Case Management and
Evaluation (ACE) tool, developed by Roberts et al (1996) (cit. in Debidin & Fairweather
2009) in were the two primary risk/need tools in use. OASys fulfils a number of
functions, including: assessing how likely an offender is to reoffend; identifying and
classifying offending-related (i.e. criminogenic) needs; assisting with management of
risk of serious harm; and measuring change during the offender’s sentence (ibid).
OASys also acts as a repository of other offending-related information, including – and
this is of particular relevance to the current thesis - the number of arrests, convictions,
offence types, length of sentence, and current offence related to an individual, as well
as other demographic data. It is likely that my research contact in each prison used
OASys or P-NOMIS to identify women with PPO status, and women with the number
of convictions required by the sampling strategy. I also used data from OASys in order
to compile a profile of the women and their offence history, and to supplement and add
another dimension to the more qualitative data acquired in the life history interviews.
For those women who were unsure of the number of convictions they had accrued,
OASys was consulted – a number of the women also brought their OASys presentence report or sentence plan with them to the interview, so that the information
could be collected this way. This was particularly useful because most of the women
had accrued so many convictions that they had lost count, and many laughed derisorily
when I asked them for this information.
As is evident across the entire compendium of OASys research (Debidin 2009), the
problem of missing data fields is a major one, with practitioners often failing to complete
the requisite information, and also raises the question of whether the fields that have
been completed have been completed accurately. This latter issue represents a
potential limitation of the use of OASys data, as whilst none of the fields of interest
were incomplete, it is possible that they were inaccurate, thus rendering the number of
convictions/offence type data gathered potentially false. It may also be an issue that in
some cases, I used the figures from OASys, and in others I used the women’s verbal
recollection, meaning there was no consistent source on this information. There is little
that can be done about this except to note it as a caution in regarding the statistical
data collated in the current study.
4.4 Conducting the Interviews
Interviewing is rather like a marriage: everybody knows what it is, an
awful lot of people do it, and yet behind each closed door there is a
world of secrets.
(Oakley 1981, p.41)
In an attempt to expose the reader to the world behind the ‘closed door’ described
above by Oakley within the current study, this section reflexively outlines issues
relating to the practical aspects of the interviewing processes.
One important consideration when interviewing individuals is that of choosing a
location. Often, for instance, this can be as simple as deciding whether to hold an
interview at a participant’s place of work, a public setting, at the participant’s home,
or at the interviewer’s office. Each of these examples will have different pros and cons
which inevitably affect the ostensible ‘simplicity’ of such decisions – for instance,
interviewing an individual in their workplace may compromise anonymity in relation to
taking part in a study, while attending an interviewee’s home may have safety
implications for both parties (the latter was a primary consideration when meeting
women experiencing domestic violence during my previous employment). The
locations of the non-prison-based CJPP interviews ranged from quiet corners of
coffee shops to a parked car, and from local authority offices to the craft room of a
women’s centre. Each had pros and cons – coffee shops are not, for instance, ideal
in terms of ensuring confidentiality and anonymity, yet offered a relaxed and neutral
environment, while interviewing in my car offered complete assurances as regards
confidentiality/anonymity, yet provided an environment that was perhaps too informal.
On reflection, it is possible to identify the impact of certain locational factors on the
interview data generated – for example, one interview undertaken in the interviewee’s
workplace was rushed to ensure completion, as an unexpected drop-in from a client
took priority over the interview, meaning that the final questions were not addressed
as thoroughly as those at the beginning of the interview. Moreover, I was not always
able to conduct interviews in a private location conducive to maintaining confidentiality
and anonymity (e.g. taking place in a shared office). The primary consideration in
identifying a suitable venue for interviews, however, was finding a location which was
convenient to the work schedule of the interviewee - potential problems with interview
sites were often overridden by such concerns, in order to maintain the CJPPs
engagement in the study.
Those interviews based in prisons were necessarily constrained in terms of location all CJPPs were being interviewed about their work, so it made sense to do this during
working hours and in their working location. Interviews with the women PAOP
offenders had to be conducted in whatever location was available, ranging from
common rooms and dining rooms on the wing, to the purpose-built interview suites of
the Offender Management Unit [OMU]. This was rarely ideal, as visiting the OMU
clearly had negative implications for some of the women, undermining the potential
for them to relax and be comfortable in our interview locale, although conducting
interviews on the wing allowed potential for distractions to occur (e.g. a fight breaking
our outside the interview room). Furthermore, the use of common/dining rooms meant
that – during more than one interview – various interruptions occurred, ranging from
women posting mail and returning books (one common room doubled as ‘Post Room’
and ‘Library’) to wing cleaners going about their daily routine.
Behind the ‘closed door’ – to use Oakley’s (1981) words - of the interview process for
the current study also lays the ways in which the experience of undertaking interviews
is dictated by time. This was particularly the case in the prison-based interviews,
whereby any temporal considerations I might have had with regards to the prisonbased interviews were completely overridden by the regime of the prison and nature
of access obtained from the Ministry of Justice, which restricted the total number of
days I would be allowed in prison. Interviews were only able to be scheduled during
core hours of the prison day – approximately 08:30-11:45, and 13:45-16:30 (although
each prison is slightly different), underscoring the extent to which the issue of time
dominated the data generated. This all affected the length of the interviews. Some of
the CJPP interviews, for example, were shorter than hoped, owing to a lack of time
available in the daily schedules of those who were based in prison. Interviews with
the women PAOP offenders had to be conducted within the core hours of the prison
day (as documented above) – this, in addition to the temporal restrictions on access
placed by the MoJ, meant that each woman was often only accorded only one session
for interview, meaning that the interview length could never be longer than the
morning or afternoon hours of the prison day. If – for whatever reason – the interview
was not successful at the first attempt, I was unable to revisit the interviewee for
follow-up discussions. This could often be affected by unpredictable factors, for
instance when one interviewee did not want to dedicate as much time to the interview
as she had initially agreed to because she worked outside, and it was an
unseasonably warm and sunny day. This was the shortest of the interviews, at 22
minutes, while the longest was almost 2 hours. The shortest interview (unsurprisingly)
generated less data than the other interviews (this was an unusual and exceptionally
short interview), and was problematic in terms of how much could be said about the
life history and experiences of that particular individual.
A consideration of the emotional and ethical implications of the interviews conducted
for this study, as well as reflections on the context of conducting interviews within
prison, is provided in section 4.7.4.
4.5 Analysing the Data
It is the process of analysis which ‘transforms data into findings’ (Patton 2002, p.432).
This section examines the ways in which the interview and OASys data generated as
detailed above was converted from numbers and words into tangible responses to the
current study’s research questions.
The analytical process is not simply one of finding concepts or labels to ‘neatly tie
together the data’, but rather is focused on ‘understanding the people studied’ (Patton
2002, p.457), and – in this case - the experience of PAOP offending within the lives of
women. As noted above, because studies which ‘look in more than one direction to
account for social phenomena’ are more likely to do a ‘more adequate job’ in this
endeavour than those which do not (Bottoms 1999, cit. in Liebling 2001, p.481), data
was generated in relation to the experiences both of female PAOP offenders and
CJPPs with some knowledge and/or direct experience of the former group. This was
also part of the attempt to facilitate an appreciation of the ways in which ‘social
identities’ and personal ‘self-narratives’ are constructed collaboratively (cf. HarlingStalker 2009; Riessman 2008; Barresi 2006). However, just as the research questions
directed at each of these groups differed, necessitating disparate methods of data
generation (e.g. unique interview schedules), so this called for methods of data
analysis which could account for this situation.
4.5.1 Interview data: Practical considerations
The raw interview data (an audio file on a digital Dictaphone) for both the female PAOP
offenders and the CJPPs required transforming into text before meaningful analysis
could be undertaken on it. Both were transcribed according to the same process.
Transcription of interviews is a process infused with the politics of interpretation, and
is one which often receives little attention (Poland 2003). In transcribing the audio files,
I included all words included in the conversation, as well as emotional expressions,
indicated by ‘oral components’ such as intonation of voice, sighing, laughter, and
pauses (ibid, p.273), which I found added an important dimension to the transcript,
helping it come alive when re-reading, and helping to elucidate meaning during certain
parts of the conversation (e.g. where sarcasm was employed, or where laughter was
used to add depth to certain comments). Any non-verbal factors recalled which might
have acted to ‘affect the tone of the interview’ (e.g. body language, facial expression,
tearfulness) (Poland 2003, p.273) were also noted on the transcript, either when I
recalled them in listening to the audio file, or where I had recorded these on my fieldnotes. All of these extra details – whilst time-consuming to consider and include – were
my attempt to break down some of the ‘ontological and epistemological baggage’ often
concealed during the transcription of interview data (ibid, p.268).
‘The challenge of qualitative analysis’, Patton suggests, ‘lies in making sense of
massive amounts of data’, requiring the analyst to reduce the volume of raw
information, ‘sifting trivia from significance, identifying significant patterns, and
constructing a framework for communicating the essence of what the data reveal’
(Patton 2002, p.432). It is commonplace to now use computer-assisted software for
such processes; however, I decided against its use, not for any reason other than my
preference for working with pen, paper, scissors, and a space on the floor, rather than
with a computer.
A further challenge lies in the need to know ‘what it is that constitutes data in the context
of [the] research’ (Mason 2002, p.148) – given that this was slightly different in relation
to the data from the PAOP offenders, and that from the CJPPs, each will now be
discussed separately.
Analysis of interview data [I]: Female PAOP Offenders
Given the thematic and narrative-focused nature of the PAOP offender interview
schedule and event itself, it made sense to adopt a similarly thematic and narrative
lens for ‘reading’, cataloguing, and interpreting the data. It is inevitable that in making
this decision, the analysis process opened itself to some possibilities while closing
down others (cf. Mason 2002). There is little I could do about this save being aware of
the fact, and to constantly bear in mind that ‘every narrative or representation is [only]
a version rather than an objective and neutral description’ (ibid, p.168). This infused
the analysis process with a sense of reflexive perspective.
Drawing on both standard thematic and narrative modes of analysis enabled the
construction of an analytical framework which deductively sought examples of ideas
and concepts identified through the literature. In addition, the use of storied data
generated narratives of persistent offending within the lives of women, which facilitated
a more inductive and holistic exploration of the data. I hoped that this would provide
the sort of ‘thick description’ (Geertz 1973, cit. in Patton 2002, p.438) of the lived
experience of being a persistent and/or prolific female offender; ‘to open up world to
the reader through rich, detailed, and concrete descriptions of people and places’ (ibid).
The starting place for this was to read through both sets of transcripts to begin the
coding process, identifying both ‘themes’ (i.e. patterns found in the transcripts which
‘at the minimum describes and organizes possible observations or at the maximum
interprets aspects of the phenomenon’ (Patton 2002, p.vii), and ‘whole narratives (i.e.
entire segments of text relaying a story of some significance to the substantive issue)
(Riessman 2008). Thusly analysed, the ‘codes’- short descriptive indicators of a phrase
of segment of interest/relevance – act as ‘shorthand devices to label, separate, compile
and organize data’ (Charmaz 1983, p.186). While the coding was initially led by themes
identified through the literature and noted by the researcher during interviews – for the
analysis process is in play even during the data generation stage - at a certain
(indefinable) point, the analysis came to be led by the data.
Analysing interview data [II]: CJPPs
Data from the CJPP interviews was similarly analysed both thematically and
narratively; specifically, these stories were analysed in accordance with Schütze’s
indexical/non-indexical terminology framework for narrative analysis, where the former
relates to stories linked to ‘concrete reference[s] to who did what, when, where, and
why’, while the latter focuses on those narratives which go beyond events to offer
values, judgements, and any other ‘life wisdom’ on the substantive issue (Schütze
1977, cit. in Jovchelovitch & Bauer 2000, p.69). Analysing the data in this way allowed
an insight into both the ‘concrete’ events related to their work with female PAOP
offenders (e.g. offences committed, experiences of managing and what works/does
not work, factors related to recidivism; i.e. who these women are). It also facilitated an
appreciation of the more value-based narratives which point to the ways in which such
individuals understand and make sense of those women with whom they have worked
in this context, and the ‘life wisdom’ they have accrued about this specific group
through that work.
4.5.2 Quantitative data: Learning from OASys and previous PPO
While the interview data provided information on the depth of experience accrued by
female PAOP offenders in relation to persistence and desistance across the life course,
I wanted to use the OASys data to generate some consistent (n.b. this is not the same
as ‘accurate’) data across the breadth of the sample, as well as using statistics from
previous PPO studies (e.g. Dawson 2005, 2007; Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007), in order
to analyse where the current sample stood in terms of total and average number of
convictions, and the average age of the national PPO cohort, for instance. This
information was transformed into ‘descriptive statistics’ for use comparative to those
generated regarding the current study’s sample.
I used this data in order to compile a profile of the women and their offence history,
and to supplement and add another dimension to the more qualitative data acquired in
the life history interviews.
4.6 Epistemological Issues & Research[er] Biases
The very act of conducting research inevitably infers a range of biases, which in turn
impacts on the nature of research design, data generation, and analysis. Three broad
types of bias exist: i) bias that is ‘bad and avoidable’; ii) bias that is ‘unavoidable,
potentially dangerous, but for which one can compensate’ and; iii) bias that is
‘contingent and good – or at least neutral’ (Blair 2012, p.23).
Such biases are not necessarily problematic (perhaps with the exception of the first),
provided they are observed and recorded by the researcher, and attended to reflexively
throughout the research process (ibid). One example might be the clear gender bias
of the current study, indicated by its gynocentric orientation; i.e. focused on the
experiences of women, and with an (almost) all-female participant sample, being
interviewed by a female researcher (Davies 2000 also identifies these as central
features of ‘feminist’ social research). A reflexive approach to research – defined by
Reay (1996) as ‘a continual consideration of the ways in which the researcher's own
social identity and values affect the data gathered and the picture of the social world
produced’ (Reay 1996, p.60) – requires me to acknowledge and voice such biases,
even where amendments cannot necessarily be made. Reflexive concerns regarding
the construction of data in the current study have been woven throughout this chapter
– for example, in choosing to adopt the language of data ‘generation’ rather than
‘collection’ in relation to the interviews, implicitly acknowledging the stories told during
the interview were not ‘“inside” of the narrators waiting to be expressed’ (Presser 2008,
p.123), but rather they come into being as an act of joint enterprise between interviewer
and interviewee as part of a collaborative sense-making process. One example of this
comes from my Field-notes:
Right towards the end of the interview, Mary disclosed a history of
physical/domestic abuse at the hands of a previous male partner – she
told me how she used heroin to gt through this, to cope with it. I got the
feeling that she doesn’t normally tell people about this, and only told
me after I told her I’d worked for EIP [an early intervention project
supporting women experiencing domestic abuse] – she assumed I
would be sympathetic to her experience because I had worked with
women like her?
[Field-notes, May 14th 2010, HMP E]
While disclosure of relevant social and personal characteristics on the part of the
researcher can help to create a sense of mutual understanding or shared awareness
regarding certain topics then, which in turn can contribute to better ‘quality’ in the
interviewer-interviewee interaction (Oakley 1981) (and perhaps a degree of trust?),
interviewees assuming a ‘shared understanding’ between themselves and the
researcher can also be problematic, particularly where it is to the detriment of the depth
of data generated. This issue presented itself during the CJPP interviews – since I had
previously interviewed some of the sample for my Masters dissertation on a similar
topic, some interviewees assumed a degree of pre-existing/mutually shared
understandings of certain information on my part (e.g. What a PPO is, how the scheme
works, et cetera), which they consequently did not think to tell me. Rather than being
helpful, however, it is possible that this may simply have led to the loss of their own
unique interpretations of the phenomena of interest. As noted above, it is imperative
that a balance be struck between these two issues.
Further bias may arise where during the analysis and presentation of data, where
researchers have the power to assume a ‘hierarchy of credibility’, and privilege the
views of one group over another (see Becker 1953, p.241). Ideally, one would like to
be able to say that all data generated was credited with equal worth. In accordance
with Becker’s (1953) concerns, I was not concerned with judging the ‘validity’ of one
person’s account according to the degree of corroborating or disproving ‘evidence’
from another’s. Of course, it is almost impossible to remain entirely neutral when
conducting research (cf. Liebling 2001), and since my interest lay primarily in the
female offenders’ accounts, there was undoubtedly a tendency to side with the women
in prison whom I interviewed. Through supervisors’ comments, however, it became
clear that – when writing up the findings – this tendency was coming through as having
trouble presenting the accounts of the CJPP sample as I found them and without “being
snide” about some of them; something which I perhaps only overcame at the stage of
the second full draft. On reflection, I now believe this to be a hang-over of previously
working in environments where criminal justice professionals very much became ‘the
enemy’, an awareness of which I did not necessarily possess when interviewing the
CJPP sample. While a cognizant understanding of this phenomenon and its potential
impact on the research eluded me during the data generation phase, I believe that
achieving this towards the latter stages of the project facilitated closer reflexive
attention during the process of data analysis – this helped me to avoid creating a
credibility hierarchy within my work whereby the CJPP accounts were written up as
somehow less valid than those of the women.
In this sense, reflexivity acts as a power-balancing agent. This is crucial, given the
power of the researcher in ‘first, selecting which data to use, and second, [influencing]
how these data are interpreted’ (Reay 1996, p.62). In terms of power and data
selection, it is possible that - like Reay - my self-identification as a women’s advocate
(an identity constructed through previous employment roles) could have been a factor
in obfuscating certain stories that did not lend themselves to a certain agenda. It is
here that my Reflexive Analysis Diary became vital – the entries provided a means for
me to acknowledge the ways in which ‘researcher's own social identity and values
affect the… picture of the social world produced’ (Reay 1996, p.60).
4.7 Ethical Issues
Within social research, there exists a hard-core of ethical concerns which you can
expect to see in the methodological considerations of more or less any study involving
human subjects. These tend to focus on the relationship between the researcher and
the researched, and seek to manage and minimise the potential ‘impact’ of the
research process on those individuals directly involved’ in it (Elliott 2005, p.134) (nb.
this can include the investigators, as well as those being investigated, an issue to which
I shall return). Traditionally, these involve concerns related to obtaining informed
consent, maintaining confidentiality, and avoiding coercion or harm in relation to the
recruitment and treatment of participants (cf. Economic and Social Research Council
4.7.1 ‘Informed’ consent?
In terms of obtaining ‘free and informed consent’ (Economic and Social Research
Council 2010), nothing was held back from the participants in the study. As far as was
reasonable in non-sociological language (which Chase [1996] advocates leaving out
of interactions with participants), all individuals across both samples were aware of the
intended purposes of the research and what I was expecting from them in terms of the
interview. This information was provided both verbally (at the start of the interview) and
in a written format; this involved providing a separate Information Sheet for
interviewees in both samples (APPENDIX VI and APPENDIX VII), in addition to the
initial contact/recruitment poster for the PAOP offenders discussed previously.
It is important that potential participants can comprehend the purposes and nature of
the research, and that this information is conveyed in language that is ‘reasonably
understandable’ (Smythe & Murray 2000) in order that consent be ‘informed’ – this
seemed more relevant with the female PAOP offender sample than the CJPP sample,
owing to the comparatively low rates of literacy demonstrated by women in prison
(Corston 2007). Having the NOMS Regional Psychologist look over my general
Consent Form (APPENDIX V) and the Information Sheet specifically for the prisonbased sample (APPENDIX VI) – in part to ensure that they were comprehensible, as
well as ‘ethical’ (in that they explained what was expected of participants) - formed a
useful check/balance against doing a disservice to any less-literate potential
participants. I also offered to read these documents to the women if they would “rather
not read them” (I used these words, rather than the judgemental “if you can’t read
them”), an offer which was taken up by three of the women.
The Information Sheet also explained that participants could withdraw at any time
during the interview, something which was I reiterated verbally during the preamble, in
the attempt to ensure interviewees did not feel coerced into speaking with me, and that
their consent was valid. Given that some individuals in the PAOP offender sample
dropped out on the day of interview, I could be sure that those who did not drop out
were freely engaging in the study. This was also relevant to the CJJP sample, who
were offered the same option, and while none declined to take part, a couple had to
terminate the interview earlier than hoped, owing to work-based commitments (the
manager of the third-sector women’s project, for example, had to end our interview
when a woman unexpectedly arrived at the centre, requesting support).
In many ways, narrative-focused interviews – i.e. those centred on story-telling – such
as those in the current study are considered to represent a more ‘ethical’
methodological choice than structured interviews, since they ‘more effectively
safeguard the rights of informants to participate as subjects as well as objects in the
construction of sociological knowledge’ (Graham 1984, cit. in Elliott 2005, p.135)
[emphasis added]. Some scholars, however, consider the traditional regulative
principles of research ethics (such as those laid down by the Economic and Social
Research Council [ESRC] and referred to above) to ‘offer insufficient guidance for
research in the narrative study of lives’ (Smythe & Murray 2000, p.311). The idiographic
nature of narrative interviewing generates a number of issues, for instance, on the topic
of informed consent (ibid), which can hardly be guaranteed when the topics and issues
which might arise within the session cannot be predicted (Chase 1996). It is therefore
the responsibility of the researcher to ensure that interviewees are aware of the broad
scope of interview topics, and of their rights to decline to answer, take a break, or
withdraw completely at any point.
4.7.2 Anonymity and Confidentiality
Anonymity and confidentiality are perhaps two of the most important ethical concerns
– the two are separate, although often conflated within the methods literature (Wiles,
Crow, Heath & Charles 2006). According to guidelines from the Economic and Social
Research Council (2010), confidentiality relates to what is done with the information
given to researchers, while anonymity relates to whether or not research participants
can be identified within the research when written up. This is linked, in a manner, to
the need to avoid harm to research participants ‘in all instances’, which represents one
of the ESRC’s (2010, p.3) six key principles of ethical research.
It is the task of the researcher, for instance, to ensure that ‘confidential’ data is used
only for purposes made explicit to the participant (which again returns to the issue of
informed consent), and that anonymity is preserved, ensuring that individual datum
cannot be traced back to its owner. Bearing this in mind – and as already noted above
- the names of all individuals interviewed were replaced with placeholders and
pseudonyms, as well as the establishments/organisations for which they worked (or
for the PAOP offenders, the places they currently resided in). Preserving anonymity
was particularly important for the CJPPs, as to be identified in the research with a
negative comment regarding NOMS or the Ministry of Justice could have far-reaching
political and personal ramifications, for both the organisation/s and individual/s
involved. In this event, individuals may subsequently be wary of being interviewed in
their professional capacity – maintaining anonymity for such individuals is therefore
crucial not only to protect their interests, but to avoid creating a contamination of the
field, or what Israel (2004) called a ’chilling effect’, which could result in the closing
down of research opportunities for future scholars in the organisations affected.
In addition to these standard ethical concerns regarding anonymity and confidentiality,
however, the fact that much of the research in this thesis was conducted with
incarcerated individuals, or those working in criminal justice, meant that further, fieldspecific concerns arose, which are now discussed.
4.7.3 Anonymity and Confidentiality in Prisons Research
As alluded to above, criminological researchers interviewing individuals in relation to
their offending can raise specific issues. Israel (2004), for example, draws attention to
the possibility that interviewees may disclose an intention to harm others, to commit
further crimes, or perhaps tell you about offences previously unknown to the criminal
justice system. As part of the application process to conduct research within the prison
estate, NOMS required my Consent Form (APPENDIX V) and Information Sheet for
the female PAOP offenders to contain the following disclaimer to any promises of
‘confidentiality’ that I might make:
I have a legal duty to report any information that you give me relating
to any undisclosed crimes. I also have a duty to report any information
that may cause a potential breach to security, and to report any
disclosures or reasonable concerns that you may harm yourself or
another prisoner.
Any personal information and experiences which do not fall into these
legal categories will be treated as confidential.
(Information Sheet, APPENDIX VI)
The fact that incarcerated women are considered to present a particularly ‘vulnerable’
population, with a high self-harm rate (some 18 times higher than male prison-based
self-injury) (Rickford 2003), I needed to be mindful of any indications during the
interview that the women might be intending to cause harm to themselves. A number
of the CJPP interviewees identified this as a population-specific problem for
incarcerated women, and several interviewees in the PAOP sample confirmed this by
discussing their own experiences of self-injury and attempts at taking their own life.
Having this awareness, I had prepared a Debrief Sheet (see APPENDIX XII) in
accordance with directions of the NOMS Regional Psychologist overseeing my
application, which reiterated the nature of the study and provided suggestions for
obtaining emotional support following the interview. In one interview, I made use of the
protocol regarding breaking confidentiality following a particularly distressing and
emotional interview, and contacted the individual’s Wing Officer to let them know that
she had been discussing highly emotional issues, and had been feeling tearful and
“angry” that morning. The interviewee in question understood that I had to do this –
“we’re used to it”, she informed me– and when I saw her the following day, she thanked
me, saying that her Wing Officer had come to check on her and that she had been
okay, but appreciated that I had actually followed up on my promise to arrange for
support. I realised then that following through on promises made should also be
considered as falling under the rubric of ethical concerns.
4.7.4 The emotional experience of interviewing in prison
The tendency of life story interviews to involve the discussion of deeply personal and
emotional experiences presents a particular ethical issue, likened by Lieblich (1996,
p.177) to ‘opening a Pandora’s box’ of distress and pain for the interviewee. While this
did not feel to be the case in the CJPP interviews (possibly because it was not their
own life being discussed), certainly I found that feelings ran high in the interviews with
women in the female PAOP sample.
The women opened their hearts and talked about issues ranging from domestic abuse,
physical and sexual assault (both in childhood and adulthood), family bereavements,
and the effects of lifelong substance abuse. In some cases, these disclosures had a
tangible impact on the women - some would break down and cry, or become visibly
angry. I managed this in the way that I used to manage similarly distressed individuals
during my previous work in domestic abuse and sexual assault – stop the interview,
ask if they would like a break/to step outside, or whether they wanted to end the
interview. When concluding the interview, I always made sure to ask how they were
feeling, and openly discussed any impact that the session might have had on the
interviewee. I always went through the Debrief Sheet with them, and asked if they
wanted any follow-on support from staff - only one individual said that she was still
“feeling it”, and (as noted above) I contacted her wing officer when I returned to the
office to make them aware that she may want support that afternoon.
Not only was I concerned for the women at such points but, like Lieblich (1996), I was
‘tormented’ by the acknowledgment of my role in causing this; that is, that it was the
interview situation I had created, and the questions I had asked, which was the cause
of their distress. This highlights the potential for such interviews to be an all-round
emotional experience.
It is also likely that the emotional experience of conducting prisons research impacts
on the ability of an individual to effectively do that job. On Day One of the prison-based
interviews, for example – alone on the wing whilst my first interviewee was being
collected – I was called over to a door by an individual with blood streaming down her
face. She had clearly self-harmed, and was crying, asking me to inform someone in
the office. I was torn between leaving her, and doing as she asked – I tried to reassure
her, and rushed to the office to relay what I had seen. The lacklustre, disinterested
response from staff – “Oh, was that X? She’s always doing that, don’t worry” – was
somehow equally as disturbing as that which I had witnessed. I then had to go to my
first prisoner interview – which I felt needed to ‘go right’, as it would set the tone of the
whole research for me – with that experience weighing heavily on my mind, which most
likely impacted on my ability to be fully ‘in the room’ while conducting the interview.
The unpredictable nature of the prison environment can also act in other ways to
unsettle the research process. On another occasion a fight broke out on the landing,
immediately outside the room in which I was interviewing. The woman I was
interviewing was visibly shaken by this, and verbalised her concerns that the
aggressors might come into the room which – until very recently having previously
been a store room - was not, I suddenly realised, equipped with an alarm bell. This
impacted heavily on the quality of the data generated from the interview, as it
completely unsettled the interviewee, and I found it difficult to achieve the same level
of rapport and ‘flow’ we had established pre-incident.
It is important, however, not to ‘overstate’ the potential for negative impact in life
story/biographical interviewing (Elliott 2005, p.137), nor the unpredictability of prisons
research, since incarcerated individuals often ‘benefit from being given the chance to
reflect on and talk about their lives with a good listener’ (ibid). A number of the women
commented to such effect; that it was “nice to talk to someone”, that it felt “good to
know someone gives a shit” – one woman told me that it was “really good to know that
there’s actual people out there tryin’ to help us”, which provided me with a validation of
sorts of the research project as a whole.
4.8 Limitations of the study, and factors to consider
4.8.1 Sample size
My findings on the specific experiences of women’s ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending
are not necessarily applicable beyond the twelve women interviewed, nor the views of
the fifteen practitioners/professionals sampled. It is likely that applicability is also
limited to the specific geographical, political, and cultural context within which it was
conducted (i.e. England). That said, it is possible that the broader themes and concepts
underpinning these experiences, as explored in the data chapters, may have a wider
relevance in drawing attention to an alternative way of understanding and interpreting
women’s ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offending.
This was a small-scale qualitative study, which did not seek to be statistically
representative and - in achieving a sample size of n = 12 or more for each of the two
samples – reached the number of interviewees at which it has been argued data
saturation (i.e. the point at which no new themes or ideas are generated) occurs in indepth interviews (cf. Guest, Bunce & Johnson 2006). This, however, does not detract
from the fact that a far larger sample of female PAOP offenders may have been useful,
for a number of reasons. Firstly, it may have compensated for the fact that interviews
with some of the women generated substantially less data than others; this was
particularly the case with Alex, with whom I had difficulty keeping to the interview
schedule, and Marie, who tended to answer the questions with very short responses,
and later disclosed that she had a learning disability. In fact, this interview lasted only
twenty-two minutes, and contained very little detail about Marie’s early life, as she did
not seem able to tell me about it. That some individuals cannot narrate/tell stories is a
hazard of this approach to research (cf. Riessman, 2008), and certainly affected the
degree to which I could say anything useful about Marie’s experiences in the analysis.
Very little data was therefore generated in relation to the lives of these women, and I
know much less about them as individuals than I do some of the other women who
were able to generate deep and detailed life histories, and discuss at length their
experiences of offending over the life course. I had initially considered using a ‘life
event/history calendar’, to structure the life histories of the women interviewed, owing
to its purported abilities to facilitate and structure recall of ‘autobiographical memory’
in sociological research (Belli 1998; Caspi et al 1996), but decided against this because
of the limited time available for each of the interviews, and the fact that such calendars
were primarily tools of quantitative data collection. With hindsight, and having since
seen them adapted to good effect generating qualitative data (e.g. Harris & Parisi 2007;
Nelson 2010), I believe that these may have been a useful method for supporting,
eliciting, and structuring the life histories of the women I interviewed, and potentially
increased the amount of relevant data generated with Alex and Marie.
Secondly, a larger sample might also have increased the ethnic diversity of the sample.
Since the women interviewed were – with the exception of Alex – all White British, or
White Irish, it is impossible to draw any sound conclusions as to the extent which race
(along with gender, class, and so on) may have contributed to shaping the broader
pathways to PAOP offending experienced by women.
Part of the reason for the low sample size relates to the restrictions placed by the
National Offender Management Service on i) the number of establishments which
could be visited, and ii) the number of days it was possible to spend in each
establishment. These restrictions caused further issues – for example, in constraining
the amount of time I could spend in each prison, this meant that potential participants
needed to be identified and recruited before I set foot inside each prison, in order to
ensure that the time I spent there was fully dedicated to interviewing. This meant that
the selection of women for interview, and the manner in which they were approached,
was out of my hands, which was problematic because there was potential for
individuals within the prison to have selected only the ‘interesting cases’ for interview.
Consequently, the stories of more ‘difficult’ individuals (e.g. those in segregation) may
have been missed out. The restrictions relating to the number of establishments which
could be visited also posed problems beyond simply limiting the pool of potential
interviewees, but also meant that it was impossible to discern the degree to which the
prison itself was acting to shape the stories I was hearing. For example, the women
located in HMP D (which was for sentenced prisoners only) seemed to engage in
narratives which were broadly more hopeful and more positive about the future, while
those of women at HMP E (for both sentenced prisoners and those remanded in
custody) seemed comparatively less hopeful, and more fatalistic about their chances
of future re-offending. While this was an interesting finding, and was likely to have been
related to the stage of sentence/criminal justice process the women were at, the small
number of women in each prison limits the degree to which anything meaningful can
be concluded beyond their individual experiences. It might therefore have been useful
to have interviewed female PAOP offenders in more than two of England and Wales’
thirteen women’s prisons, in order to try and corroborate this potential pattern,
indicating the role of – for example - prison culture, status, nature of prisoners proximal
to the interviewee, et cetera. As noted above, access was granted to five prisons;
however, there was a lack of eligible women in two of the other prisons (particularly in
the open prison). The analysis, and the confidence with which claims could be made
related to these issues, was – I believe - limited by these factors, and it would have
been interesting to have explored these in more detail.
The restrictions placed on the research were related to the type of access I had
requested, which was the lowest level on offer; this was a product of the belief that the
less I asked for, the more likely I was to be granted any sort of access. Ideally, a higher
level of access would have been secured, increasing the amount of time I could spend
within the prison estate. Given my recent experiences as a prisons researcher on a
large-scale project, which has involved over a year ‘in the field’, I also believe that had
I then had the confidence, creativity, and skills of negotiation that I have now
developed, the sample size could have been substantially increased. This may have
enhanced the potential of the study to say something meaningful in terms of a
comparative analysis between the lives, offending careers/trajectories, and criminal
justice experiences of those women deemed ‘persistent’, and those identified as
‘prolific’; that is, although the differences between the two groups were indicated by
the findings in the current study, a far large sample would be necessary before anything
could be said about this with any real conviction.
4.8.2 The reliability of self-report data, and the ‘rehearsed’ nature of
The ‘co-operative’, or ‘constructivist,’ design used in this study – i.e. one centred on
reality as arising from the ‘relational’ (Gergen 1999) – represents an opposing force to
the spectre of traditional, positivist concerns with the search for ‘the answer’ (ibid, p.92)
(emphasis in original). How can one be sure that the individuals interviewed can be
counted on to tell ‘the truth’, or recall and reliably report the salient events? Self-report
data – the main data type sought both with the CJPP and female PAOP offender
interviewees – has long been associated with unreliability, particularly when
retrospective in nature (i.e. looking at past experiences, in some cases back to
childhood), and can be considered even more of a concern when interviewing
offenders (cf. Sandberg 2010; Presser 2010).
When faced with such questions, the constructivist riposte is underpinned by the belief
that ‘[w]hatever the nature of the world, there is no single array of words, graphs, or
pictures that is uniquely suited to its portrayal’ (Gergen 1999, p.93) – this position
extends, of course, to the current thesis, which represents only one attempt to explore
the lives of female PAOP offenders, rendering the notion of one ‘truth’ irrelevant.
Indeed, Denzin describes such narratives as ‘an imaginative organization of
experiences that imposes a distortion of truth [...] a mixture of fiction and non-fiction
[...] about life and particular lived experiences’ (Denzin 1989, p.24). This is the best
way to describe the data generated in the current study.
Of course, there may be incidences where the researcher is certain that the interviewee
is slipping her or him a deliberate lie, or telling an ‘automatized’ over-rehearsed ‘script’
(cf. Gilbert & Daffern 2010), Sandberg argues that the data retains its importance:
Whether true or false, the multitude of stories people tell reflect, and
help us understand, the complex nature of values, identities, cultures,
and communities.
(Sandberg 2010, p.447)
Sandberg’s position is certainly one that is most closely aligned to the position of the
current study. However, while theories of narrative inquiry look to the co-construction
of stories and reject the notion of one ‘truth’ - enabling them to accept all narratives as
worthwhile and relevant - it considers less often the extent to which narratives may in
fact be pre-existing and ‘rehearsed’ rather than spontaneous (i.e. ‘offer[ing] the story
into which they believe we have already written them’ (Riches & Dawson 1996, p.362).
This is clearly problematic, as it generates only the stories the interviewee feels able
to tell, rather than those which they want to tell, thus reducing the likelihood that they
will ‘volunteer spontaneous information and present their own agendas’ (ibid). Like
Riches and Dawson (1996), I also sought to adopt a conversational and ‘co-operative’
approach to the interviews, seeking to reduce status and power differentials whereever possible, for example by sharing ‘personal responses’ (in terms of experience
relevant to the conversation at that time) as well as ‘insights arising from the project’
(p.362). While such behaviours might be conventionally considered problematic in
themselves, I followed the lead of Riches and Dawson (1996) by analysing the
transcripts for evidence of ‘contaminating the data’ and ‘leading the interviewee’, but
found that my input had little negative impact on the women’s stories. The only
evidence of impact came in the form of the women’s responses to autobiographical
information about myself – that is, when I disclosed my previous work as a domestic
abuse advocate, an independent sexual violence worker, and an alcohol and drug
detoxification/rehabilitation support worker, a number of the women responded with
stories they had not previously disclosed in relation to these matters. For example,
when I mentioned to one interviewee towards the end of our session that I had worked
as an IDVA [Independent Domestic Violence Advocate], she responded spontaneously
with the following narrative:
Hmm. I mean, I’ve been involved with domestic violence and that,
because […] I’ve been through abusive relationships and that, so yeah
I know what it’s like, and it’s not nice. And it did turn me to drugs as
well, that did, because it felt like my only way of escaping [Me: yeah]
away from the abuse that I was getting. It is, it’s like by smoking a bit
of coke, it made me feel better at the time? But it’s the consequences
after […]
This was information which the interviewee had not previously disclosed, facilitating a
clearer appreciation of her pathway to drug use and offending, as well as her prior
intimate relational experience. In arising from a spontaneous disclosure from myself, it
is unlikely that this formed the core of the interviewee’s ‘rehearsed’ narrative about the
place of substance use and offending within her life course.
Other responses felt more ‘rehearsed’, in that the initial response to the question of
“How did you come to be here, in HMP X?” was often met with what seemed to be a
pre-planned narrative; one which often began with the onset of substance use. Of
course, having a ‘rehearsed’ feel to the tale is not necessarily evidence that the story
being recounted was false, or somehow less ‘worthy’. In fact, for individuals with
multiple penal sanctions in their histories, it is possible that this is more likely a product
of narrative structures imposed by prior encounters with offending behaviour courses
such as RAPT [Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust] and TSP [Thinking Skills
Programme] – talking therapies where one is repeatedly encouraged to reiterate one’s
past offending and its potential causal factors – than a deliberate attempt to deceive
the interviewer. There was also a sense that recounting a past which included many
traumatic events in an ‘automatized’ manner could have been acting as a defence
mechanism – as one woman remarked, “If I got emotional every time I told the story of
my life in here, I’d go fucking mental”.
The degree to which self-report data can accurately inform us about the lives of our
participants (i.e. rather than a therapy-ingrained storied version of past lives) remains
uncertain in some instances. The argument here then is not that the current method of
retrospective self-report provides a more ‘valid’ perspective than other methods, but
rather that it represents only one of many ‘truths’ (cf. Gergen 1999, p.228) in the
attempt to better understand persistent and prolific offending, and women’s experience
of this phenomenon.
5 - Criminal justice professionals &
practitioners: Making sense of the
‘prolific’ offender/female PPO
5.1 Introduction
This chapter looks at women’s persistent and prolific offending – with a particular focus
on those identified as Prolific and other Priority Offenders - through the perceptions
and experiences of criminal justice practitioners and professionals [CJPPs] working
with them. Through this, we gain an appreciation of the assumptions, stereotypes, and
value systems which shape and inform the ways in which CJPPs ‘make sense’ of, and
respond to, prolific female offenders. This latter point is of particular import because it
has implications for the gendered ways in which individuals are managed within the
criminal justice system, and beyond.
The chapter is split into two parts, which reflects the gendered narratives of ‘the PPO’
generated during the CJPP interviews. The first presents ‘gender neutral’ perspectives
on the PPO, engaging with key focal points within the criminal career paradigm (e.g.
offence frequency and type, onset, and desistance) and the RNR model as related by
CJPP interviewees. The second part presents a more gender-sensitive perspective,
which related specifically to the key characteristics of the female PPO. Again, CJPPs’
assumptions and experiences in relation to her ‘criminal career’, as well as her
particular ‘risks’ and ‘criminogenic needs’, document the ways in which ‘gender’ acted
as a primary mechanism shaping CJPPs’ perspectives and experiences of PPOs. The
chapter also serves as a broader, critical engagement with the Prolific and other Priority
Offender initiative. It concludes by looking to the issue of desistance, and CJPPs’ few
‘success stories’ of working with women within the PPO model, asking whether this
represents the most appropriate means for managing the complex needs of this
particular offending population.
5.2 The PPO: Key assumptions & characteristics [Gender
As noted in Chapters One and Three, myriad problems are associated with a ‘genderneutral’ approach to studies of crime and justice, not least because the experience of
the penal system is quite clearly shaped by gender - in part; other factors such as race,
and class are relevant also (Steffensmeier & Allan 1997) – and because parity of
response to men and women does not equate to equal outcomes (Chesney-Lind 1997;
Corston 2007). As Chapter One also highlighted, both the original PPO policy and
guidance, as well as subsequent updates, have been marred by an absence of gender
in shaping its response to persistently prolific offenders – that is, the PPO model of
offender management as presently conceived is a gender-neutral construct, devoid of
any recognition of the differential experiences of male and female offenders which
might be relevant to the persistence and prolific nature of their offending.
In many ways, the data generated during the interviews with criminal justice
practitioners and professionals followed this trend; that is, their narratives of prolific
recidivism were largely couched in gender-neutral language (e.g. ‘the PPO’, ‘PPOs’),
constructing ‘the PPO’ as an entity that was neither specifically male nor female in a
manner which concealed the potential for differential experiences of the scheme
according to gender.
This is not to say however that the CJPP interviewees failed to consider gender within
our conversations – indeed, the degree to which the concept of ‘gendered justice’
(Messing & Heeren 2009), and the ways in which being male or female might alter
one’s experience of pathways to, through, and out of persistently prolific offending, did
form a considerable portion of the interview data and thusly forms the second part of
this chapter. In the majority of instances however, it was also true to say that this had
to be elicited from them with specific probes relating to female and male PPOs, and
that their default mode was not to refer to the specific problems of women and men on
the scheme but of those relating to ‘PPOs’ as an homogenous entity.
5.2.1 Offence frequency & offence type
In discussing the ‘benefits’ of the Prolific and other Priority Offender strategy, CJPP
interviewees strongly advocated the view that PPOs represented the most highfrequency offenders in the population. Described by one interviewee as “the crème de
la crème” of offenders [CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community], PPOs
were acknowledged as those individuals most recurrently in contact with the criminal
justice system, but also those who, despite these “regular repeat custodies”, were “still
slipping through the gaps in the system” [CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]. The
links between PPO status and offence type identified through quantitative studies - i.e.
as ‘predominantly acquisitive offenders’ (Dawson 2005, p.2) - was consistently
repeated in the CJPPs’ narratives, often in conjunction with affirmations relating to
offence frequency:
[W]e know that the Prolific and Priority Offenders are committing most
of the acquisitive crime, certainly in this town, in terms of burglaries,
dwelling and non-dwelling burglaries - not necessarily robberies - um
and theft, shop- shoplifting thefts.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
It’s mostly burglaries, all acquisitive crime. There’s kind of a lot of
shoplifting - but we’re talking lots of volume.
[CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
[T]o meet that PPO category, it’s a lot of burglary offences.
[CJPP15: Offender Supervisor, Probation (HM Prison C)]
acknowledged that less serious acquisitive offenders might, on occasion, be identified
for the PPO scheme, but only where there was an exceptionally high frequency; in the
main, however, even the most prolific shoplifters “wouldn’t score enough on our matrix
system to actually qualify” [CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme].
These comments served to demarcate PPOs/prolific recidivists from ‘persistent’/longterm offenders in terms of offence type and frequency, as while the latter might
consistently commit high offending, this rarely progressed into the more serious
acquisitive offence types of the former.
5.2.2 Risk & Criminogenic needs [a.k.a. Why PPOs re-offend]
Invoking the spirit of the ‘risk principle’ – i.e. that maximum crime reduction efficacy
requires targeting those individuals presenting the most high-risk of recidivism (cf.
Andrews, Bonta & Hoge 1990) – one CJPP identified one of the main ‘benefits’ of the
PPO initiative in terms of the far-reaching implications of cutting high-frequency,
serious acquisitive offending:
[I]t’s still widely recognised that if you can get and reduce just one
PPO’s offending, that will have a knock-on effect for everyone.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
In this sense, PPOs were considered to be at “the pinnacle” of the recidivist pile
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]. This meant that normal
operational practices of offender management were ‘ratcheted up’; that is, sentence
plans needed to be written more quickly, initial meetings had to be booked sooner than
standard practice dictated, and sentence reviews occurred with increasing frequency:
[W]hen they’re sentenced we do a sentence plan - with PPOs you have
to do it in five days; normally it’s fifteen but with PPOs we will do it
within five days? And we’ll sit with them and work out that sentence
plan and try and identify what their triggers are, and we regularly review
those triggers um and the sentence plan every sixteen weeks.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
This prioritised treatment was all part of the ‘Premium Service’ which – on paper represented the commitment from criminal justice agencies to ‘put [their] best efforts
into bringing [high-risk] priority offenders to justice’ (Home Office 2002b, p.14). The
role of the Premium Service [PS] in working with PPOs was described variously, for
example, as positively discriminating in favour of the PPO, affording them increased
access to “certain [services] […] which other offenders won’t get” [CJPP5: Manager
of Drug Intervention Programme] and that they could “expect more regular home
visits, or prison visits” than a non-PPO would receive [CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for
In accordance with the principles of the RNR model of reducing re-offending as outlined
in previous chapters, there was a heavy focus on supporting the offence related ‘needs’
of PPOs, which operated through the ‘Rehabilitate and Resettle’ strand of the PPO
strategy. PPOs have been identified elsewhere as having an increased level of ‘specific
needs in terms of accommodation, drugs misuse and education, training and
employability problems’ as compared to other offenders (Dawson 2007, p.iii); these
findings were echoes in the current study, where CJPPs identified risk/needs
assessments with PPOs as most often focused on ‘emotional issues, um, attitudes to
offending, accommodation, whether they’re working or not, [and] drugs and alcohol”
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]. Interestingly, this was the only
occasion on which the issue of ‘emotional’ needs and prolific offending were raised in
the context of a non-gender-specific context.
As well as addressing PPOs’ specific needs, CJPP5 also identified the important role
of the PPO initiative in using engagement with practitioners as a central means of
promoting stability and responsibilisation for such offenders:
[W]e’ll [police and drugs workers] do a joint visit, whether with prisoners
pre-release or a home address or wherever the client’s residing at the
time, um, and […] point out all the benefits [of the PPO scheme], and
then do a lot of hand holding from then on in really just to get them
engaged and get them some kind of level of stability and then give
them more and more responsibility about attending. Um, yeah, so once
they’re kind of engaged, um, it’s about [risk] assessing their needs, um,
working with residential [drug/alcohol] treatment or housing or training
or whatever - childcare, family support, anything. We’ll find somewhere
that kind of we can refer them to if we don’t specifically deal with it
[CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
CJPP5’s commitment to referring PPOs to another service where a specific ‘need’ was
something his team could not ‘deal with’ reflects the importance of the ‘multiagency/partnership approach’ in working with PPOs identified elsewhere (e.g. Dawson
2007; Feasey et al 2009; Easton 2007; Cinamon & Hoskins 2006; Ministry of Justice
2010a). This model of managing PPOs was reaffirmed by CJPP6 and CJPP2, who
indicated the type of services with which she might work in this context, as well as
similarly highlighting the need for structure and consistency; this was identified as
particularly relevant in the post-release period for a PPO who had just come to the end
of a prison sentence:
[P]rior to their release, I’ll see what they’re doing in custody to try and
ensure that consistency when they come out [...] then it depends - if
they’ve got drug problems then we’ll get them involved on something
like the Drug Intervention Programme; if they’ve got alcohol problems
and they’re not dependent then we’ll refer them to an alcohol
interventions team? Um, if they’ve got problems, if they haven’t got the
confidence to go out and go to a doctors or dentist or go down to collect
their benefits, then we’ve got Health Trainers, erm, but the
Engagement Officers that will go with them to certain appointments,
we’ve got Housing as well, so there’s lots of people on board with them.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
We can get them employment, training, health, uh - anything they
wanted really? Uh, and certain bits of funding through the Probation
Service for, for instance if they wanted a CSCS [Construction Skills
Certificate Scheme] card, or if they wanted to do training you know,
different types of college courses, accommodation, help with filling
forms in – everything. Everything about their life really.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
These comments indicate the diverse range of services to which the Premium Service
afforded PPOs access.
It is also clear however, that these beliefs relating to the criminogenic and noncriminogenic needs of PPOs was constructed in a gender-neutral manner. The sole
exception to this was in relation to the issue of housing/accommodation, which has
been identified elsewhere as ‘one of the main problems facing the PPO strategy’ (Millie
& Erol 2006, p.703). Some degree of gender-neutral language was still present in
interviewees’ discussions of the problems with accommodation - for example, CJPP5’s
comment in relation the impact of incarceration of PPOs as more centred on
maintaining accommodation than with the ‘pains of imprisonment’ (Sykes 1958) once
on the inside:
A lot of [PPOs] are fed up of keep going back to prison because
sometimes it’s just long enough to lose their tenancies? So there is –
that is kind of a bigger penalty than prison itself?
[CJPP5: Manager, Drug Intervention Programme]
While this particular comment clearly misses the disproportionately problematic
incarceration for
women (cf.
Corston 2007),
accommodation was the only issue which frequently evoked a ‘gender-sensitive’ - and
even woman-centred - perspective on being a PPO, without the need for further
probing by the interviewer. For this reason, the ‘gendered’ experience of housing needs
among prolific offenders is discussed in Section 5.3.
Catch & Convict vs Rehabilitate & Resettle
Returning to a more macro-perspective on what the PPO scheme could achieve in
terms of managing ‘needs’, one interviewee – whose role was now primarily strategic,
and whose prior front-line work had not included PPOs – noted her perception that one
of the primary benefits of the PPO initiative was its intensive resourcing, and that this
should in turn mean it could better meet the individualised re-offending needs of each
[R]eally it’s [the offender’s] story that is the most telling [SW: Yes], but
I think everyone is different and everyone is unique, and as a statutory
agency working with people then the [PPO] practitioners need to see
every person as an individual, and tailor services to meet their ‘needs’,
and with the PPO scheme that is so much more possible, because it
is very intensively resourced.
[CJPP3: Senior Probation Officer, PPO Coordinator for Probation,
However, narratives of this relationships from those CJPPs engaged in front-line
working with PPOs suggested that the degree to which such ‘needs’-orientated
services and support were actually (rather than theoretically) provided to PPOs in order
reduce their perceived ‘risk’ level was not this straightforward. As well as their ‘needs’focused work - identified as the ‘carrot’ part of the Premium Service by one PPO
Practitioner - however, the management of PPOs was also heavily underpinned by the
‘stick’ of the ‘Catch and Convict’ strand of the model. This demanded increased
surveillance and police targeting should an individual identified as a PPO not cooperate with the scheme, which took priority over the ‘carrot’/needs element of their
If they don’t come on board they could be subject to a lot of police
intervention, because obviously they’re going to still be watching these
guys [pause]. So it’s a bit like a carrot and stick, I suppose – ‘Play ball
with us’, you know, ‘and we’ll help you’ [pause]. ‘But if you don’t, then
obviously we’re still going to be watching you.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
As CJPP2 explained, the professional discretion of the PPO practitioner to provide
needs-based/support services for their charges was greatly diminished by political
priorities out of their control:
[I]t’s going to depend on your officer and your local priorities – if your
District Commander wants you to focus fully on Catch and Convict then
you’re not going to be there to signpost, to home visit, to offer support
- you’re going to be there to nick them and to, you know, be, be the big
lump of wood really.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
It seemed, somewhat paradoxically, that the enduring political and public protection
hype surrounding prolific recidivists - as indicated, for example, by the recent
introduction of a Private Members’ Bill on repeat recidivists (the Sentencing Escalator
Bill noted in Chapter One) – in addition to the higher ‘risk’ of re-offending PPOs
theoretically pose could act to restrict CJPPs from actually engaging in work which
they felt was more likely to reduce a PPO’s ‘need’ to re-offend, constraining them to
act in a more punitive manner than they deemed to be appropriate. The degree to
which (even the most willing) criminal justice practitioner could act on their initiative in
relation to working to reduce a PPO’s ‘risk’ level, then, would be constrained by local
area politics. This issue is revisited in relation to the necessity for a more gendersensitive approach in Section 5.3, below (although the problems with such an approach
presumably relate to working with both female and male offenders).
While this approach appears prima facie overly punitive, one CJPP explained the
benefits of Catch and Convict within a ‘paternalistic’ framework - that is, as one which
might restrict the autonomy of the PPO as a necessary means of ‘preventing his [sic]
welfare from diminishing’ (cf. Dworkin 2014, section 2). In this sense, Catch and
Convict was not solely a matter of public protection – as conceived of in the Home
Office guidance - but also part of an effort to protect the individual offender from
“digging any more holes” for themselves and further ‘damag[ing]’ their own interests
by racking up further offences:
If they’ve dropped off and committed a few shopliftings and they’ve not
been caught maybe we can slow them down, kind of get them scripted,
you know stop them digging any more holes if you like, ‘cos the longerThe more offences they commit and they, ‘cos it takes such a long time
to process events, of shoplifting and stuff like that, even when they’re
stable it then comes and bites them later [pauses] So if they’re gonna
go down, I’d rather they went quickly or get back on board quickly,
minimise the damage [SW: yeah]. I make them very aware of that, if
they are on a crash course we can help them down by working closely
with the police and kind of get them monitored, stop checks, which is
the enforcement side of it, so that we can kind of get them into the
prison if necessary before again they do too much damage.
[CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
Such ‘hard’, or ‘strong’, paternalism represents a ‘liberty-limiting principle’ at the heart
of criminal justice, and one which justifies the deliberate restriction of an individual’s
‘voluntary conduct’ on the basis that they ‘believe that the intervention will contribute
to the subject’s welfare’ (Pope 2004, pp.683-4). Within these gender-neutral narratives,
only the benefits to the PPO were considered relevant - absent from these
considerations however was any appreciation or regard for the negative consequences
that such paternalist approaches have traditional held for female offenders (e.g. Daly
1989; Chesney-Lind 1986), and the ways in which these issues might intersect and
interact for the female PPO.
The centrality of substance use I
The overwhelming and disproportionate presence of substance use within the PPO
national cohort as compared to non-PPOs identified in research (see e.g. Dawson
2005, 2007; Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007; Millie & Erol 2006) was echoed in the CJPP
interviewees’ construction of the PPO. The majority of front-line workers identified
substance use as the central issue underpinning PPOs’ offending, and the
predominance of serious acquisitive offences within this:
Funding substance misuse is the real issue with these offenders […] It
is quite unusual if you find a PPO who isn’t using something.
[CJPP15: Offender Supervisor, Probation, HM Prison C]
Generally a lot will have a drug or alcohol needs.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
One interviewee outlined the importance of considering substance addiction within the
context of an individual PPOs’ life history, and the need for a network of support
services related to improved mental health and well-being:
Like the root cause of their offending problem might not necessarily be
an addiction to drugs or alcohol - that’s just a cause from an effect if
they’ve had to deal with something a bit further back? [SW: yeah]. So
er, hopefully we’ll have lots of access to lots of different agencies,
mental health teams, counselling for, the whole, the whole bit, so it’s
still in its infancy but I think, I think it can work.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
In the main however, the importance of engaging with the ‘root’ of PPOs’ enduring
substance addiction, as part of a more ‘whole’-person approach, as advocated by
CJPP2 was largely absent from other interviewees’ considerations of the ‘symbiotic
relationship’ (Weis 1986, p.27) between substance abuse and crime among prolific
recidivists. Certainly the ‘gendered realities’ of substance addiction within the offending
population (cf. Bloom, Owen & Covington 2004) were not addressed without significant
‘probing’ during the interviews. There was also little discussion of PPOs who might be
non-substance users except with reference to women – still, as Millie and Erol (2006)
also identified, such individuals received comparative inattention measured against
their substance-addicted counterparts.
5.2.3 Desistance: PPOs and the will to change
The PPO initiative was acknowledged as having ‘great potential for success’ in terms
of reducing the re-offending of individuals under its remit, and effectively cutting the
level of ‘harm’ associated with local prolific offenders (Cinamon & Hoskins 2006,
p.166). However, Cinamon and Hoskins suggest that the desistance-focused demands
of the strategy perhaps asked disproportionately more of the PPO than other similarly
situated non-prolific offenders:
Much is expected of the PPOs in terms of their motivation and ability
to comply with intensive supervision, yet by their very nature PPOs
may find it more difficult than most to change their lifestyle and to stop
(Cinamon & Hoskins 2006, p.166)
The particular difficulties of the PPO cohort in respect of desistance were similarly
identified by CJPP interviewees, who noted that this specific offending population, often
long ‘entrenched’ [CJPP15: Offender Supervisor, Probation, HM Prison C] in their
offending lifestyle, were notoriously ‘difficult to change’. Interestingly, CJPP2 raised the
issue of gender in relation to this, specifying that the ‘chaotic’ lifestyle associated with
prolific offending was a condition of both the male and female PPO:
[T]hey’re very, very difficult to, for people to engage, uh male or female,
because the likelihood is that they’re going to be at quite a chaotic
stage of their life, um they’re going to have very anti-police views? So
for a police officer to turn up at the door and say ‘Do you, do you need
some-”, er, “Take some help or advice or else”, you know? It’s uh, it’s
difficult to engage them.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
CJPP2 also raises the important (and unanswered) question of whether a police-led
programme represents the most appropriate strategy for working successfully towards
desistance – a phenomenon which, in probation work at least, relies largely on
establishing a close and mutually respectful relationship between offender and
offender supervisor (McNeill 2004) – among a group of individuals with entrenched
‘anti-police’ attitudes.
One of the most commonly cited assumptions within the CJPP interviews in relation to
the ability of the PPO strategy to effectively promote desistance among prolific
offenders was one which fell within broader ‘responsibilising’ tendencies inherent in
contemporary rehabilitative practices (Bullock 2011, p.125), identifying the individual
PPO – and not the scheme or its practitioners - as responsible for the cessation of their
There’s no point [in offering services and support] if they’re not ready.
[CJPP15: Offender Supervisor, Probation, HM Prison C]
[I]t’s very difficult without somebody actually wanting to, to do it, you
know? If they’re not prepared to address their problems, how on earth
are the agencies around them going to do it? It’s uh, it’s a difficult thing.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
Of course, it was not simply the offending behaviour from which PPOs were required
to desist; with approximately 75 per cent of the PPO cohort offending to fund substance
misuse (Dawson 2005) and being ‘more likely to be fully occupied by the pursuit and
misuse of drugs’ than their non-PPO counterparts (Dawson 2007), there was also the
issue of addiction to tackle. As CJPP2 acknowledged, this was also an area for which
responsibility for change/desistance had to lie with the individual concerned, and not
the professionals/practitioners working with them:
[Y]ou can’t, you can’t make someone stop er taking heroin or crack?
You can’t, you cannot do it. It can only happen when they want it to
happen […] It’s really […] right down to that person and whether they
want to change or not? I mean, you can wrap a service around
someone so they’ve got every requirement, every need catered for, but
if they’re still chaotically using then they have no, you know, no way of
changing, then they really, really it has to come from them, and all the
services can then work and do what they do best.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
In order for substance-addicted individuals to exit the PPO identity, then agentic action
to tackle one’s substance misuse must be taken. In these terms, PPOs were
constructed as Origins; that is, they alone were ‘masters of their own fate’ (Maruna
2001, p.76, after de Charms 1968). The freely-exercised will to change - as opposed,
perhaps, to the ‘will to crime’ (cf. Crewe 2009) - was the crucial factor in interrupting
patterns of persistent recidivism. Such narratives also dominate the drug and alcohol
recovery literature (cf. McMurran 2002), which may account in part for its presence
within the consciousness and experiences of PPO practitioners, many of whom it
seems are dealing with drug- and alcohol-addicted offenders on a daily basis.
One interviewee however stood out for acknowledging that initiating the hard-won
process of desistance for PPOs required a ‘combination’ of both offender and
practitioner readiness, and that the relationship between the two was ‘crucial’; this
feeds back into the aforementioned concerns relating to the propriety of the PPO
benevolent/Rehabilitate and Resettle:
[I]t’s the combination of us, us being ready and, you know, we’re all set
to go with someone and we’ve got all the right services and we can
access them and all of that kind of stuff, but the other aspect is that the
service user has to be ready, and it’s that combination, which is why
the relationship between practitioner and client is so very crucial.
[CJPP3: Senior Probation Officer, Lead for Partnerships, Community]
Unpicking the complex – and in some cases, apparently opposing – discourses present
within CJPPs’ narratives of ‘the PPO’ highlighted an important schism, relating to the
notions of structure and agency. On the whole, front-line interviewees constructed ‘the
PPO’ as an inherently chaotic and anti-police substance user, unlikely to present a
willing candidate for change/desistance. Consequently, this led to feelings that there
was ‘no point’ in offering needs-focused support in accordance with the Rehabilitate
and Resettle strand of the PPO strategy; the alternative, then, was to invoke the
punitive principles of Catch and Convict, the propriety of which seems hardly to have
been challenged.
It was not fair to say that in presenting this view, the CJPPs failed to recognise the
myriad ‘structural impediments’ to desistance (cf. Farrall et al 2010) facing the
responsibilised PPO – as noted above, they in fact identified a wide range of specific
needs associated with these offenders. Such concerns, however, seemed to be
annexed from each other in their discussions of ‘the PPO’; that is to say that separately
acknowledging the relevance of structure and agency to the persistence of prolific
recidivism in order to best orient themselves, their work and resources, and their
expectations around the desistance prospects of these notoriously high-frequency and
‘difficult to change’ recidivists.
5.3 The female PPO: Key assumptions & characteristics [Gender
In the same way that CJPPs constructed ‘PPOs’ as having a specific profile which set
them apart from non-PPOs, interviewees identified female PPOs as both similar and
different – although often only when probed, perhaps indicating that ‘gendering justice’
(Daly 1989) for prolific recidivists was not first nature in this area of work – from their
male counterparts, in a manner that constructed ‘the female PPO’ as an individual
existing at the intersection between the definitional boundaries of ‘woman’ and ‘prolific
Moving away from the gender-neutral discussion of ‘the PPO’ above, this section now
turns to the specific assumptions and characteristics identified by CJPP interviewees
in constructing ‘the female PPO’.
5.3.1 Offence frequency and offence type
Interviewees acknowledged the comparative rarity of women within the PPO cohort,
framed by general assumptions relating to the nature of women’s offending more
[I]t’s just really unusual for women to commit that level [i.e. for
identification as a PPO] of crime.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
Therefore, for a woman to be identified as ‘a PPO’ characterised her as ‘other’
compared to her non-prolifically offending sisters in the general offending population;
in attaining this status, the female PPO had marked herself out as ‘slightly different’ to
the ‘classic’ female offender. Although CJPP4 does not specifically explain what she
means by ‘classic’ female offender, it is likely that she is referring to the offending
patterns more commonly noted in women who offend (i.e.one-time, low-level
acquisitive offenders):
Female PPOs are already, just by definition, like, er, on a slightly
different route to what you would say your classic female offending
route was? They’ve already kind of gone off on a tangent, or kind of
gone off on a different path of behaviour, er, for whatever reason.
[CJPP4: Third Sector Women’s Centre Service Manager]
This was not to say, however, that female PPOs were a homogenous group; as CJPP5
explained, in his experience there was no single ‘stereotypical’ route into by which
women achieved PPO status, but was dictated by a combination of factors as they
progressed through different offence types, and the frequency/’speed’ at which this
[S]ome [female PPOs] get into drugs and the lifestyle really quickly and
the chaos [pause] […] Whereas others have been career drug users
for many years and they kind of evolve from shoplifting to, I don’t know,
to handling, um, drug running for someone, might then go onto nondwelling burglaries, car crime, um, into sex work, and it then builds up?
So I don’t think there is kind of a stereotypical route into, er, from
starting substance misuse into becoming a PPO, erm, but I guess they
all go through a similar processing in as much as - I mean it’s just the
speed at which they go through it? And, um, the people they associate
with plays a big part too.
[CJJP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
This final point - referring to the important of peer association in shaping the offending
type and frequency in women’s ‘criminal careers’ – is returned to below.
The ‘versatility’ of the national PPO cohort’s offending identified by Dawson (2005)
seemed specifically applicable to female PPOs, some of whom were identified as
having branched out in offending in traditionally non-female spheres of offending
activity (i.e. dwelling burglaries), whereas they are usually more likely to shoplift
woman-specific luxury items (i.e. perfume) to order:
Some [female PPOs] are doing dwelling burglaries now? [Me: Do you
think that’s quite unusual within female offending, then?] Yeah, I think
it is, yeah – er normally it’s perfume thefts um because females tend
to know what perfumes are kind of fashionable at the moment, high
value uh and they usually have an outlet for it; it’s to order.
[CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
While female PPOs might have been committing more serious acquisitive offences
considered atypical of women who offend more broadly, they continued to conform to
the traditional narrative of non-violence in committing such crimes, even where this was
based on a drug ‘need’. Conversely, with gender again operating as a differentiating
device, male PPOs were identified as more likely to resort to violence in order to obtain
money to support a substance addiction:
[Y]eah they’re quite different from the male PPOs? Er, the male PPOs
tend to be a lot more entrenched in what they’re doing, uh, more
prepared to commit serious, violent acquisitive crime to get what they
want uh which is er drugs, basically, er, a lot.
[CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
This broadly correlated with CJPP2’s experience of working with female PPOs, whom
he identified as committing multiple thefts – primarily shoplifting – and handling of
stolen goods, but not committing serious or violent acquisitive crime, giving them a
somewhat different profile to men on the scheme, if CJPP5’s above characterisation
is accurate:
Yeah yeah, I mean there’s differences, um, certainly in the two female
PPOs I’ve been managing at the moment, one is a chaotic drug user,
um, who will commit acquisitive crime - not serious acquisitive crime
and not violent crime, but lots and lots of thefts, um, particularly from,
er, people she befriends, um, professional thefts, and bog [standard]
shoplifting, that sort of thing, um, and handling stolen goods? […] Um,
in terms of the other on, her offending is almost entirely based on her
alcohol abuse, erm, she’s a PPO by virtue of ASBO breaches and
arrests for public order, drunkenness offences
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
CJPP2’s characterisation of his second female PPO, however, seemed to present an
opposing narrative of who the female PPO might be, and what might underpin her
offending, in presenting her as “a PPO by virtue if ASBO breaches” and arrests for
“public drunkenness”. In this respect, the profile of the female PPO whose offence type
and frequency is dictated by an alcohol addiction appears substantively different from
that of the female PPO who is a ‘chaotic drug user’ who is more likely to commit
repeated thefts, sometimes progressing to serious acquisitive offences, but rarely – if
ever – using violence (which, as already noted above, sets them apart from their male
counterparts). This demarcation seemed to lend itself to the understanding that female
PPOs with alcohol addictions committed offences because she was intoxicated – that
is, such women were criminalised for the things they did once already intoxicated,
rather than the things they did in the pursuit of a state of intoxication as was the case
for female PPOs committing acquisitive offending specifically to fund drug use.
These factors feed into the construction of risk and need in relation to the female PPO,
as well as interviewees’ perceptions and assumptions regarding the reasons
underpinning women’s prolific offending; it is to these issues which we now turn.
5.3.2 Risk & Criminogenic needs [a.k.a. Why female PPOs re-offend]
Owing to the comparative dearth of data related to persistent and prolific pathways to
women’s offending, a core part of the interview schedule was focused on CJPP’s
experiences and perceptions of female PPOs’ paths to onset, and progression to their
current status within the criminal justice system; i.e. as one of those ‘high-risk offenders
causing harm’ to their local communities (cf. Home Office 2004c, p.20).
However, in responding to these questions, the concept of ‘onset’ was so tangled up
‘persistence’ in the practitioners’ stories, in terms of the reasons why female PPOs
repeatedly recidivated – particularly in relation to substance use, accommodation, and
relationships, as discussed below – that it was almost impossible to meaningfully
separate this out from their perspectives and assumptions in relation to female PPOs’
criminogenic and non-criminogenic needs. This could also be read as indicative of the
natural fluidity and amorphousness of the ‘pathways’ process, and that to impose
arbitrary boundaries between these issues when they did not in fact exist in the data
generated in these particular interviews would be inappropriate.
In discussing Prolific and other Priority Offending within a gendered framework, it
became clear that – contrary to the gender-neutral narratives above - practitioners did
demarcate between male and female PPOs in their day-to-day practice, and respond
appropriately (where possible – an issue discussed below). The notion that female
PPOs had different ‘criminogenic needs’ from their male counterparts, for example,
was broadly acknowledged:
I mean obviously women, female PPOs are going to have different
issues aren’t they to the males?
[CJPP3: Senior Probation Officer, PPO Coordinator for Probation,
I think it’s different needs for, between the male and female offenders.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
In being both a ‘minority’ on the caseload and of comparatively lesser ‘risk’ however,
CJPP4 raised concerns that these different needs were less likely to be addressed
than those of their more ’risky’ male counterparts:
[As a woman] you’re very much a minority on the caseload - you’re
probably not as ‘risky’ as everybody else on the caseload, and if you’re
not as risky, you don’t get as much time and, er, access to services it’s quite a brutal way of working.
[CJPP4: Third Sector Women’s Centre Service Manager]
Knowing that resources follow ‘risk’ (Andrews, Bonta & Hoge 1990), it is likely that this
would be a valid point – as Heidensohn (1991) observed, women rarely ‘benefit’ from
their lesser numbers, and there seemed to be the potential for this observation to
accurately describe the PPO strategy in operation. Certainly a number of interviewees
questioned whether the PPO model of offender management was appropriate or able
to effectively tackle the complex needs of prolific, possibly substance-addicted female
offenders – these concerns are addressed below.
Returning to the concept of ‘risk’ as a key dimension differentiating between male and
female PPOs – or rather, as ‘gender’ in differentiating risk - the specific risk factors
underpinning prolific offending of younger male PPOs as compared to their adult
counterparts (young female PPOs were never mentioned) were identified as different
on the basis of factors such as outcome/reward of offending, and peer relationships
within this:
[I]t’s difficult, difficult to quantify really what’s uh sort of driving them –
with the younger ones it’s usually the peer group, and because they
want money [pause] Because they’re not so much a drug needs, um
with the fourteen- to fifteen-year olds, it’s really, you know, they’re out
with their mates, egging each other on.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
Conversely, both male and female adult PPOs – with age and motivation clearly
representing dimensions of risk for prolific offending – were identified as driven by the
“need” for drugs, although the ways in which substance use featured in the lives of
female PPOs seemed substantively different from that of the gender-neutral PPO
presented above, an issue to which we now turn.
The centrality of substance use II
When asked specifically about the female PPO and her substance use, interviewees
seemed to indicate that while hard drug use was a problem, alcohol could also play a
part in women’s paths to prolific offending – this was not identified in the non-genderspecific construction of the PPO, who was repeatedly described as a ‘chaotic drug
user’ feeding an addiction. However, as CJPP2 indicated in Section 5.3.1, the offence
types committed by women on the path to PPO status might be just as likely to be
ASBO breaches and public order/drunkenness offences as to be acquisitive crime
bound up with a fiscal need for hard drugs. CJPP6 was also working with a female
PPO with an alcohol addiction, and fleshed out the role of alcohol in her trajectory to
prolific offending:
[T]he one female that we’ve got on the Scheme is very interesting
character and led a very, um shall we say a […] troubled life, I would
say? Um, very troubled childhood, um, started drinking very – it’s
alcohol, drinking-related, no drugs – um started drinking at a very early
age [...] [She] lacked confidence, no self-belief in her abilities, um –
basically, I got the impression she’d been told she was crap all her life
and that was it basically.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
The experiences of this particular individual reflect similar issues identified as central
to the lives of persistent female offenders in Chapter Three, for instance the presence
of ‘troubled childhoods’ and the early onset of substance use. CJPP6 continued that
she was managing both a female PPO and a female Local Priority Offender [LPO] which represents the next rung down on the ladder of the Integrated Offender
Management model – and identified alcohol and “problems in childhood” as the
“common denominator” in both of their lives, again in line with links in the literature
between women’s persistent and prolific offending (whether or not they reach the
status of ‘PPO’) and substance use:
Actually I’m just thinking, I’ve got the one PPO and I’ve got one LPO
female - both, if you look at them, one’s in the twenties, one’s in the
thirties, common denominator is the problems in childhood for both of
them, and drink [pause]. Both are, have got severe alcohol problems.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
Having led a “troubled life” was also identified in the trajectory to substance use and
prolific offending (in that order) of a female PPO being managed by CJPP5, who
identified a “chaotic” family life, and growing up surrounded by substance use, as
defining the beginning of her pathway to PPO status:
Her family is all chaotic, substance misuse within the family, ah, alcohol
in the parents, unhealthy relationships with parents – siblings, they’re
all involved in substance misuse.
[CJJP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
These comments draw attention to a second key element (in addition to substance
use) identified by CJPP interviewees in the lives of female PPOs – that is, the
assumption that at some point in her life, her relationships with her family of origin, with
peers, and/or with a male partner – contributed heavily in shaping the reasons why she
continues to offend prolifically.
Relationships: ‘Criminal’ families & male influence
The issue of ‘relationships’ was not raised in conjunction with the risk/need
underpinning PPOs’ offending until the concept of ‘gender’ was introduced; as
indicated by CJPP5 above, he considered the “chaotic” nature of coming from a family
where both parents and siblings were misusing drugs and/or alcohol, and crime was a
normative behaviour. This phenomenon was similarly identified by CJPP2:
[C]ertainly a lot of females that I know, that I know from our ex-PPO list
uh come from families where it’s kind of entrenched, er, entrenched in
the families and this and that happens um and they go out shoplifting,
they don’t have ideal role models at home if, you know, it’s a whole
host of things?
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
CJPP2 seemed to be describing a process identified in Allen, Donohue, Griffin et al
(2003) as one of ‘social modeling’ [sic], whereby children identify with, imitate, and then
internalise certain behaviours of individuals they consider to be ‘an authority or
inspiration’ – particularly an older sibling, or parent (p.168). However, he continued
[W]e have some PPOs which are also juveniles um and they all belong
to the same peer group – I know we’re moving away from female
PPOs, um - but that it’s, it’s one-upmanship, you know? Like you get
boys together all the same age, one of them was arrested thirty-eight
times last year, eighteen dwelling burglaries and this is, each of them,
all four of them are all mates, sort of around eighteen years old […]
There aren’t any positive role models at home, or the positive role
models at home are former PPOs and sort of families that have um,
they’re just entrenched in offending that you know they, they’ve been
doing this for years [pauses]. And it will just carry on and it’s the next,
then it’s, it’s the next people, you know, the next generation.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
This phenomenon - of PPOs coming from ‘criminogenic’ home environments, where
authority figures are substance users, offenders, and even former PPOs – was not
solely identified within the lives of female PPOs, then, but also in the lives of their male
counterparts, something which did not come out prior to probing for gender-specific
Along with substance use, and relationships with family members, another key risk
factor associated with the offending trajectories of female PPOs was that of male
influence, particularly that of an intimate male partner. This was specific to women
within PPO schemes – even when asked CJPPs could not identify any similarly
negative relationships of inverse structure (i.e. where a female PPO was influential in
shaping the offending of a male):
She’s got a long, long history just, you know, of alcohol misuse, and
the wrong sort of men in her life, you know?
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
[S]he was a complete nightmare before, complete nightmare
neighbour from hell I do believe. ASBO-galore and everything […] It
was all relationship linked. We identified and worked with her what the
issue was and her problem is um relationships and [pause] Men, as it
turned out, um... created a huge problem.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
According to CJJP5 [Manager of Drug Intervention Programme], male
influence can also play a role in escalating the trajectory of a woman’s
offending to PPO-level criminality, specifically where there is pre-existing
substance use:
I’ve had a client who, er, has kind of been in substance misuse [for]
about six years, but it’s only recently she’s actually started linking up
with some top-end male offenders, and her life’s gone out of control
kind of really quickly as a result of that? So I think that plays a big part,
er, and the um, the males she’s with are er quite predatory in their
behaviour so it’s [sighs] […] In a short period of time they go from kind
of being a medium-end drug user to actually being childless, homeless,
erm, and with raging heroin or crack addictions, you know? […] I mean,
she’s never done prison, although it’s kind of on the cards right now.
CJPP5’s account here is also important because it includes reference to the ‘collateral
consequences’ of penal practice for women (cf. Dodge & Pogrebin 2001), where in this
instance prolific offending and serious drug addiction can result in losing one’s
accommodation, potentially losing one’s freedom (i.e. through incarceration), and
losing one’s children. While the CJPP interviewees talked little about these latter two
issues, the problem of accommodation and its role in the lives of prolific offenders
formed a central discussion point around risk and need.
Accommodation: The ‘double disadvantage’ of being a female PPO
Issues of accommodation and housing were identified above as being relevant to both
male and female PPOs; however, the lack of suitable accommodation for PPOs in
general as identified above in addition to the lack of appropriate accommodation for
female offenders highlighted the potential for being a woman and a PPO to represent
a ‘double disadvantage’ in this respect.
One front-line practitioner - whose experience of female PPOs was contextualised
within her work with female offenders more broadly – felt that the one area in which
the PPO scheme might really ‘work’ for women was in relation to the issue of
I suppose the bonus for females might be is that the PPO Scheme
tends to do very good resettlement, and that’s something that, you
know, obviously with something like 60 per cent of women being
released from prison NFA [no fixed abode], er, I could see that would
be a benefit for some of them? Because that transition from custody is
really - they usually do really have their hands held, the probation and
the police do usually give them quite a lot of support on release, so
that might be something you find, I suppose.
[CJPP4: Third Sector Women’s Centre Manager]
This, CJPP4 noted, would be a vast improvement on the current situation for the
female offenders, which she described as follows:
Firstly they’re usually so far away from home, and you haven’t got
anybody - if you’re on like a short sentence, there isn’t anyone who
comes and picks you up […] You’ve got nothing; you’ve had all your
benefits stopped, probably lost your home, and Housing see you now
as intentionally homeless, er, which is, in some ways I think, quite a
noticeable difference from male offenders you often work with, erm,
because they will have some sort of partner who’s kept the house, but
because female offenders don’t have the same […], and because they
didn’t have anybody else to rely on, the children have gone into care
or whatever, and they come out and ‘Intentionally homeless’ - that’s
quite a tricky situation to be in.
[CJPP4: Third Sector Women’s Centre Manager]
In this respect then, it is not simply the incarceration experience itself which presents
difficulties to women, but also the myriad and varied consequences of this penalty; for
example, one study – reflecting the experience outlined by CJPP4 above - found that
38 per cent of women left prison without accommodation arranged, while a third had
lost previously-secure tenancies while imprisoned (Prison Reform Trust 2011, cit. in
Kendall 2013, p.47).
It was this version of reality - rather than CJPP4’s somewhat optimistic projection which
came before it – which was that described by CJPPs working directly with PPOs, as
CJPP2’s experience indicates:
[C]ertainly for the, uh, for the female PPO that we’ve got on our
Scheme, it’s been difficult to get her accommodation because, um she’s only got accommodation really through her partner otherwise she
would be homeless - because of the um issues she generated in the
last city she lived in? Our Housing department wouldn’t take her on
because she had an ASBO for some really, really severe anti-social
behaviour - lots of drinking, lots of noise complaints, so she was
evicted and cut off by that council. So she would only ever be allowed
hostel accommodation in this city and, um, so she would therefore
have to go on uh, on a waiting list for a local hostel [but] if you put an
alcoholic into a dry hostel [which was all that was available in the city
for women], you’re just setting them up to fail.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
Here, CJPP2 draws attention to a number of important issues: firstly, the ways in which
PPOs’ prior behaviours can result in future social exclusion, even when they are trying
to move forward and change/desist; and secondly, that the absence of certain
resources specifically for women can effectively act to ‘set them up to fail’ in their
attempts to change. The experiences of this small group of practitioners can be located
within the broader failure of criminal justice interventions to facilitate successful ‘reentry’/resettlement, identified in various studies (e.g. Cobbina & Bender 2012;
Huebner, DeJong & Cobbina 2010; Cobbina 2010; Corston 2007) as the primary issue
underpinning women’s long-term/persistent patterns of recidivism. This leads us neatly
into the final section of the chapter, which focuses on gendering desistance within the
PPO strategy.
5.3.3 Desistance: Willing to change, but lacking resources
When specifically discussing gender within the context of desistance and PPOs, the
language of resistance and anti-authority views espoused above were suddenly
absent. When asked whether any differences existed in terms of desistance between
male and female PPOs, CJPP2 replied:
[F]emale PPOs are probably more open to change, more willing to
change, as long as they’re got the support with them and you can
guarantee that support really? The guys are a bit, bit more different,
you know, bit more difficult to engage, um, because they’re generally
more entrenched with their behaviour.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
CJPP2 may have well been correct to raise the issue of whether practitioners could
provide the support they might have promised to female PPOs, given the lack of
resources and accommodation, an issue also raised by CJPP6:
I mean, if you said to me ‘Does there need to be more services for
women?’ then I would say ‘Yeah, I think there does’. Based on the
female that I’m thinking of, um, we did manage to do that, um but I’m
thinking if something like that was in place in [this city], then it would
have made it a lot easier, I should think. Definitely.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
It seemed that in this example, the female PPO in question only received the support
she required because of the innovation and tenacity of the practitioner in question; it is
otherwise likely that without such a proactive approach to offender management, the
same result would not have occurred. In this respect, female PPOs were assumed to
be largely amenable to engaging with CJPPs to forge a pathway out of offending, but
that the resources were often lacking to do so, particular since the ‘needs’ of female
PPOs may be “so complex that the interventions don’t exist to deal with them” [CJPP8:
PPO Single Point of Contact, Prison Officer, HM Prison A].
In relation to the ‘paternalism’ inherent within the Catch and Convict strand of the PPO
strategy, CJPP6 had an opposing view on the issue of “getting [PPOs] to prison before
they do too much damage” in the event that they relapse onto drugs, as advocated by
CJPP5 above. Tapping into broader problems associated with women’s imprisonment
(cf. Corston 2007), CJPP6 was clear that if a Catch and Convict approach were taken
with one the female PPOs with whom she was working, and she was returned to prison,
“it would undo absolutely everything”:
[P]rison would not help her. I personally haven’t suggested prison
[clears throat] and her Probation Officer hasn’t either […] I did sit down
with the Offender Manager and the police were involved as well and
all of us agreed that prison would do her no good – it would undo
absolutely everything, most important being her self-esteem,
confidence, the whole lot would have just completely gone, so we’ve
gone for more supervision because she is, er, amenable to
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
Having the discretion to act in what she viewed as the best interests of her supervisee
in this instance was crucial to maintaining a slow progression towards desistance; if, as
CJPP2 noted above, political priorities were to over-rule this and require a Catch and
Convict response (in light of the new offence she had committed), this would have been
lost. Being able to offer the most appropriate support, such as in this case, is crucial
since PPOs had most likely been in a ‘revolving door’ relationships with the system for a
number of years, perhaps previously experiencing multiple (failed) attempts at
desistance, and that they were therefore no longer able to visualise or ‘believe in’ a life
which isn’t dominated by such a close relationship with the penal apparatus:
They get this sense that they just go round and round the merry-goround, and as a consequence of that their ability to believe in a more
positive future is quite damaged.
[CJPP15: Offender Supervisor, Probation, HM Prison C]
There were, however, some ‘success stories’ in the experiences of the CJPP
interviewees in relation to female PPOs, which also contain some important assumptions
regarding women’s processes of desistance from prolific offending.
Female PPOs: Success stories /de-selection
Only three of the CJPP interviewees talked about prolific female offender ‘success’
stories; that is, female PPOs who had been de-selected from the scheme (a process
discussed in terms of its technical aspects in Chapter Two) and had – to the best of
their knowledge - achieved secondary desistance; that is, they had moved beyond
simply a short-term ‘lull’ in criminal activity to create a new offending-free lifestyle and
identity for themselves (cf. Maruna, Immarigeon & LeBel 2004, p.19). These stories
contained some interesting insights and assumptions in relation to the factors
maintaining women’s cycles of persistent and prolific offending, and the processes at
play in their decision to change/desist. This included the acknowledgement that
processes of ‘natural desistance’ - where ‘external expert supervision may be
complementary, but is not necessary for reform’ (Rumgay 2004, p.405) - might more
likely underpin changes they have witnessed, and that the PPO intervention – which
has been nationally associated with ‘sharp decrease[s]’ in recorded offending among
its charges (Dawson & Cuppleditch 2007, p.7) – would have had little or even no impact
in terms of effecting this change:
[O]ut of the nine females that I um I looked at on our spread-sheet this
morning, there are one or two that have completely stopped all
offending which is, you know, which is ideal. Whether that’s been
through, as a result of the PPO Scheme and the monitoring, or just as
a result of they have decided and they’ve made the choice that they
want to stop offending which is more likely really, is more likely.
[CJPP2: PPO Coordinator for Police]
In similarly considering the potential impact of the PPO intervention on processes of
desistance she had witnessed among female PPOs, CJPP6 also located the primary
trigger or mechanism for offending within a series of factors other than the PPO
scheme itself:
[C]ertainly for one of the female PPO […] she was a prolific shoplifter
and [drug] user - I mean um thousands of pounds worth of goods she
was shoplifting each week - as well as sex work, to feed the habit, well
that’s all stopped now [pause] whether or not that’s [laughs] because
she’s been on the Scheme or not I don’t know. I would suggest it’s
probably because she thought ‘Enough is enough’, and she’s settled
down and met a partner and had a child which has perhaps brought
her along a bit more.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
A host of narratives – including the aforementioned process of ‘natural desistance’ featured here, including the idea of ‘ageing out of crime’/’maturational reform’ (cf.
Glueck & Glueck 1937, cit. in Uggen & Kruttschnitt 1998, p.340), of the potential role
of parenthood/becoming a mother and of having a new partner as other potential, and
of the concept of ‘retirement’ from the drug user lifestyle (i.e. “Enough Is enough”) (cf.
McIntosh & McKeganey 2000).
This is not to say that interviewees did not rate the power of the PPO intervention to
offer the sort of benefits already discussed- particularly in terms of the needs-focused
support; however, they were more likely to see it as complementary to this support,
particularly in terms of the structure and stability that the intensive engagement
required brought to the lives of the erstwhile ‘chaotic’ substance using offender:
[S]he was a complete nightmare before [the PPO scheme] […] Since
then, erm she has been, she’s not – well, she’s offended once […] and
again it’s all relationship linked? But other than that, she had a very
hefty timetable, lots of appointments […] She’s in accommodation now,
which we sorted, and is quite stable - at one time, accommodation was
all over the place, which was part of the problem? [...] I think if you just,
just [pause] give her that, you know, give her that belief and that
direction then - she’s got a child as well - and she’s got everything to
work towards and, for a prolific offender to offend once [pause] that’s
a hell of an achievement.
[CJPP6: PPO Practitioner, Probation, Community]
This raises an interesting idea - that ‘success’ in terms of impacting upon prolific
recidivists re-offending rates does not have to be absolute. Therefore while CJPP2
earlier referred to the complete cessation of offending as “the ideal”, CJPP6
acknowledges that reducing one’s offending to a fraction of one’s previous criminal
endeavours was still considered “a hell of an achievement” for a prolific offender. This
narrative was also found in interviews with staff working under the original Persistent
Offender Scheme model of managing prolific offenders; i.e. that a brief reduction in
offending, or a reduction in the severity of offending, was just as legitimate a success
as achieving secondary desistance(cf. Homes, Walmsley & Debidin 2005).
Offering another version of ‘success’, CJPP5 drew attention to the ways in which the
support offered to one female prolific offender through the PPO scheme had not
necessarily reduced her offending to any great degree, but it had prevented her from
being sentenced to imprisonment and the associated ‘collateral consequences’ (cf.
Dodge & Pogrebin 2001) of this:
[Without the PPO scheme] she’d certainly be in prison, um, by
Christmas anyway, children probably would go to the grandparents or
[…] would be up for foster, maybe adoption if it continued? And then
you get all the guilt, the shame, the failing feelings from the client’s
point of view, and their drug use increases.
[CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
Such ‘success stories’ did not necessarily mean that all CJPPs interviewed believed
that the PPO scheme was a useful and/or benevolent support mechanism for women;
on the contrary, some identified it as the last intervention (short of prison) they would
want to see female offenders subjected to.
Why the PPO model might not ‘work’ for women
When asked directly about the PPO strategy as a means for managing prolific female
offenders, there seemed to be a broad consensus that there was “so much more that
we can do for them” [CJPP3: Senior Probation Officer, PPO Coordinator for
Probation, Community] than to place them within a scheme designed around an
androcentric, RNR framework of somewhat dubious theoretical validity (cf. Garside
2004; Hopkins & Wickson 2013):
I think a lot of work that could be done to ensure that better services
are provided for all of our offenders, and specifically females and
female PPOs.
[CJPP3: Senior Probation Officer, PPO Coordinator for Probation,
At the strategic level, CJPP1 [Senior Civil Servant, Ministry of Justice] similarly
identified a need for “more capacity building” for persistent female recidivists, within
the context of a growth in services for female offenders in general. An example of
where this would be usefully directed was given by CJPP5, identified that because of
their far fewer numbers of female PPOs – and female offenders more broadly – were
often put in “high-risk” situations as part of their offender management, being
accommodated in hostels which were unsafe and provided little in the way of support
for women leaving prison in the immediate post-release period:
[I]t’s very high risk having mixed genders in one house especially when
they’re not that stable and they’re not manned twenty-four hours and
they’re just kind of [trails off] Well, it just all comes down to money I
think at the end of the day.
[CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention Programme]
In recognition of the “chaotic” lives of prolific offenders, one interviewee considered
that the ideal development for female PPOs would be “the ‘one-stop shop’, so that all
needs and services are provided for in the same place” [CJPP1: Senior Civil Servant,
Ministry of Justice]. This initiative, championed in the Corston Report (2007) for
female offenders more broadly, and shown as having broadly positive effects in studies
evaluating their use (e.g. Loucks et al 2006; Hedderman, Palmer & Hollin 2008) seems
to have stalled however, as successive governments have failed to make good on
implementing Corston’s recommendations for a more woman-centred justice system.
CJPP4, the manager of a (now-defunct) women’s centre constructed under the ‘onestop shop’ model, expressed her desire that all of the women currently being managed
under the PPO model to be diverted to such services, since the Catch and Convict
model was “way too brutal” for working with women, the majority of whom are not
serious and violent offenders:
I think the PPO Scheme is way too brutal for some females, and I would
much rather that we got in before they ever got identified or that they
ever actually reached that point because, er, it’s so much harder to
work backwards with somebody than it is to before it’s, you know, like
‘you’re high risk now’, or ‘you’re a PPO now’, or whatever, and those
labels are so, so difficult to get rid of.
[CJPP4: Third Sector Women’s Centre Manager]
It is also worth considering that neither OASys nor the standard PPO scoring matrix
[APPENDIX I] which represent the primary PPO risk assessment tools, take account
of any ‘gender-responsive’ [GR] factors. As identified in Chapter Three, GR risk/need
factors – which include abuse and trauma, self-efficacy, safety, depression, and
parental issues – often operate in a complex combined form to shape women’s
pathways to serious and habitual crime (Brennan et al 2012). Such links would be
impossible to draw out using the current gender-neutral OASys and PPO matrix. This
issue was identified by one interviewee, who felt that the OASys in particular was no
longer capable of identifying women’s GR needs, as “any gender-specific questions
that might have existed have all been replaced by ones on risk” [CJPP10, Offender
Supervisor, Probation, HM Prison A]. The writing-out of gender from risk
assessments (as well as the exclusion of race and culture as valid items) has received
some academic attention in Canada and the United States (e.g. Hannah-Moffat &
Maurutto 2010; Reisig et al 2006), where this same issue has and been identified as
problematic in being able to appropriately manage and effectively support female
offenders. In the UK, CJPP10 suggested that what was required was “a separate
OASys for women”, in order to ensure that prolific female offenders, as part of the
broader female offending population, were receiving a suitable approach for their
offender management team. Such GR assessment tools already exist, in the form of
the Women’s Need/Risk Assessment [WRNA] and the COMPAS Re-entry Assessment
tools; presumably these are tools of the sort desired by CJPP10.
CJPP interviewees seemed somewhat sensitised to the possibilities that female PPOs
might have such GR needs – for example, “self-belief” and “confidence” were identified
as relevant to the prolific offending pathways of female PPOs, and not of male PPOs.
There was little discussion however of the likelihood that trauma histories might
underpin their prolific recidivism, in the ‘extreme’ manner noted by Brennan et al (2012)
of their serious and habitual female offenders. Only one interviewee with front-line
experiences of working with female PPOs explicitly referred to the overwhelming
tendency for them to have experienced domestic and sexual violence in their lives –
expanding on her earlier comment above, in relation to the PPO scheme being a
‘brutal’ way of working with women, CJPP4 suggested that the Catch and Convict
aspect of the strategy risked replaying experiences of ‘brutalised relationships’ female
PPOs may have had in the past:
I don’t like to class female offenders as ‘victims’ because that’s an
entirely separate issue - but when you know how many of them have
already been victimised in the past, you think ‘And our response to that
is to, if you’re a PPO, to put you in with - most likely - a male officer […]
with a team which is very much used to working with men, you’re very
much a minority on the caseload’ [pause] It’s er, it’s quite a brutal way
of working, actually when they’ve already had that experience in the
past or whatever, and the likelihood is that they will have had some
experience like that in the past, particularly in sex working, and they’ve
already had then that brutalised relationship with some men, and then
we put them in this kind of very strict relationship of ‘If you don’t do this,
we ‘re just going to keep taking you back to prison’, that
powerlessness, you know, that it will often seem like, like with violent
relationships, quite sort of disproportionate punishment.
[CJPP4: Third Sector Women’s Centre Manager]
This seemed to be an issue that neither the PPO model nor its practitioners were
sensitised to in the slightest, and the absence of GR concerns in the risk assessments
in use when identifying potential PPOs means that there is a bigger probability for such
traumatic events, and the role they might play in women’s prolific offending careers
and pathways to PPO status, to go unheeded. The end result of this would be that the
criminal justice system, and its practitioners cannot hope to create the most appropriate
– and therefore most effective – offender management response to female PPOs.
5.4 A note on gender-responsivity/woman-centred perspectives
and the CJPPs
Manderson, Bennett and Andajani-Sutjahjo (2006) have identified ‘gender’ as a key
factor in shaping the ‘social dynamics’ of the research interview. Gender operates in
myriad ways to ‘influence the direction, flow, and content of interviews’ (ibid, p.1317),
for example via: the gender of the interviewer; the gender of the interviewee; and the
prevailing gendered social values of a given culture or society in which the interview is
located, or is concerned with. In the current study, my own gender, and the desire to
focus specifically on women in the criminal justice system, played a key role in shaping
the research design, as has already been discussed in Chapter Four. Here, the
influence of gender on the data generated during the CJPP interviews is discussed.
While it is only possible to engage speculatively regarding the relevance of each
interviewee’s gender in relation to the data generated in conversation with them, it did
became apparent during analysis that the degree to which an interviewee (male or
female) could be said to display a ‘gender-responsive’ attitude – i.e. always
‘acknowledg[ing] that gender makes a difference’ in working with offenders (Covington
& Bloom 2006, p.3) – represented an important factor in shaping the level of awareness
of gender-specific issues relating to PAOP offending. More specifically, the degree of
‘gender-responsivity’ displayed by an individual CJPP interviewee appeared to
coincide with the presence or absence of a clear gynocentric ethos - that is, one
specifically concerned with ‘female or feminine interests, emotions, attitudes or values’
(Anderson 2012). In relation to the criminal justice experience, this correlates closely
to what Corston (2007, p.10) described as a ‘woman-centred’ approach, and relates to
the need to ‘treat each woman as an individual with her own set of needs and
problems’, identifying the role of ‘victimisation and isolation by disadvantage’ in
women’s pathways into offending behaviour. Corston further added that a womancentred approach must understand and seek to counter the ‘shame and stigma that
many women feel by a number of life experiences’, which often go beyond the
experience of conviction and/or incarceration to include sexual victimisation,
experience of domestic abuse, sex work, mental illness, and being a single parent
(Corston 2007, p.10).
Only two interviewees – CJPP4 and CJPP5, both women, and the only interviewees
to have chosen to work solely with women offenders – consistently displayed this ethos
throughout their interviews, and this meant that the transcripts of our conversations
were rich in
in-depth knowledge and experiences in relation to women PAOP
offenders, and women offenders more broadly, regarding the following, for example:
women PAOP offenders’ specific pathways into and out of offending, and how this
differed from the male experience; a comprehensive understanding of the Corston
Report and its application to working with women PAOP offenders; relevant academic
and policy debates relating to women in the criminal justice system; the importance of
engaging with woman-centred third sector organisations such as Women in Prison,
and the Together Women project. Both interviewees were also clearly aware – both in
theory and in practice – of the intersection between women’s status as ‘offender’ and
as ‘victim’. This knowledge served to clearly demarcate them from the rest of the
interviewees, who often had only a passing awareness of the Corston Report, or
women in relation to the ‘victim-offender’ nexus.
It would be unfair to say however that the remaining CJPP interviewees lacked any
sense of a gynocentric/woman-centred perspective. Some – particularly front-line
CJPPs – displayed a keen understanding of the centrality of drugs and alcohol in the
lives of criminalised women (particularly those who had previously experienced sexual
and/or physical abuse), and a basic level of gendered awareness of the differences in
‘criminogenic needs’ one might expect to find between men and women who offend
was present in most interviews. However, this was only to be found occasionally
throughout these interviews and on the whole, there was a broad absence of genderawareness in relation to the specific challenges facing women PAOP offenders when
compared to their male counterparts – commensurate with the findings of HM
Inspectorate of Prisons (2010) and Women in Prison (2012, 2013) cited in Chapter
Three - indicating that there is much work to be done before Jean Corston’s vision of
a woman-centred criminal justice system can be realised.
5.5 Summary
While research continually affirms that an individual’s experience of the penal system
is shaped by gender (e.g. Steffensmeier & Allan 1997; Corston 2007), this notion does
not necessarily represent the base assumption of criminal justice practitioners and
professionals. The importance of gynocentric attitudes in understanding/making sense
of and analysing women’s offending (PAOP or otherwise) were rarely evident and
discussions of ‘offending’ and ‘prolific offenders’ were often ‘gender neutral’ by default.
The only exemption to this rule were those women CJPPs who had explicitly
communicated their woman-centred ethos and practice. With the exception of
discussions relating to ‘criminogenic needs’, practitioners and professionals who did
not profess this explicit interest in the penal experiences of criminalised women were
far less likely to try to ‘make sense’ of their charges through a gendered lens. This
suggests that gender-responsive values are filtering down from policy, and perhaps
academic research, but that (i) these have yet to be fully embraced within the rank and
file of – for example – police and probation services, and (ii) that they are embraced
and applied in a far more dedicated manner by those CJPPs whose value systems are
already committed to a gender- responsive way of working.
In lacking any gender-responsive capacities, the current means for managing the most
prolific offenders in England and Wales - i.e. the Prolific and other Priority Offender
initiative – was identified as having the potential to perpetuate, rather than terminate,
women’s prolific recidivism, which was identified as ‘less risky’, less serious, and less
violent, yet more ‘chaotic’ and addiction-driven, than that of their male counterparts,
while being more often located. Even where the PPO strategy had been associated
with positive outcomes for women, practitioners’/professionals’ experience indicated
that the scheme had not played a major part in this, and had - at best - rubbed along
with processes of natural desistance already in play, while at worst, was actually
detrimental to these processes. In sum, criminal justice practitioners and professional
did not consider the PPO initiative to represent the most appropriate means for
supporting the system’s most persistently recidivistic and substance-addicted women
out of offending.
That much of this chapter has focused on women’s pathways out of offending (in terms
of desistance and the PPO strategy) means that the broad lack of data relating to their
pathways in to PAOP offending is rendered conspicuous by its absence, just as the
dearth of women’s ‘counter-narratives’ (cf. Andrews 2004) were largely absent from
the persistent offender literature identified in Chapter Three. In attempting to tackle this
issue head-on, the following chapter outlines the pathways to offending as experienced
by six female Prolific and other Priority Offenders, and six female non-PPOs identifiable
as persistent-re-offenders.
6 - Becoming a PAOP offender:
Women’s personal pathways of onset
6.1 Introduction
This chapter presents data from interviews with twelve women in English prisons. Of
these, Bubbles, Lennox, Marie, Alex, Lisa, and Morgan had been identified (via
methods outlined in Chapter Four) as ‘persistent’ offenders - that is, they had accrued
6 or more convictions across the life course – while Louise, Savannah, Badger,
Cathrine, Mary, and Amy had been identified as ‘prolific’ offenders, having been each
identified in their local areas as Prolific and other Priority Offenders (i.e. had accrued
6 or more convictions in the last 12 or 24 months, depending on the criteria of their
local area).
Overall, the chapter focuses on findings related to the ‘onset’ of women’s persistent
and prolific offending. It begins with an exploration of this phenomenon in relation to
‘Age of onset’ – a long-standing focal point of criminal career research – before moving
onto its central focus; ‘onset’ as conceived of in terms of six distinct ‘pathways’ to the
women’s PAOP offending. Particular attention is paid to the women’s offending
‘genesis’ narratives (cf. William 1984); that is, using the stories they told in relation to
the ‘onset’/origins of their pathways to ‘persistent’ or ‘prolific’ offender status to
generate a clearer understanding of their unique ‘crime etiology’ (cf. Brennan et al,
2012). The data shows an overwhelming centrality of substance use to the
‘onset’/pathways to PAOP offending for these women; an issue clearly identified by
CJPP interviewees as relevant to this phenomenon in the previous chapter. The
significance of trauma as the key factor underpinning the women’s substance use,
however - which was more or less absent in the CJPPs’ accounts of female PAOP
offenders’ patterns of ‘onset’ - was relevant in a number of the women’s genesis
narratives, as established in this chapter.
6.2 Age of onset (as measured at first conviction)
As discussed in Chapters Two and Three, ’age of onset’ is central to the criminal career
paradigm, since early arrest – defined by Moffitt (1993) as ‘pre-teen’, and by DeLisi
(2002) as 14 years or younger – is considered to represent ‘the best predictor of longterm recidivistic offending’ (Moffit 1993, p.678). Those chapters also generated the
following conclusions from the literature: (i) that ‘life-course persistent’ offenders and
PPOs are more likely to be ‘early’ onset offenders than non-PPOs with similar
characteristics (Dawson 2005); (ii) that male offenders – as a broad group - are far
more likely to exhibit patterns of ‘early’ onset than female offenders (e.g. Eggleston &
Laub 2002; Simpson, Yahner & Dugan, 2008); and (iii) questions have been raised as
to whether Moffitt’s (1993) taxonomy of the ‘life-course persistent offender’ actually
applies to women’s experiences of onset of offending (Silverman & Frick 1999, cit. in
Francis, Liu & Soothill 2010). In relation to the last point, the scant data which exists
on the current population suggests that ‘high-frequency chronic’ female offenders do
exist, but are more likely to present as a ‘late’/adult onset group (Blokland & Van Os
2010); that is, early onset does not represent a diagnostically significant factor in the
‘pathways’ to crime of ‘serious and habitual’ female recidivists as it does for men
(Brennan et al 2012).
The data presented in Table 6.1, which records age at first conviction for women in the
sample, below indicates that none of the female PAOP offenders appeared to be ‘early’
onset offenders.
Table 6.1: Tabular representation of age of first conviction of female offenders in
sample, ranked from earliest to latest age at first conviction.
‘PPO’ or ‘non-PPO’?
Age at first conviction
16 years
17 years
17 years
17 years
17 years
18 years
18 years
19 years
19 years
21 years
21 years
23 years
As Table 6.1 (previous page) shows, average age at first conviction was 18.5 years
old (range = 16 years-23 years). There was little difference between the average age
at first conviction between the PPOs (18 years) and the non-PPOs (17.6 years),
suggesting that ‘age of onset’ measured as described above was not a relevant factor
in differentiating the female PPOs – described in the previous chapter as the ‘crème
de la crème of offenders’ [CJPP6] – from the non-PPO women.
The failure of ‘age of onset’ to resonate as central to the PAOP offending of women
identified elsewhere (cf. Brennan et al 2012) also appeared to be the case within this
small sample, and the absence of ‘early’ onset within the sample (if defined as first
conviction at 14 years or younger) indicated that these particular PAOP female
offenders did not conform to the model of ‘early onset as best predictor of life course
persistent offending’ enshrined within the work of – for example – Moffitt (1993),
Blumstein et al (1986); yet the women had continued offending well into adulthood (as
discussed in Chapter Six). Like DeLisi (2002) then, I would argue that these findings
(limited as they are) indicate that the study of ‘habitual offending’ is relevant beyond
‘early onset’ cohorts, and that this may particularly be the case or female offenders.
Such statistics, of course, are greatly limited in what they can actually tell us about the
circumstances surrounding these first convictions, and the criminal transgressions that
occurred before and after this, as well as the context within which these figures are
situated. For this, we turn to a more ‘pathways’-orientated perspective on the
phenomenon of onset for female PAOP offenders.
6.3 “That’s where it all began, really…” Pathways to the present,
and perceived ‘genesis’ of offending
As noted in Section 6.1, when asked to account for their present circumstances (i.e.
being in prison), many of the women responded with a story regarding the genesis (cf.
Williams 1984) of their offending, telling me “where it all began”; these stories
contained the events and experiences by which they had forged their pathways to the
present day. This chapter, then, looks to the experiences of these women as young
girls, and the events which led to the onset of offending, first arrest, first conviction,
and the offending career that subsequently developed. Their experiences of PAOP
offending in the present day, the factors identified as maintaining this cycle, and
discussions of desistance therefore do not feature here, but in the chapters that follow.
The data is organised according to five narrative ‘pathways’, inductively developed
during analysis in an attempt to make sense of various interacting factors which
coincided to produce a route from childhood to persistent and/or prolific offending in
adulthood. These are: 1) the trauma-avoidance-substance use pathway; 2) the male
influence-substance use pathway; 3) the multi-factorial-substance use pathway; 4) the
‘other’-substance use pathway; and 5) the ‘other’-non-substance use pathway.
As is clear from the pathway names, for almost all of the women an enduring history
of substance use and addiction dominated the tales they told of their initiation into the
criminal justice system. The use of alcohol and illicit narcotics as described by these
women – as avoidance of feelings and emotions resulting from physical and emotional
trauma - has been strongly linked with the concept of ‘psychological relief’ (Gordon
2002, p.116); that is, using drugs and alcohol to emotionally escape from particularly
stressful situations, allowing individuals to block out or dissociate from these events
(e.g. ‘family problems at home’, physical and/or sexual abuse, bereavements)
(Harrison, Hoffman & Edwall 1989). As was particularly the case for the first pathway,
the onset of offending was narrated as an almost inevitable consequence of the path
that led from trauma, through seeking avoidance of this via substance use.
6.3.1 The trauma-avoidance-substance use pathway
Similar to the women in Carlton and Segrave’s (2011) study, experiences of trauma
ultimately lay at the root of the pathway of criminalisation for a number of the women
interviewed here. A range of ‘traumatic’ events were discussed as occurring in the
women’s early years – most frequently bereavement, physical and sexual abuse
(inside and outside of the family), chaotic home lives, and absent or substanceaddicted parents. These experiences were narrated as formative in the onset of the
women’s drug and alcohol use which – over time – developed into addiction. Badger’s
story provides a key example of this pathway – where trauma leads to the need for
avoidance; a need which was served by the discovery of substance use (i.e. selfmedication with drugs and alcohol).
Badger, aged 26, sentenced to 4 years, 6 months, (Burglary) - PPO
Badger was a 26 year-old, White British mother of one, serving 4 years and 6 months
for burglary at HM Prison E. The current offence represented her twenty-fifth
conviction, and she had been a Prolific and other Priority Offender for a number of
years. Her opening narrative identified the death of her 2 year-old son, when Badger
was just 17 years old, as the genesis/trigger point on her pathway towards a life that
had come to be dominated by drug use and chronic recidivism:
SW: So, perhaps we could start by you telling me how you came to be
here, at [HM Prison E]?
Erm, my son died; my daughter’s twin brother, he died when he was
two years old, of meningitis? And I started taking drugs, um [lengthy
pause] Yeah, I just got in with a bad crowd, started to do burglaries,
robberies; anything to make money really. And I’ve found myself in and
out [of prison].
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
Delving deeper into Badger’s life story, it became apparent that a close bereavement
she had experienced four years prior to the death of her son – the death of her sister,
when Badger was only 13 years old - had laid the groundwork for a coping response
centred around drug use and “avoidance” (both physical and emotional) of painful and
stressful situations:
Actually, my sister died when I was thirteen, so that’s when it really
kicked off. Yeah, I started smoking weed, and stealing cars… [It was]
for fun, at first. Just for fun [pauses, thinking] Avoidance, really. With
what was going on at home.
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
Here, Badger identifies “smoking weed and stealing cars” as mere diversionary
activities – using substance and petty crime to avoid the realities of life at home, where
her family were struggling to cope with her sister’s death. Returning to ‘age of onset’
as discussed above, Badger’s first engagement with these ‘anti-social’ behaviours
occurs at a far earlier age than her first conviction (at age 19), indicating some
confluence with Moffitt’s (1993) theory of the early-onset, life-course persistent
offender. Badger’s experience also fits the broader patterns identified in Chapter Three
relating to the trauma-centred pathways to prison experienced by substance-addicted
women (cf. Gilfus 1992; Bloom & Covington 1998; Maidment 2008; Moloney et al
2009a). It is possible that Badger’s experience is particularly indicative of a pathway to
PAOP offending that may be more typical of women, since it is thought that the onset
of drug and alcohol use in response to bereavement is particularly prevalent in young
women, and more so, in fact, than any other social group (Sweeting et al 1998, cit. in
McCarthy 2005, p.31).
It is possible that, if not for the death of her son, Badger’s offending may have remained
adolescent-limited; after all, ‘temporary, situational antisocial behavior is quite
common’ (Moffitt 1993, p.674) among this age group. Moreover, there was an absence
in Badger’s home life of the ‘family’ and ‘environmental risk factors’ - e.g. ‘poor parental
supervision’, ‘delinquent sibling(s)’, and ‘association with delinquent peer’ – linked to
later offending and antisocial behaviour (Bennett, Farrington & Huesmann 2005, p.267;
Farrington, Barnes & Lambert 1996):
I had quite a good upbringing […] My mum, my family; they don’t use
drugs or anything like that, they don’t do anything illegal. My brother,
he’s the manager of [a] Burberry [store], d’ya know what I mean? I’m
kind of like the black sheep of the family.
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
However, her existing low-level drug use and offending “for fun”, and the pattern of
“avoidance” through substance use, were exacerbated by the subsequent death of her
son. At this point, Badger’s drug use became “more serious”, rapidly developing into
an addiction that required funding via any means possible; as a consequence, her
offending also escalated in terms of severity:
When I started going on to charlie, crack, and everything, it just got
worse – robberies, burglaries.
SW: And was it all like to fund the drugs?
Yeah […] when I started on crack it got more serious; I needed money
to fend for my drug habit.
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
The question as to whether - for female offenders in particular - substance use
precedes offending, or vice versa remains largely unanswered (cf. Baskin & Sommers
1998); in Badger’s case, she clearly describes the ways in which substance use cooccurred with low-level offending (“smoking weed and stealing cars”) as methods of
“avoidance”, but that the onset of more serious offending was a direct response to her
growing reliance on crack cocaine. This situation also correlates with the experiences
of the CJPPs in Chapter Five, who identified substance use as central to the offending
activities of the female PPO; however, Badger’s genesis narrative provides a deeper
context in terms of the precipitating factors of substance use.
Lennox, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO) – non-PPO
At 62-years old, Lennox was the oldest member of the sample. Her offending – while
never reaching prolific/PPO status - had persisted over the past 40 years since being
first sent to prison at the age of 19. When I interviewed her at HMP Prison E, Lennox
was remanded in custody for a further breach of her Anti-Social Behaviour Order; this,
she told me, she had previously breached on some 26 separate occasions. Like
Badger, Lennox also described a “happy” childhood”, situated within a clearly non‘criminogenic’ home life where she, her mother, and her brothers and sisters lived in a
small town, surrounded by members of her immediate family, and “never wanted for
nothin’”. When asked how she had come to be in the prison, Lennox responded with a
somewhat chaotic narrative which – like Badger before her - located the genesis of her
current situation with a traumatic bereavement (the sudden death of her mother), and
the need for physical and mental avoidance from this:
Well when my mum died when I was about 18 […] I couldn’t hack it, so
I ended up bein’ a little bit of a rascal […] I got sent to a nunnery, ‘cos
I was out of control. I was just goin’ on nineteen, an’ like I said, sent to
a nunnery run by nuns, and I ran away from there to get to [her
siblings]. [But] when I got out I smashed all the windows of ma
stepfather’s house, so they said I was “a teenager out of control”, so
they put me in prison.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
Lennox later disclosed that she had begun seeking emotional refuge in alcohol not only
as a result of her mother’s death, but in response to an additional series of traumatic
events which were linked to this. These included the experience of a familial rape,
subsequently falling pregnant (at the age of 19 or 20), and giving birth during her
imprisonment. Lennox became tearful as she told me that the prison authorities had
informed her that her child had died, but she now believed it to have been secretly
given up for adoption by the prison (“I could hear the baby cry but they told me she
died?”), an avenue she was now pursuing with the aid of a bereavement support
Unlike Badger, Lennox appeared to represent a ‘true’ late-onset offender – contrary to
McGee and Farrington’s (2010) conclusion that such individuals do not exist – she had
never engaged in any form of juvenile ‘delinquency’ or petty offending in her younger
years. Even her initial offence of criminal damage (smashing the windows on her stepfather’s house), for which she received her first arrest, conviction, and prison sentence,
did not seem to represent a truly ‘criminal’ act. This behaviour is perhaps better
understood, with the benefit of hindsight, as an uncharacteristically aggressive
manifestation of a young woman’s distress and anguish at the death of a first-degree
relative - ‘particularly traumatic’ at the stage of life Lennox experienced this (cf. Finlay
& Jones 2000) - and of being forced into a convent. This – and the onset of alcohol
use, which also occurred at this juncture - seemed to represent the sort of ‘status
offences’ for which young women have historically been consistently and
inappropriately drawn into the CJS (cf. Chesney-Lind 1986).
The reaction to Lennox’s grief was undoubtedly a product of time and context; that is,
the criminalising response of that specific temporal and socio-cultural location - i.e.
being forcibly removed to a convent a small Scottish town in the 1970s, and then
incarcerated for running away - would be unlikely in the 21st century. However, Louise’s
experience demonstrates that young women and girls are still criminalised and forcibly
removed – albeit to a secure children’s unit rather than a convent – in the contemporary
Louise, aged 23, sentenced to 2 years 4 months (Burglary) - PPO
The genesis narrative constructed by Louise - a 23 year-old PPO serving just over 2
years for burglary – located her current situation within the context of a pathway that
began with her self-identification as a long-term “drug user”, and a childhood
demonstrable of the chaos and familial offending identified by CJPPs in the previous
chapter as endemic in the lives of PPOs. In this sense, Louise’s story and offending
career epitomised ‘the PPO’ as constructed by criminal justice practitioners:
SW: Um, okay, well perhaps we could start by you telling me how you
came to be here, at [HM Prison E]?
Oh god! [laughs]. Um, well, I’ve been a drug user for 10 years now I’m 23, I started when I was 13, um I have three brothers and they were
all on heroin and crack, so as a young girl, from the age of 6 to 7, alls
I can remember really is them using, police kicking down the door, my
mum screaming, do you know what I mean? And then, well my mum,
with all the stress from my brothers, my mum had two minor strokes,
she lost the right side and she went into hospital for about nine or ten
months? I was 12, nearly turning 13, and then my Nan tried taking me
away and I didn’t wanna go away from my brothers, obviously - I was
really close to my brothers, and uh, so I ran away from my Nan’s and
went back to where my brothers were and then from then on basically
I got onto drugs um myself.
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
The trauma of her mother’s illness, and prolonged stay in hospital, was instrumental in
the onset of Louise’s substance use: “that’s what triggered my drug use off, was when
my mum went into hospital...that’s when it went downhill”. Soon after, Louise
experienced a further traumatic event – “this kiddie died - Marc Smith9, I’ll never forget
him, he was one of my brothers’ friends. He overdosed in the house. I was only thirteen
when it happened” – which impacted heavily on her emotional well-being. In the
aftermath of the death of Marc Smith, Louise felt that she “didn’t have no one else to
turn to […] ‘cos obviously my mum was in hospital… And like it done my head in a bit”.
Of course, the advent of her drug use did not occur in a vacuum, and Louise identified
her state of emotional distress in the wake of her mother’s illness and subsequent
absence and the death of Marc Smith. Her environmental circumstances also
contributed - being left alone in the family home with her three older brothers and their
friends, surrounded by drug use and paraphernalia (“there was [makes noise of
disgust], there were just needles everywhere”) as creating the perfect storm in terms
of the onset of drug use and offending when she found a means of avoiding these
One of my brothers’ mates was giving me what I thought was a spliff,
um he kept giving it to me every single day, like three times a day which
I thought “fair enough”, you know ‘cos it was making me - I had ADHD
when I was younger and it calmed me down, plus with my mum and
the overdose, what he was giving me helped.
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
It was not until this older male went to prison, and was no longer supplying Louise with
her ‘spliff’ that she realised something was wrong
I’ll never forget the day […] I’ve never felt this sort of pain I felt before
and my brothers come back, my brothers looked at the state of me,
and they turned round and said “what the hell is the matter with you?”
and I told him told them what um his friend was doing giving me a spliff,
what I thought was a spliff but then I found out it was heroin [pause].
My brother gave me about five lines [of heroin] on the foil and bang! I
was feeling alright again, so from then on I, uh, I just got flat out then -
A pseudonym.
I started smokin’ crack too then, uh, I was going out with my brothers
we were going out shopliftin’ together.
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
By this point – at which Louise was still only 13 years old, which represents a far earlier
‘onset’ marker than the age at which she received her first conviction (17 years old) –
Louise’s life had switched from being witness to the life lived by her brothers to living it
herself. The lack of support and intervention from outside services – for example,
Social Services – is conspicuous by its absence. By the time formal authorities became
involved, it was to send Louise to a secure children’s unit.
Mary, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal) - PPO
At 40 years of age, Mary was the oldest PPO interviewed, at double the median age
for the inaugural PPO cohort (cf. Dawson 2005) and falling within the 6 per cent of the
national PPO cohort aged 40 years and over (Ministry of Justice 2011). She was
remanded in custody a HM Prison E, awaiting trial for a charge of burglary and, like
Louise, also identified her pathway to prolific offending as bound up with traumatic
experiences and a familial history of substance use. Mary’s father was an alcoholic
and regularly smoked cannabis, while her step-father was a heroin addict - she
indicated that her own pathway into substance use was partially dictated by what she
learned from these individuals. However, the traumatic experiences of the death of her
biological father, and being sexually abused by her step-father, were also instrumental
in Mary “turning to drugs”:
I turned to drugs at an early age […] Being abused by my step-father,
and like my father died when I was four of a heroin overdose, you know,
and like growing up, my stepdad was an alcoholic as well, and he used
to beat my mum so it was all like, I turned to cannabis at the age of like
10 or 11 years old, and alcohol because I’d seen my step-dad do it,
and then it just led on from there, you know?
Mary, PPO, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal)
Mary’s initial substance use – cannabis and alcohol use, learned from her father and
step-father – was the genesis of what was to become an enduring poly-substance
addiction for the next three decades, which included legal (alcohol), prescription
(Valium), and illicit (heroin) substances. Mary did not discuss the causal pathway of
her initial offending behaviour in as much detail as some of the women, possibly
because - like Lennox - the memories of much of her early ‘offending career’ had been
eradicated by her substance use. She was clear, however, that her substance use –
which, as we have seen, grew out of the need to escape the emotions generated by
her traumatic experiences – was at the root of her offending:
I used to drink a lot of alcohol, take a lot of drugs and benzos valium
and that and with the valium I couldn’t remember half of the things I
was doing, and then I‘d wake up in the police station like gutted like
you know I couldn’t even remember what I was done for.
Mary, PPO, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal)
Similar to Louise then, ‘family’ and ‘environmental risk factors’ – particularly ‘poor
parental supervision’ and parental substance use - identified above as predictors of
later offending and antisocial behaviour (cf. Bennett et al 2005; Farrington et al 1996)
were central to Mary’s pathway to substance use and PAOP offending.
Experiences of sexual abuse one’s formative years – as already identified in Mary and
Lennox’s genesis narratives – have been identified as having a ‘strong influence on
offending behaviour’ and shaping women’s pathways to crime (Moloney et al 2009a,
p.426). The impact of sexual abuse on pathways to PAOP offending – via substance
use as a mechanism for avoidance – was perhaps most strongly represented in the
genesis narrative constructed by Bubbles.
Bubbles, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting, Common Assault) – non-PPO
Bubbles – a 24 year-old non-PPO persistent offender, with 27 previous convictions –
also seemed to fall within a trauma-avoidance-substance pathway, constructing the
genesis of her offending career as beginning with a series of traumatic events in her
childhood and teenage years. She told me that he had experienced three separate
incidences of rape, both within and outside of the family, and that she had subsequently
attempted to “block out” these ordeals through substance use:
I started usin’ when [takes deep breath in], when I was eighteen, and
that was because [pause] when I was six, I was raped by my dad. At
fifteen I was raped by my uncle, then I was raped again by my best
friend when I was eighteen [pause]. That’s what set me off with the
drugs. So I was usin’ the drugs to try and block out everythin’ that was
goin’ on?
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting, Common
These events were clearly – and perhaps unsurprisingly – still deeply traumatic for
Bubbles; the deep inward breath she took as she recounted the abuse to me, and her
demeanour as she discussed it were reminiscent of Lennox’s emotional response as
she discussed with me the death of her mother.
Bubbles’ introduction to drug use was through an older male sexual partner, a common
feature of the literature on women’s pathways to serious drug use (e.g. Powis et al
1996; Swadi & Zeitlin 1988). However, environmental factors also played a part, with
Bubbles growing up in a town she called “Crack City”, living on an estate where you
could “walk into any tower block an’ there’s a drug dealer at the bottom”. Having
explained her perception of the pathway from her traumatic experiences to her drug
use, Bubbles – through her genesis narrative – went on to causally link the
development of substance use to the onset of her offending (primarily low-level
acquisitive, i.e. shoplifting) because “you gotta do what you gotta do to support your
drug habit”, adding she would “rather do that than prostitution”. Bubbles’ pathway
shared a number of characteristics with those of Badger and Louise – both PPOs –
and since Bubbles was the only non-PPO whose offending career centred on heroin
addiction and acquisitive crime, it seemed possible that if her drug consumption needs
continued to increase, she too was on track to become a prolific offender.
6.3.2 The male partner influence-substance use pathway
The links between intimate (and particularly older) male partners and women’s
pathways to offending were elucidated in Chapter Three, discussing the ways in which
such relationships – both coerced and non-coerced (Daly 1992) - were implicated in
this. Two of the women in the current study described genesis narratives whereby older
male partners were instrumental in the onset of the women’s substance use, and where
the male influence in shaping the offending pathways of female PAOP offenders is not
limited to their indirect role (as perpetrators of traumatic events) in creating the
conditions for the onset of substance use.
Relationships with drug-using or drug-selling male partners have been identified as
central in women’s pathways to ‘street’ offending’ in the US (e.g. Rockell 2008; Miller
1986; Baskin & Sommers 1995; Sommers, Baskin & Fagan 1994). Savannah,
Cathrine, and Morgan similarly explain – to varying degrees - the transformation from
the onset of substance use to offending and the role of their male partner’s role in this.
This offers us some small insight into the ‘black box’ of the exact processes behind the
progression from substance use and offending in adolescence to crime in adulthood
(cf. Daly 1992).
Savannah, aged 29, sentenced to 3 years, 6 months (Burglary) - PPO
When responding to the inaugural question in the interview, Savannah – a 29 year-old
PPO sentenced to three and a half years for burglary – also narrated the role of
substance use as central to her pathway to PAOP offending. While it was apparent
that there were “difficulties” in her childhood however – including witnessing her mother
suffering domestic abuse, and her displacement from her family home –Savannah did
not choose to narrate these as the keystone of her offending career. Instead, she
described a peer-based route to substance use:
I got on drugs pretty young. From about the age of sixteen I was on
heroin and crack. I met a guy that was older than me that was into
drugs, and that’s how I got on to it. I weren’t really from a family that
took drugs or anything like that, erm, but I did have difficulties like
growing up with my mum and things like that; I had to go live with my
dad ‘cos she suffered domestic violence? But that weren’t the reason
why I took drugs – I just ended up on the scene, and got into it. Then,
um, I went to prison when I was about seventeen for my first burglary.
Savannah, PPO, aged 29, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, Burglary)
Savannah said very little about the process by which she actually began taking drugs
and offending – that is, the ‘black box’ (cf. Daly 1992) which might contain the details
of the route between the difficulties at home, the onset of substance use, and the
rapidity of the onset of offending – remained very much unopened in her genesis
narrative. There was no explanation of the ways in which a 16 year-old Savannah “just
ended up” on the drug scene, and within the space of a year, she had been convicted
and sent to prison for a serious acquisitive crime; this was primarily because she was
very much “looking forward now”, and had no wish to delve into and dissect her past.
The only hint of the processes that lay behind Savannah’s pathway was that she “met
a guy” older than her, who was already involved in substance use, who introduced her
to drug use; the onset of her substance use at least, then, fell within the boundaries of
the common ‘older male-influenced’ theme in the narratives of young women’s
initiations into substance use (cf. Swadi & Zeitlin 1988).
Cathrine, aged 34, sentenced to 3 years, 6 months (Possession & Intent to Supply) PPO
Cathrine, a 34 year-old PPO, currently serving three and a half years for drug offences
at HMP D, was unique within the sample in describing a childhood where she had
begun to experiment with shoplifting at around the age of 12 or 13 - “you know, going
into New Look on the way home from school and... puttin’ clothes on underneath my
uniform and stuff like that”. At this age, fiscal need was irrelevant, Cathrine told me;
she shoplifted for “the buzz”, and because it was something she “really enjoyed”. In
constructing shoplifting as an exciting and gratifying past-time, Cathrine bucked the
trend identified by Byrne and Trew (2005) who found such positive crime orientations
(i.e. crime as ‘something [to be] enjoyed’) (p.190) to be rare among female offenders.
“Gettin’ a buzz” was also what first drew Cathrine towards experimenting with drugs,
which began with putting amphetamines in her coffee.
While Moffitt (1993) observed that life-course persistent offenders ‘steal from shops’ at
a young age, so adolescent-limited offenders also ‘shoplift in stores and use drugs with
friends’ (p.686). Cathrine’s early anti-social tendencies would not have necessarily
doomed her to life-course persistence in her offending, if considered within Moffitt’s
framework. As with Savannah before her however, it was Cathrine’s intimate
relationship with an older male involved in drug use and offending which was
instrumental in escalating not only her substance use – “introducing” her to new
methods of drug use - but, in turn, her offending.
[W]hen I was fifteen, I started injecting [amphetamines]. And the guy I
was with, he was like 35, or something like that, and he was injectin’...
I was really quite fascinated by it, and the high he was getting off it? I
was havin’ it in my coffee and that, but it wasn’t the same. So, um,
yeah, he introduced me to that, and injected me.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
Becker and McCorkel (2011, p.104) note how co-offending with men often ‘changes
the character of women’s criminal involvement’, facilitating participation in more offence
types and with increasing severity. This certainly seemed to be Cathrine’s experience,
who progressed from simple shoplifting for “the buzz” to chequebook/card fraud and
defrauding shops by ‘refunding’ (shoplifting and then returning the goods to the same
store for money) “for him”:
I started doing chequebooks and cards for him, um started shoplifting,
and then started taking stuff back to the store to get the money back
an’ that? Yeah, and erm, I’d been a shoplifter all my life – it was
something that I couldn’t stop. Even when I didn’t need it for drugs,
like? ... I think [in the end] it was something I had to do, if I wanted to
get the drugs and if I wanted to keep him – this guy – happy.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
It was Cathrine’s escalating substance use – which quickly progressed to heroin – that
dictated her need to commit more and more acquisitive crime, a link which has been
acknowledged not only in the PPO literature (e.g. Dawson 2005, 2007) but in the wider
body of socio-addiction studies (e.g. Parker & Newcombe 1987). Similar to Bubbles,
Cathrine felt her only options in this situation were to commit increasing amounts of
increasingly serous acquisitive offending, or selling sex; something that neither woman
was prepared to do:
But when, er, when my drug-taking – like when I started on heroin, it
become a ‘must’ that I had to do it, otherwise I wouldn’t have survived.
Well, I would’ve, but I would’ve ended up doin’ something else like,
erm, prostituting, stuff like that.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
As indicated above, it was at the point where her funding her increasing drug-taking
became a matter of “survival” that Cathrine started engaging in more serious offending
to fund it. By the time she received her first conviction at the age of 17 (for ‘handling
stolen goods’), crime had become a necessary means to an acquisitive end; a way to
fund her growing heroin addiction which, for her, had become a matter of “surviving”.
As we will see in the following chapter, the theme of ‘offending to survive’ comes up
repeatedly amongst the heroin- and crack cocaine-addicted members of the sample
as their offending careers progress.
Morgan, aged 31, sentenced to 3 years, 6 months (Intent to supply Class A drugs) –
Morgan was a 31 year old non-PPO, who was the only woman in the sample with
repeat convictions for drug-related offences. Her genesis narrative was substantively
different from those of many of the other women in the sample as she did not disclose
any traumatic events as causally related to the onset of her offending career. At first
blush, this story seemed to be one of rebellion, whereby the onset of Morgan’s
substance use and offending was (initially at least) part of an act designed to get the
attention of her parents:
They moved into a pub with me and my two brothers when we were
quite young? And whereas my brothers were allowed to be with the
men, drinking and smoking, I was never allowed - they didn’t want me
to be around it? So I was sort of kind of bought you know – ‘Go and
have this’, or they’d come home with uh a pedigree dog or you know,
all these clothes, or you could go shopping – not with them, you know,
just with my friends - so I never had the attention? Erm, so I started
rebelling […] At the age of seven or eight I started stealing and stuff to
get the attention? And then I got into the drugs when I was about
[thinks] fourteen? Started taking mushrooms, and speed, and drinkin’
[…] and I started nicking booze from the pub and [pause]. Any attention
at that time was the best attention, whether I’d be shouted at or things
like that, it was – I loved it, do you know what I mean?
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
In a phenomenon that seems somewhat antithetical to that which one might expect, it
was precisely the non-criminogenic, hard-working nature of her parents which
prompted Morgan’s initial forays into criminal behaviour, based on the emotional and
physical distance her parents’ work put between her and them. Her early drug use and
stealing alcohol directly from her parents was constructed as an act of rebellion; a direct
challenge against her parents; against the disproportionately close relationship
between her parents and her brothers; and against and her parents’ attempts – as she
saw it – to buy her affections with over-indulgent gifts.
As this behaviour continued to escalate, the pro-social bonds that existed with her
family members weakened and diminished. This situation created the opportunity for
‘negative informal social bonds’ to flourish (cf. Byrne & Trew 2008), and Morgan began
to experiment increasingly with different drugs among her peer group, and grow more
distant from her family. The onset of cannabis use and “gettin’ in with the wrong crowd”
– this included running away from home at 16 to move in with a much older male, who
was known to the local police for selling drugs:
I started living with this guy who sold drugs, um, at about the age of 16
– nothing in it, relationship, just friends-wise? He was diabetic and I
was just looking after him so at first I used to get my drugs for free.
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
The consequential increase in substance use also saw her offending escalate,
progressing from crime as a means for “getting attention” from her parents, to
acquisitive crime to feed her growing drug use. Like Cathrine then, Morgan was
subsequently instructed in the ways of shoplifting and committing chequebook-andcard fraud by an older male, who was already involved in drugs and crime, to fund their
drug use when the ‘freebies’ were no longer forthcoming. While not an intimate partner,
in living with and caring for this male, Morgan formed a similarly close (if not sexual)
bond with him, which created the conditions for a co-offending partnership. This – as
already noted above in Cathrine’s case and the work of Becker and McCorkell (2011)
– changed the shape of her offending patterns, setting her on the PAOP offender
6.3.3 The multi-factorial-substance use pathway
Unlike the women above, Lisa - a 36 year-old non-PPO, who was serving a three and
a half year sentence at HM Prison D for an offence of grievous bodily harm (s.18) – did
not present with a clear narrative of the genesis of her pathway to PAOP offending.
During our conversation, she suggested several hypotheses as to the ontological
origins of her offending, rather than identifying one driving force (e.g. substance use)
and the origins underpinning this (e.g. bereavement, sexual abuse, influential male
partner) as the women above had, drawing on element from all of these other
Lisa, aged 36, sentenced to 3 years, 6 months (s.18 GBH) – non-PPO
Lisa first remarked that the persistence of her offending might have been related to her
tendency to shoplift from a young age, almost seeming to suggest an innate deviance
of sorts; a tendency to commit crime that had always been a part of her:
Shopliftin’ is one of my biggest? I’ve always - I can even remember,
when I was little, I can remember goin’ in a shop, with my little Smurf
bag [laughs], and nickin’ a block of marzipan! And my dad took me
back to the shop [...] to the manager? And um, so, so my offending
started at a really young age – I think it might have been linked to it?
Lisa, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, s.18 GBH) – non-PPO
Such early anti-social behaviour is central to Moffitt’s (1993) model of the life course
persistent offender; however, it is also a feature of adolescent-limited offending, as
discussed above, and Lisa later implicates a number of other factors which might have
been instrumental in the progression from childhood to adult PAOP offending:
Er, when did it start? [pause] I’d been having problems at home and at
school [pause] so that’s um, that was a big thing for me when I was a
teenager [...] My childhood was quite- I had a few traumatic
experiences, um [pauses]. I don’t know if that’s linked with [...] my drug
and alcohol use as well? I blamed my dad for that for a long time, like
because he was quite violent with me and my sister growing up.
Lisa, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, s.18 GBH) – non-PPO
Here, Lisa questions whether “traumatic experiences” - of an undisclosed nature,
although including at least the paternal violence perpetrated against her in childhood
– might be linked both to the persistent nature of her offending, and also to the onset
of her drug and alcohol use, which developed over time into a deep-rooted addiction
which, as will be discussed in Chapter Six, underpinned her repeat offending. The links
between ‘trauma histories’ and women’s PAOP offending have already been discussed
above, in both the current chapter and Chapter Three, and will not be rehearsed again
here. Elsewhere in the interview, Lisa suggested that her pathways to onset of
offending “might have been [related to] the people I grew up with around me”,
particularly those at the specialist boarding school she attended. That particular school,
which was for children with “behavioural and emotional difficulties”, was also where
Lisa found a peer group within which she had her first experiences of substance use,
drinking with friends at the weekends and smoking cannabis. Over time, Lisa’s
recreational cannabis and alcohol use increased. She gave this up when she gave
birth to her daughter, at the age of 16; however, she then began using amphetamines,
and “didn’t really look back on that until recently”. This is perhaps the causal link that
Lisa was most certain of; that is, that her substance addiction had underpinned her
offending career, telling me that it consisted of “mainly drink-related offences”.
Lisa could therefore have fitted in any of the above ‘pathway’ groups; however, to have
placed her in only one of these would have been somewhat unprincipled, since she
herself did not follow this construction of her own pathway. Moreover, the reality of all
pathways to offending is that they occur in relation to a multitude of factors; Lisa’s multiperspectival model is therefore just as valid as the two pathways above, and probably
a better reflection of the ‘messiness’ both of research analysis and the lives of
6.3.4 The ‘other’-substance use pathway
Two women – Marie and Amy - fell under this pathway, which was created for those
whose interview data clearly indicated that their offending careers had been shaped
and driven by their substance use, but where there was not enough data relating to the
precipitating factors of the genesis of their PAOP offending to place them in any of the
other pathways.
Marie, aged 45, sentenced to 12 months (s.20 GBH) - non-PPO
Marie, a 45 year-old non-PPO serving 12 months for grievous bodily harm (s.20),
warned me that I “might fall off that chair” before telling me she had received 95
convictions across her offending career (that is, in the 24 years that had passed since
her first offence). The majority of these, she told me, had been for violent offences;
primarily resisting arrest, and assaulting the police in this context. She disclosed a long
history of alcohol addiction, and told me that her convictions were “all for drinking, um;
just for drink, um, drinking”. I found myself feeling that prison was the very last place
someone as seemingly vulnerable as Marie – who also had a history of homelessness
in addition to her addiction, and informed me 10 minutes into the interview that she had
learning disabilities – should be.
I asked Marie about her childhood on a number of occasions. On the first, she told me
that she had been in a children’s home from the age of approximately 6 years old until
12 years old. The next time I asked her about her childhood, she told me that her
mother had left the family home because of the violence she suffered at the hands of
Marie’s father – it was at this point that Marie went into the children’s home:
I mean, you sort of haven’t mentioned your mum, really at all. Did she
figure much in your life?
Ummmm, I have seen my mum, but [pauses] but only when, you know
when, when we was kids.
But not since?
Had she left, did she leave your dad?
Mmm, yeah. ‘Cos he used [lowers voice to a whisper], he used to
punch her. And beat her up.
Marie, non-PPO, aged 45, sentenced (12 months, s.20 GBH)
I gained little insight into Marie’s past, or into the events and experiences that may
have contributed to the onset of her alcohol dependence on this, for reasons elucidated
in Chapter Four. However, it was clear that her self-confessed alcohol addiction and
her status as a persistent offender were linked, as she told me on more than one
occasion that all of her arrests and convictions were “because of the drink”. While her
genesis narrative is therefore incomplete, she is located within a pathway to PAOP
offending which acknowledges that it has been shaped and driven by an alcohol
dependency, but also that the ontological heritage of Marie’s persistent offending
career remains otherwise unknown.
Amy, aged 31, sentenced to 3 years (Robbery) - PPO
Similar to Marie, the interview with Amy – while much longer than Marie’s interview –
generated very little detail about the actual events and processes which Amy perceived
to have been central in shaping the onset of her pathway to prolific offending, and PPO
status. She explained that she became addicted to heroin at the age of 16, and that
committing crime to fund that drug use has dominated her life, and shaped her
offending career since then:
[F]rom the age of sixteen I ended up, um, on drugs, um, being a heroin
addict, um, and it basically has controlled my life since the age of
sixteen... I’ve been to nine different prisons – I’ve been to [prison name]
twenty-one times... so it’s been a pretty big part of my life, prison, but
only because of the drugs, offending through the drugs.
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
Amy made it clear that both crime and prison were only a “big part” of her life “because
of the drugs”; that is, because of the acquisitive crime she had committed to fund her
growing heroin addiction:
[S]hoplifting, that’s my main thing, erm, and then I started ‘refunding’,
which is turning- nicking things in the shop and taking ‘em back...
nearly all of it was for drugs. Some a bit personal use as well –
shoplifting, you know, so I don’t have to buy things, like clothes and
make-up. But mostly for drugs.
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
Unlike many of the interviewees, however, Amy did not explain the antecedent
conditions to the onset of her drug use, or indicate the ways in which these had shaped
her criminal career, as – like Savannah – she was interested only in “looking forward”,
to the life that lay ahead of her.
6.3.5 The ‘other’-non-substance use pathway
One woman stood out among the sample group for the complete absence of
substance-related narratives present in the stories she told me. Although ‘problematic
alcohol use’ was indicated on her OASys form, Alex herself did not mention this, and
for this reason, she is the only individual to fall under a ‘non-substance’-orientated
pathway. There was much that was not known about Alex’s early life, owing to the
relatively short interview time and Alex’s (understandable) preoccupation with talking
about the recent death of her sister (see Chapter Four); however, enough was known
to draw the following inferences from the data generated during that time.
Alex, aged 30, sentenced (length unknown) (s.18 GBH) - non-PPO
Alex, a 30-year old non-PPO serving a sentence for section 18 grievous bodily harm,
was distinct in many ways. Being of Black British ethnicity, Alex was the only non-White
interviewee in the sample. She had grown up in an inner-city area, and was the only
interviewee to talk about being a member of a “gang” and possessing a gun. Like
Morgan and Cathrine, Alex had a history of selling drugs, although again she was
distinct in that she preferred to trade in them rather than to use them. It was evident
that Alex felt that some of her experiences in her early years were central to the onset
of her offending:
My family were never there for me. I had a horrible background – um,
I was in care, my dad abused me – not sexually, but believe me, he
used to beat the shit out of me [...] If my family were there for me in the
first place, which they never were, then [pauses] If they were there for
me, maybe I wouldn’t have to go around searchin’ for love and mixing
with the wrong sort of people.
Alex, non-PPO, aged 30, sentenced (length unknown, s.18 GBH)
Here, Alex implicated the absence of familial love, the physical violence perpetrated
against her by her father, and her experiences of being placed into care – experiences
which, while not described as such by Alex, are clearly reminiscent of events in the
‘trauma histories’ of other women in the sample, as detailed above – as important
factors in her pathway to persistent offending. However, we know little more than this,
for the reasons given above. Again, while Alex could have been inserted into the
‘trauma’ pathway above, the fact that she did not discuss these issues in enough depth
to warrant being forced into a category which might not accurately reflect her
experiences, and that the issue of substance use as central to the genesis of her
offending was identified only through OASys and not through the interview data, means
that the construction of a non-substance-related pathway was the most appropriate
and ethical analytical decision.
6.4 Summary
The women described in this chapter did not ‘fit’ into any one existing model of onset
of ‘women’s offending’ or ‘persistent offending’ or of ‘prolific/PPO offending’; instead,
they sat at the intersection of all three, drawing attention to the absence of a
satisfactory understanding of women’s pathways to PAOP offending. This issue had
not been identified prior to the current research.
The life stories presented here opened a window into a deeper understanding of the
events leading up to the women’s first official conviction - i.e. the genesis of their
offending ‘career’. Similar to the women in Daly’s (1992) harmed and harming women
pathway, the majority of the women had been ‘abused or neglected’ as children and
were ‘often’ drug or alcohol-addicted, although the violence that was so central to that
model was as absent in the PPOs’ offence modus operandi as it was present in that of
the non-PPOs. There was little evidence of the women’s pathways into offending being
dominated by the ‘status offences’ often thought to be central to the manner in which
young girls first encounter the criminal justice system (cf. Chesney-Lind 1986). This
suggests somewhat of a demarcation between those traditional pathways into the CJS
and those experienced by the women in the current study, who perhaps more closely
fit the experiences of Segrave and Carlton’s (2010) sample of imprisoned women, for
whom early trauma - most frequently bereavement, physical and sexual abuse, chaotic
home lives, and absent or substance-addicted parents – ultimately lay at the root of
the onset of their offending. Therefore, while the progression of women in the current
study to ‘persistent’/’prolific’ offending is atypical of the general offending population,
their experience of trauma-centred pathways to offending indicates a broad
commonality with other criminalised women in research to date (although this research
base may be limited in being primarily based on experiences in Western developed
nations, e.g. the USA (Gilfus 1992), the UK (Moloney, van den Bergh and Moller 2009),
and Australia (Baldry 2010)). As Brennan et al (2012) similarly found, the data in the
current chapter also indicates that women experience multiple and varied pathways
into ‘habitual’/PAOP offending; variations for which existing ‘pathways’ literature
cannot account.
The discovery of alcohol and narcotics as a means for managing feelings and emotions
resulting from traumatic experiences - a notable characteristic of prison-based
populations (Finlay & Jones 2000; Dembo et al 2000) – also dominated the women’s
genesis accounts. This addresses the oft-posed question as to whether women’s
substance use precedes offending or vice versa (cf. Baskin & Sommers 1998). Even
where early traumatic experiences were not identified as leading to substance abuse,
their centrality in women’s offending across the life course remained. It is the absence
of such considerations in Moffit’s (1993) ‘life-course persistent offender’ model – in
addition to its failure to account for occurrence of late-onset PAOP offending - which
renders it conceptually inadequate for making sense of the genesis of offending for
these particular women PAOP offenders.
For the majority of these women, where responses to trauma histories were bound up
with the onset of substance use, these events represented the keystone of addiction;
a phenomenon disclosed as being present in the lives of all but one of the women, and
one which – as Chapter Seven now discusses – dominated and dictated the women’s
offending trajectories across the life course.
7 - Tenacious ‘persistence’, or
‘frustrated desistance?’ Factors
implicated in women’s PAOP offending
across the life-course
7.1 Introduction
The previous chapter outlined in some depth the genesis narratives, or initial
‘pathways’ to onset of offending taken by the women in the sample. Building on this,
the current chapter attends to the factors implicated in the persistence of their offending
career; that is, attending to the frequently-overlooked ‘how’ and ‘why’ (cf. Palmer 1994,
cit. in Maruna, Immarigeon & LeBel 2004, p.9) of women’s recidivism over time. In
doing so, it addresses part of the overall aim of the thesis – to explore both the breadth
and depth of women’s of life-course PAOP offending - as well as the third research
question, which sought to establish ‘factors and events’ implicated in women’s PAOP
A key criticism Bushway, Brame and Paternoster (2004) make of existing theoretical
and empirical studies of recidivism is that despite the ‘unambiguous linkages’ between
this – i.e. ‘the renewal of the offending career after some ‘intervention’ (p.85) – and the
study of desistance, research in either area is ‘rarely reflective’ of research in the other.
Bushway et al’s own contribution to addressing schism this is focused on connecting
the two via statistical methods; while important, this of course fails to take into account
the lived experience of the interplay between these two concepts. Explicit theoretical
linkages between women’s persistence and their desistance are also largely absent
within research committed to exploring the female experience of crime, criminality, and
the criminal justice system. In interviewing the current sample, these linkages between the women’s recidivism and repeat attempts at desistance - were strikingly
Indeed, it seemed that the offending careers of these particular female PAOP offenders
were predicated less on tales of ‘persistence’ in offending, and more frequently about
their experiences of frustrated desistance. This concept is developed in the current
chapter through an examination of two types of factors associated with the
persistence/desistance nexus: (i) ‘criminogenic’ factors - i.e. those factors identified as
functionally and directly related to women’s recidivistic persistence, as conceived of in
the risk-need-responsivity literature - and (ii) what I refer to as ‘frustrating’ factors – i.e.
those functionally and directly related to women’s previous abortive attempts at
maintaining desistance.
The chapter also considers instances in the women’s stories whereby events officially
recorded as ‘re-offending’ take on a different dimension when re-narrated through the
lens of the women’s lived experiences.
7.2 Offence type & most recent conviction
Before discussing the factors implicated in the women’s offending career over time, it
will be useful first to examine the types of offending in which they had been involved,
particularly since this builds on, and challenges, some of the assumptions relating to
women’s PAOP offending identified both through the literature and through the
narratives of the criminal justice practitioners and professionals in Chapter Five.
Across the life course, the PPOs in the current sample had committed offences of
greater severity – specifically in terms of acquisitive offences – than their non-PPO
counterparts. The latter had accrued convictions and arrests for offences which
included, but were not limited to: offences against the person (common assault,
battery, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, sections 20 and 18, assaulting the
police), acquisitive offences (shoplifting, theft), drug offences (possession, supply, and
intent to supply all classes of drugs), breach offences (of community order, of Probation
licence, of Anti-Social Behaviour Order), and - less commonly - criminal damage,
robbery, soliciting, possession of a weapon, and dishonestly abstracting electricity. The
PPOs’ offence histories, however, included all of the above and in addition included
numerous counts of serious acquisitive offences - i.e. burglary and robbery – which
rarely (and in the case of burglary, never) appeared in the non-PPOs’ offence histories.
That the PPOs’ had committed greater amounts of serious acquisitive crime should not
be of particular surprise; after all, this is the sort of offending which the initiative set out
to tackle, and represents the central data source through which individuals are
identified as PPOs. Moreover, the association between acquisitive offending and drug
use as identified in the previous chapter also would have also played a part in shaping
the type of offences committed by, for example, the PPOs disclosing a heroin addiction.
However, these clear dissimilarities indicates that there is some validity in continuing
to differentiate between them as ‘prolific and/or persistent’ offenders, and not in simply
amalgamating the two.
The greater levels of offence severity among the PPOs also meant that their most
recent convictions (as seen below in Table 7.1, overleaf) bore little resemblance to
those offence types which were identified in 1995 as the ‘top five’ most commonly
Embezzlement and Prostitution (which had remained remarkably consistent since
1965) (Pollock 1999). However, since four of the six non-PPOs had most recently been
convicted or remanded in custody for offences against the person (GBH and common
assault), they also fell outside of the ‘canon’ of traditional female offending identified
by Pollock above. It is possible that this was related to the length of time the women
had been actively engaged in offending – the average PPO ‘career’ duration (from first
conviction to date of interview) was 12.5 years, and 20.4 years for their non-PPO
counterparts. At the start of their offending careers, the women recollected committing
offences falling within Pollock’s ‘top five’. Cathrine, for example, recalled the fraud,
forgery, and theft (larceny) which had characterised her initial forays into crime:
I started by doing chequebooks and cards […], um, then started
shoplifting, and then started taking stuff back to the store to get the
money back an’ that?
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
Table 7.1: Tabular representation of offence for which PAOP female offenders in sample
were most recently convicted or remanded in custody
Most recent offence
Convicted/remanded in
Possession & intent to supply
Burglary with intent to steal
Grievous bodily harm s.18
Grievous bodily harm s.20
Grievous bodily harm
Intent to supply class ‘A’ drugs
Theft [shoplifting], Common
Breach of ASBO (alcohol-related)
As Table 7.1 indicates, over time the women had mostly moved on from such offences,
progressing to different types, and – in most cases - more serious offences; Cathrine,
for instance, had progressed from chequebook fraud, shoplifting and ‘refunding’ to
selling Class A drugs (her most recent conviction),while Louise had graduated from
shoplifting to burglary. This progression to higher-stakes acquisitive offending again
most likely reflects the increasing seriousness – and expense - of feeding a hard drug
addiction, at least in relation to the PPOs. For the non-PPOs, their apparent
progression to more violent offences is perhaps less simple to explain, although it is
possible that the disinhibiting effects of alcohol may have played a part. Since the
discussion of ‘violence’, and what it meant to be a ‘violent offender’, featured in a
number of the interviews, this is discussed in more detail below.
Having presented the women’s ‘criminal careers’ in terms of the offences for which
they have been convicted over the life course, the following section identify the factors
which the women themselves identify as implicated in these experiences of repeat
7.3 Reframing ‘persistence’: Counter-narratives of women’s
PAOP offending
Chapters Two and Three identified the ‘dominant cultural storylines’ (Andrews 2004,
p.1) which underpin our understanding of (broadly) PAOP offending, the PPO, and
women who offend. Drawn from various academic studies, governmental policy,
journalistic articles, and even web pages, this information represents what might be
understood as the ‘standard stories’ (cf. Abma 1999) related to these phenomena,
generated by individuals and organisations with the power to construct ‘master
narratives’ which will adhere to the audience’s consciousness as the ‘official’ version
of the story being told.
But how do individuals who might fall within one, or even all, of those three substantive
categories – i.e. PAOP offender, PPO, and female offender – respond when the
‘dominant cultural storylines’ that dictate the ways in which others interpret their lives
does not seem to ‘fit’ with the storyline by which they make sense of their own life?
Andrews (2004, pp.1-2) claims that in such situations, having ‘the power to oppose’
through the construction of a ‘counter-narrative’ offers such individuals the opportunity
to present their own interpretation of the events or phenomena in question.
The following section is concerned to provide the ‘counter-narratives’ offered during
interviews with the female PAOP offenders, which were called upon where they felt
that some aspect of the master narrative by which others ‘made sense’ of their actions
did not ‘fit’ with their interpretation of events. These counter-narratives were most
frequently mobilised when the women felt that some aspect of the ‘official’ version of
their offending was incorrect or that their actions were misunderstood, which most
typically occurred in relation to (1) defensive action being officially recorded as
‘violence’ without any sense of context, and (2) being considered a PAOP offender
when a large proportion of ‘offences’ on their record were non-criminal ‘breaches’ of
civil orders.
7.3.1 Offences against the person: Repeat ‘defensive’ violence?
Despite the fact that most of the women had ostensibly ‘violent’ offences present in
their criminal histories (most frequently resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, and
common assault), and that ‘violence’ formed some part of the most recent offence of
half of the women interviewed, the women remained keen not to misunderstood as a
‘violent offender’:
I haven’t got a violent streak in my body.
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting,
Common Assault)
I’m well known [to local police] - no’ for bein’ violent, no, ‘cos I’m never
violent to anyone.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
This perhaps should not be surprising – after all, violence remains a particularly
stigmatising action when undertaken by a woman. Neither should the rebuttals of
Lennox and Bubbles be simply dismissed as ‘techniques of neutralisation’ (Sykes &
Matza 1957) (and even if this were to be the case, we can learn much from the ‘lies’ of
others) (Sandberg 2010), but instead we should engage with the ‘multiple meanings’
of women’s violent offending (Wesely 2006). Taking Bubbles as an example, she did
not seek to deny that the violence involved in her latest charge of common assault
occurred, and that she was the perpetrator. What she did want to challenge was any
idea that I might have that this meant she was a violent individual (hence the rebuttal
above), or that she was the primary aggressor. She explained:
This common assault yeah, it’s like when store detective have proper
manhandled me? Like I’m up for shopiftin’ and common assault now
‘cos – the shopliftin’, obviously I took stuff without their consent [Me:
mmm] - and the common assault is where the store detectives pinned
me against the wall? And I walked away and I threw my phone, and it
hit him on the nose and it cut his nose [pauses] I didn’t mean to do it.
But it was [pause] I was annoyed. I was, he really hurt, like proper
bruised all my arms and everything – I come here, I had fingerprints
like that [indicates on arm], bruises. But he got charged with, for
common assault as well […]. The police did that. ‘Cos they see that he,
he – ‘cos he can use ‘reasonable force’ but the bruising on me was not
reasonable force [Me: no]. ‘Cos the police know me [laughs wryly] they know that I don’t normally kick off an’, ‘cos this store detective’s
six foot three [pause] So... [Me: big guy!] Exactly! And look at me!
There was no reason to do that to me, especially someone as little as
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting,
Common Assault)
What Bubbles is describing here was not ‘offensive’ violence where she was the
primary instigator – which one might readily assume was the case in a common assault
charge - but rather defensive violence (cf. Wesely 2006). So while Bubbles’ violence
was retaliatory and in anger by her own admission, it was undertaken in response to a
violent assault that she had already experienced.
Another interviewee, Lisa, told me that she thought she was “quite a violent person”
[Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months)]. Five of her previous
periods of imprisonment had been related to convictions for assaulting a police officer,
episodes which she sought to re-narrate as ‘resisting arrest’:
[It] ain’t um violent really, because I was just resisting arrest, you
know? And it comes up ‘Assault: Police’ – it sounds worse than what it
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months)
When discussing her most recent conviction, for grievous bodily harm, Lisa disclosed
that this occurred within the context of intimate partner violence, and that it was her
male partner - from whom Lisa had experienced domestic violence throughout the
course of their relationship – who was the victim. She explained that she knew that
something “had to change” because of the seriousness of the current incident:
I could’ve killed my partner, or he could have killed me, do you know
what I mean? So I know it’s serious.
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months)
During the discussion of her life, Lisa disclosed multiple experiences of violent
victimisation, much of which – like Bubbles above - was arguably retaliatory and where
Lisa was not the primary aggressor. One example of this was her very first experience
of being assaulted:
The first time I was assaulted by someone in my community where I
lived, um, I went to the police but what had happened is he punched
me in the face and I hit him over the head with a cup, and I went to the
police and they said there was no point in doing anything about it
because he’d get done for ABH and you’d get done for GBH, but it was
that same retaliation thing, you know?
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months)
Wesely (2006) notes that such ‘defensive violence’ represents a key survival strategy
for women under threat of partner violence, which is the context in which Lisa has most
frequently had to defend herself. Reflecting on her past use of violence however, Lisa
presented a narrative that was both determined to move away from violence, but which
also acknowledged the role defensive violence had played in saving her life on
In my mind, my instant reaction [to being attacked] would be, oh, you
know, for bleedin’ karate [laughs], you know? [both laugh]. But, you
know, now I can’t do that anymore, ‘cos it’s obviously, you know - it’s
not right is it? It’s why we’re here! [gestures at the prison walls around
us]. Even though I’m thankful for being here, I’m glad to be here but,
um [pauses] I could have been killed a few times you now if I hadn’t
have done, like if I wasn’t the way I was, if you know what I mean?
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months)
These examples highlight the importance of exploring the multiple meanings and
counter-narratives behind women’s experiences of violence within the context of
criminal justice.
7.3.2 ‘Persistent re-offending’? Or ‘repeatedly being breached’?
It is estimated that only a small percentage of women’s ‘re-offences’ leading to reincarceration are related to the commission of new crimes; the majority are, in fact, for
‘technical or administrative breaches’ of various licence conditions (Maidment 2008,
p.5). The prevalence of such ‘breaches’ within the stories the women told of their
offending career indicated that while the commission of actual ‘offences’ was probably
not as rare in their experience as in Maidment’s statistic quote above, but was
nonetheless an important feature of the offending landscape of the women’s lives.
Some of the women, for instance, noted that they had multiple experiences of such
breaches on their official record:
I used to have an ASBO as well, and I breached it loads of times – I
breached it five times. But it’s up now.
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
They reckon I broke my ASBO twenty-six times.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
I’ve got a lot of failin’ to surrender and that, ‘cos I used to – like, if you
was wanted, obviously you’re not gonna go and hand yourself in, are
ya?! [corrects self] Well, you should do, but I didn’t. This is when it all
started gettin’ a bit worse, d’ya know what I mean? I was gettin’
Community Orders, d’ya know what I mean, breached those, got an
Electronic Tag, breached that too.
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
Only one of the women was currently in prison for such a breach; Lennox, who had
breached her Anti-Social Behaviour Order on more than twenty separate occasions,
was currently remanded in custody on the same charge, as a result of being caught in
a public place with a can of Special Brew contrary to her Order. In discussing the
difficulty of escaping the cycle of reconviction, release, and relapse, Lennox explained
that her most recent arrest felt like she had been set up by the local police who,
knowing that her ASBO conditions prohibited her from consuming alcohol in public
places, did not warn her when she entered her local park with the beer, waiting until
she had sat down with friends and started drinking to come and tell her she was under
They see me comin’ in ta the park wi’ ma can, an’ never said nothin’.
Nothin. Then two of ‘em came back, they said, ‘You’re on an ASBO’. I
says ‘Yeah, I know,’ I says, ‘but [adopting a confused tone] you see me
before I came in wi’ ma can?’ [They said] ‘I’m sorry, we’re nickin’ you’,
[suddenly sounds quite aggressive, incredulous] I says ‘You what?’ An’
the others wanted - I says ‘Leave it, it’s alright’. They says ‘No – they’re
out of effin’ order’, they says ‘the woman’s no’ doin’ any harm […] she’s
only got one can of beer in her hand!’ And ma people were tryin’ to say
“It’s not fair, it’s only one can of beer ya had, an’ they watched ya come
in, an’ then followed ya round - they must have checked up-‘ ‘Yes’, I
said, ‘but I’m not meant to be seen wi’ a can’.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
Lennox conveyed through this narrative the sense that she was being ‘set up’ – or at
least ‘tested’ - by local law enforcement officers, as well as the sense of indignation at
being returned to prison for what, in effect, was consuming a solitary can of beer in a
public place. Lennox faced having a further re-conviction added to her official record
as a result of this incident.
The difficulty of adhering to Licence or ASBO conditions which forbade substance use
was, for the majority of these substance-addicted women, bound up with the demand
that substance-addicted individuals ‘stay clean’ following detoxification. Badger
suggested that by doing so, the criminal justice system is “setting [her] up to fail”. The
consequence of failing to adhere to any licence conditions in this way attached to their
sentence upon release weighed heavily on the minds of the women:
I’ll do fifteen months [of her sentence] here. And then fifteen months
on licence [pause]. But it’s the licence I’m worried about? […] If I fuck
up on my Licence, I’m coming back for another fifteen months, d’ya
know what I mean?
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
Badger was one among many of the woman in the sample who espoused such a view.
The only exception to this was Morgan, who had “never been recalled, had a licence
recall, or I’ve never had to come back because breached that” [Morgan, non-PPO,
aged 31, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)], making
her unique across the entire sample, PPOs and non-PPOs alike.
7.4 Life-course persisters? Or frustrated desisters? Factors
implicated in women’s PAOP offending across the life-course
While the current study initially set out to identify the factors women identified in the
persistence of their offending careers, one of the consequences of adopting a lifehistory approach to the interviewing was that the women were very easily able to
convey the fact the cyclical nature of their offending career, which was interspersed
with criminal justice interventions, periods of being substance free and achieving a
crime-free lull (primary desistance) before relapsing. This in turn led to re-offending,
which in turn resulted in yet another arrest, conviction, or incarceration. Such stories
were so dominant in the women’s narratives that it came to make increasingly less
sense to think about them as persistent offenders, and increasingly more sense to
understand their offending careers as repeatedly marred by frustrated desistance.
7.4.1 Substance use: “If I don’t use, I don’t offend”
As identified in Chapter Six, most of the women in the current study initially began
using substances in their younger years to cope with a range of traumatic experiences
as detailed in the previous chapter. They now found themselves – years, and even
decades later – ‘in addiction’. Substance use also represented an almost-omnipresent
issue within the interviews; only Alex did not disclose a history of addiction (although
her OASys form did identify ‘problematic alcohol use’ as one of her criminogenic
needs). The primary substance of choice for all six PPOs without exception was heroin,
in addition to crack cocaine; Class A, illicit substances to which the women reported
being addicted since their teenage years. Conversely, alcohol was the primary
substance of choice for the majority of the non-PPOs with an addiction history, with
only Bubbles - who reported a heroin addiction – differing from this pattern. In terms of
the endurance of the women’s addictions, some of the women had barely had a month
substance-free since they began using; others had achieve extensive periods of
substance and offending-free living before relapse occurred.
Almost all of the women described their offending, and repeated re-incarceration, as
wholly or partially as causally linked to their addiction and substance use:
If I don’t use drugs, I don’t offend?
Savannah, PPO, aged 29, sentenced (3 years, 6 months,
Worse thing I think I ever done was start takin’ that crap [heroin]. ‘Cos
if I didn’t start takin’ it, I wouldn’t be in and out of prison all the [trails
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting,
Common Assault)
I said ‘I’m guilty, Your Honour – it’s no, nae good turnin’ round and
saying ‘not guilty’ when I got caught on camera wi’ a can of beer]. An’
I’ve always plead guilty to it - all the things I’ve done, I said ‘Yeah, I’m
guilty because I’m an alcoholic’.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
It’s been a pretty big part of my life, prison, but only because of the
drugs - offending through the drugs?
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
If I tell you how many convictions I’ve got, you’ll collapse there [laughs]
[…] I’ve got ninety- what was it? Ninety- ninety-five […] For, um,
drinking – just for drink, um, drinking [Me: all of them?] [Marie nodding]
Mmm, yeah.
Marie, non-PPO, aged 45, sentenced (12 months, s.20 GBH)
In this sense, addiction was truly criminogenic for these women – the two phenomena
were intimately linked, and the women’s own re-offending risk assessment of
themselves seemed to be that if they were substance-free, they would not (need to)
7.4.2 The “pull” of addiction: A frustrating factor
Of course, becoming substance-free, and staying substance-free, are two very
different challenges, as Morgan explained:
It’s so hard, [emphasises] so hard not to get back into the old routine.
Like, as much as you want it - your head’s sayin’, ‘Right, now’s the
time, this is it. I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it’ - it’s so hard if when
you’re an addict and you’ve got an addiction it’s [sharp intake of breath]
it’s so easy to grab you again you know, I need the support and the
stability, otherwise it’s just gonna go pear shaped again. It’s really
[pauses, then sighs] Drugs is nuts.
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
For Morgan then, ‘support and stability’ was required to maintain a drug-free existence,
essentially describing what she requires to achieve secondary desistance – to adopt
the terminology of Maruna, Immarigeon and LeBel (2004) - from addiction; that giving
up (primary desistance) is the comparatively easy part, but it is maintaining that change
that – like becoming, and staying, crime-free – represents the biggest difficulty:
You wanna be clean but, it’s just that pull, it’s so strong; it’s just weird
how, you know, something so little can be something so big, and can
ruin your whole life? [Me: yeah].
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
Morgan went on to explain that making the decision to get out of addiction, having
sustained employment, and the promise of bettering oneself were still not strong
enough to counter the “pull” of addiction:
So me for, getting out of prison [pause] In my head, I tell myself ‘Right,
In don’t want this life any more – I’m better than that, you know, I can
go back to college, I can do this, I can do that, I’ve had some good
jobs, I can do this, I can do that [pause, for effect, then says grimly] It
never happens, it never happens.
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
In fact, a number of the women described situations where they had left prison
previously, substance-free, but- again borrowing Maruna et al’s criminal desistance
terminology - were unable to make the transition from a ‘lull or [substance]-free gap’ in
the life course, to ‘the assumption of the role or identity of a ‘changed person’’ (Maruna,
Immarigeon & LeBel 2004, p.19). Essentially, they were unable to make the permanent
change ‘from addict to non-addict’ (McIntosh & McKeganey 2000):
Years ago […] I done a rehab, an’ I felt good, then I had a job workin’
with old people which I loved – that was at, that’s Age Concern, that’s
closed down now. I mean [sniff], I would’nae drink, I stayed off the drink
for six months one time as well, still goin’ into [town], sittin’ at the side
of the park, sittin’ with a lot of people I know sayin’ ‘D’ya want a drink?’
- I says ‘No thank you, I’ll have a can of ginger beer and a can of Irn
Bru – they said ‘Will you go to the shop for me then?’ - I think they were
tryin’ to test me tae see if I’d take a can from them [SW: yeah], but I’d
go and buy a can of Tenants, a can of Special Brew, or a bottle of cider.
And I’d go ‘Here’. ‘You sure you don’t want a drink?’ they’d say, and
I’d go ‘No thanks!’ I think they were tryin’ to – I mean don’t get me
wrong, they’re all lovely people – they’ve all got a drink problem where
somethin’ else has happened in their life. But then [sighs] I was a bit
down in the dumps an’ I thought ‘I’ll have another can o’ Special Brew’.
And that was it then.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
The “pull” of addiction, then, represented a serious problem within the lives of these
women, the majority of whom identified that they only committed crime when they were
‘in addiction’ (i.e. actively using substances).
There also seemed that there might be less help in avoiding this ‘pull’ if you happened
to be addicted to alcohol, and not a prolific, heroin/crack-addicted – Marie, for example,
in discussing the lack of support with her drinking, told me “They’ve got CARATs here.
But they don’t seem that good? [Me: No?] No. ‘Cos one said to me ‘You’ve got to be
on drugs to get, get re-housed’ [Marie, non-PPO, aged 45, sentenced (12 months,
s.20 GBH)].
7.4.3 ‘Severe emotional stressors’ as ‘triggers’ for relapse
As Finlay and Jones (2000) note, ‘severe emotional stressors’ experienced in
childhood and adolescence/young adulthood, and the subsequent development of
‘offending and other maladaptive behaviours’ - most notably substance use – could
result in ‘unresolved trauma’. A further consequence however was that in relying on
such maladaptive coping strategies since that point, the experience of severe
emotional stressors in adulthood - most notably bereavement and repeat victimisation
- elicited the same response; a recourse to substances. When this occurred during
substance-free periods of ‘clean time’, such stressors commonly resulted in relapse,
which in turn would lead back to offending for the reasons described above. A lack of
‘adaptive’ coping strategies for such traumas was identified here as the key issues
undermining the desistance process.
Having been substance-free while in prison, Cathrine recalled relapsing on release
after suffering a bereavement; the death of her mother, from cancer, while Cathrine
was in prison. She felt the only way she could cope with and manage her grief and guilt
was by returning drugs:
Erm, my mum died two years ago when I was in prison, erm, and I
didn’t get to go to her funeral because – well, as a consequence of my
drug-usin’ an’ that? I never used to see my mum, like, you know for
weeks on end, and months sometimes, ‘cos I used to be off my head
on drugs? But like she was ill as well and she had cancer? Erm, she’d
had it for thirteen years so I never thought anything would happen to
here, you know? I thought, you know, didn’t even think about it ‘cos I
was so, just taking drugs all the time. Erm, and so when I got released
from prison, I started taking drugs again, because she wasn’t there?
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
Savannah similarly described a recent period of non-offending and non-drug use,
which lasted for five years. For all intents and purposes, she seemed to have attained
a state of secondary desistance, which only came to an end when she relapsed after
discovering – in the midst of a bout of post-natal depression - that her long-term partner
was having an affair:
I was clean for about five years? And then um I had a, I had a daughter,
a year after my son, and um, I had post-natal depression? And um, my
partner was cheating on me and I just broke down, and relapsed.
Savannah, PPO, aged 29, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, Burglary)
Repeat victimisation (sexual violence, and domestic abuse)
As identified in the previous chapter, some of the women had been sexually abused
and assaulted in their childhood and adolescent years, and this was implicated in their
‘onset’/genesis narratives. As the women moved on from discussing ‘onset’, however,
and began to engage in stories relating to the PAOP nature of their offending over the
life course, further tales of stranger and intimate partner violence emerged. Multiple
experiences of rape and other sexual abuse, and experiences of abuse and physical
violence from intimate male partners, compounded the same experiences perpetrated
(often by family members) in their earlier years. The impact of this on the women’s
mental health and emotional well-being was clear from their stories – Louise, for
example, described how her “head was fucked” after being kidnapped and repeatedly
raped during her time as a sex worker:
I got kidna- [sharp breath in] I was um locked in a flat for three week,
um, by these Asian people, foreigners – there was about four of ‘em,
just taking it in turns [to rape her] for about three weeks and then
somehow one guy came and let me go, d’ya know what I mean?
[sniffs]. Well, my head was fucked after that.
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
Louise also disclosed that several years later she was raped again – this occurred
during a period of clean-time, and so her immediate response was to locate some crack
to numb the emotional pain, in the same manner she had been since the age of 13:
Nothin’ happened to me after that for a while […] like seven years
ahead, or six years ahead [SW: mmm] after that, so I never thought it
would actually happen to me again but pffff [gets quieter] there you are,
it happened and, um – I was, I was at my rock bottom. [speaks now
slowly, very measured] I left [the bail hostel] um - I just walked out, I’d
had enough. I couldn’t sit in the flat thinkin’ about all what’s gone on,
what’s happened to me – I had bruises all over me - uh, so basically I
told the police about it – this was even before I left [the bail hostel] - so
I left an’ then um I went on a crack - basically a crack binge - for a
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
Stories of domestic abuse, violence, and extreme brutality from previous partners
pockmarked the life histories of the women, and both Mary and Amy talked about using
drugs to “cope” with the pains of intimate partner violence). Amy disclosed a scenario
whereby she “ended up usin’ [heroin]” because she couldn’t cope with the violence she
was experiencing:
When my kids were born, I, I did get off the gear, but my ex – their dad
– he used to beat me up [...] ‘cos I used to like lapse and that [...] when
I’d had a use he could tell, and he used to beat the shit out of me, yeah.
Quite a few times, and erm, that’s made me, well, I ended up usin’ on
top, ‘cos I can’t cope with it all, ‘cos he was cheating on me and
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
Towards the end of our interview, Mary also disclosed “turning” to drugs as her “only
way” of escaping” the abuse she was experiencing:
‘Cos I’ve been through abusive relationships too... And it did turn me
to drugs as well, that did - smoking a bit of coke made me feel better
at the time […] because it felt like my only way of escaping away from
the abuse that I was getting.
Mary, PPO, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal)
Like the Australian Aboriginal women in prison studied by Lawrie (2003, cit. in Moloney
et al 2009a, p.428), the lives of these particular women were dominated by past and
present abuse as the principal factor in their enduring drug use.
7.4.4 Lack of appropriate accommodation
Inadequate housing provision is a well-documented issue for women in the criminal
justice system, particularly for those leaving prison; this is even more relevant for
women repeatedly leaving prison (Baldry 2010; Fawcett Society 2009; Maidment 2008;
Corston 2007). However, despite being frequently posited as a criminogenic need in
the literature, the women rarely talked about committing crime because they were
poorly or unsuitably accommodated. More frequently however, they would discuss this
problem in terms of its addictogenic10 properties; that is, that it was a factor functionally
related either to the maintenance of addiction, or – during ‘clean’ periods – the risk of
relapse. This in turn was functionally related to an increased probability of a return to
For many of the women, ‘environment’ was a central factor in relation to a possible
relapse. Indicating the importance of ‘environment’ to the post-release desistance
chances of the substance-addicted woman, some talked of how their drug connections
made returning to the area, city, county, and even country, in which they had previously
resides, entirely untenable :
The term ‘addictogenic’ has been used, albeit rarely, in the psycho-pharmaceutical literature to
describe ‘a mutual pathological interdependency comparable to a sadomasochistic relationship’
(Klagsbrun & Davis 1977, p.152). This is not the context within which I use the term; rather, I have
appropriated the word for its similarity to the term ‘criminogenic’, which is of such relevance to the
substantive discussion.
I don’t even wanna go back to Wales. ‘Cos I know that I’ll be drawn
straight back to the usin’ area and I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna even
walk down the street there.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
I just need to get out of London […] I’ve told them I wanna move but
they won’t move me out of [there] - because I’m a PPO, they wanna
keep me close to ‘em? It just don’t make sense – if you’re there to help
me, why ain’t you helping me?
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
In this respect, the stringent controls placed on PPOs - specifically those dictating
where they could reside - seemed less likely to reduce re-offending, and more likely to
facilitate it by keeping them in the same area where they had been using prior to reincarceration, increasing the likelihood of environmental triggers for relapse occurring.
There was a clear tension between the PPOs’ need to avoid environments where drug
use was facilitated (i.e. hostels, or previous areas where they could easily access
drugs), and the crime control, risk-centred PPO model of offender management, which
sought to accommodate individuals under their remit close-by and on monitored
premises. The renewed emphasis on the drive to manage female offenders in their
own community (cf. Corston, 2007; MoJ/NOMS, 2008) therefore seems particularly
problematic in light of the findings of the current research.
Returning to the issue of accommodation, of all the women interviewed only Bubbles
had no concerns regarding maintaining her accommodation on the outside, primarily
because she shared that residence with her fiancée, who had kept the property for her
whilst she was in prison. None of the other women had a partner able to offer this type
of support, a common problem which disproportionately affects female offenders
(Corston 2007). All of the remaining women – except Alex, who made no mention of
her housing situation – were in a state of what I shall call ‘de facto homelessness’; that
is, whilst currently residing in prison, their situation regarding accommodation on the
outside could be described as a ‘liminal’ state, characterised by uncertainty and fear
(cf. Jewkes 2005). Through coming to prison, they had either lost, or were fearful of
losing, their most recent accommodation, and were concerned about the impact that
this would have on their chances of ‘going straight’ (cf. Maruna 2001) following release.
Lennox, for example, was being evicted from her council flat for non-payment of rent
arrears, which – at the time of the interview – were in excess of three thousand pounds:
This is the [letter] here, where say they want to repossess ma flat an’
that - look, there, sayin’ they want to take ma flat, and stuff like that?
[…] They went to court on my behalf an’ that [SW: yeah] So they could
repossess it. [SW: so because of rent arrears?] Yes. But it wasn’t that
much rent arrears when I came in here.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
Mary had also been made homeless in her absence whilst remanded in custody
awaiting trial for burglary, having lost her space at the probation hostel:
I wound up back in here, and I’ve lost the – apparently they’ve took the
[hostel] place back now, so I’ve ended up homeless again whilst I’m
on remand for this.
Mary, PPO, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal)
Mary and Lennox existed in a particularly ‘liminal’ state (Jewkes 2005) being on
remand, as there was the distinct possibility that at any time, a decision could be made
as to their case, and release them, unprepared and homeless, out onto the streets.
This had certainly been Badger’s experience, who told me that on every occasion she
had ever been to prison, she had been released NFA [no fixed abode]:
Every time I come here, I walk out the gates with nowhere to live [...]
Every time [...]. I’ll go down, I’ll try and sort out housing. And nothing
gets set up. Nothing.
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
‘Getting out to nothing’ in this way seemed to mean that a return to substance use and
offending to fund this, was almost inevitable:
I got out to nothing again, um, my mum didn’t wanna know, didn’t have
nowhere to live, didn’t have no one to get out to so went back to the
same routine [drug use, and selling sex to fund it].
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
A recent Criminal Justice Joint Inspection (2008, p.42) noted that provision of
accommodation for women on licence is ‘diminishing’, which represents a concern,
given that Corston (2007, p.7) identified having somewhere to live following release as
‘women’s greatest resettlement concern’. Along with maintaining a drug-free existence,
this was certainly true of the women in my sample.
However, securing a tenancy somewhere was not as simple as having somewhere to
shelter and sleep at night – securing accommodation appropriate to their needs as a
substance-addicted woman was by far the most important aspect of this issue for a
number of the women I interviewed. Maidment’s (2008, p.4) argument that ‘inadequate
housing’ represents a central factor in ‘propel[ling] women back into prison’ resonated
strongly in the stories of five of the ‘PPOs’ – Amy, Badger, Louise, Mary, and Savannah
– relating to repeatedly being re-housed in probation/bail hostels11. Cathrine had
previously lived in a house with her husband, and so this had never been an issue for
her – this made her an anomaly within the PPO group. This experience of the drugrelated problems with bail hostels never arose in the accounts of the non-PPOs,
possibly because their primary substance was alcohol, or because they had never
been to ‘probation hostels’ (i.e. never committed an offence so serious as to pose a
risk of abscond, or never committed an offence so serious that they were accorded
Probation support/PPO status to warrant placement in a hostel).
A recent Criminal Justice Joint Inspection (2008) into (primarily male) probation hostels
concluded that the misuse of illegal drugs in such establishments ‘was not an
overwhelming problem’ (p.78). This was not, however, the experience of the PPOs,
who all had similar past experiences of probation hostels as associated with drug
dealers and triggers for relapse, described variously as “junkie-filled” [Badger, PPO,
aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)] with “dealers waiting outside”
[AMY]; being accommodated in such places had repeatedly sabotaged their attempts
at addiction recovery:
[W]hen I come out of jail last time, they put me in a hostel full of drug
users, full of dealers, um, kept me in there even though I told them
‘You’ve gotta get me out of here’ [...] It’s a vicious circle that they’re
putting me in.
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
[T]here was nobody in the house to watch you or anything [...] It wasn’t
very safe – they were all using drugs in there, and that’s what sent me
There are two primary types of hostel for the purposes of housing individuals involved with the
criminal justice system (Criminal Justice Joint Inspection 2008): one is the bail hostel, which house unconvicted individuals awaiting trial, to minimise the risk that they might abscond prior to the hearing;
the other is the Probation hostel (which the women frequently refer to as a “bail hostel”) which
accommodates those released from prison on licence.
off key really, like I started using again because it was all around me,
you know?
Mary, PPO, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal)
For serious drug users (as the PPOs were) then, being housed in a bail hostel was
also conceptualised as addictogenic; as almost inevitably providing opportunity and
“triggers” leading to relapse and – subsequently - a return to offending. Not only does
this seem myopic, but it is hardly cost-efficient - to quote Badger, “there’s no point in
me doing a detox [in prison] and then throwing me back in a fucking junkie-filled hostel”
[Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)] since relapse
was constructed as essentially inevitable in those circumstances.
7.5 Summary
The women PAOP offenders conformed to an atypical offence pattern when
considered against average frequencies of women’s (and indeed of men’s) offending
over time, with most reaching the status of ‘extreme career criminal’ (30 or more
offences over the life course) (DeLisi 2002). In addition to committing more crime than
most women offenders, those in the current study also committed more types of
offence, primarily serious acquisitive offences (e.g. burglary and robbery) and serious
violent offences (e.g. grievous bodily harm).
As noted in Chapter Three, as recently as 2008 commentators have remarked that ‘the
reasons and motivations behind what a woman does with respect to criminality remain
unexplored and mired in assumptions’ (Rockell 2008, p.5). In seeking to specifically
explore the reasons and motivations – or, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ - for women engaging in
PAOP offending over time, the women’s patterns of offending across the life course
adhered to the notion that persistence could not – and should not (cf. Bushway et al
2004) – be separated from the notion of ‘desistence’. In seeking to make sense of the
women’s offending across the life course, it was instructive to acknowledge that this
did not represent persistent adherence to a ‘criminal’ lifestyle, but rather a history of
recurrent frustrated attempts to desist. In outlining the series of abortive attempts at
‘going straight’ each woman had experienced, this drew attention to a range of
frustrating factors which had served to derail these attempts. Chief among these
factors was the ‘pull’ of substance use, an absence of appropriate accommodation,
and the role of severe emotional stressors as ‘triggers’ for relapse – multiple
experiences of bereavement, domestic abuse, and sexual violence (for example) were
common, and in the absence of other means of coping, drugs and alcohol were
favoured for managing emotions linked to these experiences. Following relapse,
subsequent episodes of offending were seemingly inevitable, and linked either to
acquisitive ends (i.e. the need to secure substances) or identified as a result of
substance use (most frequently violent offending when intoxicated).
The role of the criminal justice system, and the ways in which the actions of its agents
perpetuate the cycle of recidivism - particularly in terms of repeatedly ‘breaching’
women for issues related to their addiction, thus increasing the apparent frequency of
their ‘re-offending’ – contributed to the women’s feelings of being set up to fail. These
issues are explored further in the following and final data chapter.
8 - Female PAOP offenders & the
criminal justice response: Previous
experiences, and desired futures
8.1 Introduction
This penultimate chapter, which is the last data chapter of the thesis, presents the
findings of the current study in relation to the range of criminal justice responses
experienced by the women in the sample. It then looks to the important question of
‘what women want’ (cf. Hedderman et al 2010), using data generated in the interviews
with the twelve female PAOP offenders to identify which interventions and support
mechanisms they felt offered them the best chance of achieving secondary desistance,
both from offending and – more importantly, it seemed – their addictions.
The women in the current study had, between them, 368 convictions; considered
another way, this represented 368 possible opportunities to engage in an effective
intervention to work to support female offenders out of the cycle of persistent
recidivism. As identified in the previous chapter, the conversation about ‘persistence’
then becomes one about desistance, and while Chapter Seven focused on the
women’s offending related ‘needs’ and provided an alternative explanation for their
repeat re-criminalisation, the current chapter explores the criminal justice response
experienced by the women across the life course, examining the role of various
interventions – specifically, the Prolific and other Priority Offender scheme,
incarceration, non-PPO offender supervision via the Probation Service, and the RAPt
drug rehabilitation course – in their prior ‘frustrated’ attempts at desistance and
In understanding the women’s previous experience of criminal justice interventions,
and why these did not ‘work’ in terms of – paraphrasing Sommers et al (1994) - ‘getting
them out of the life’, the final section of this chapter asks ‘what women want’ (cf.
Hedderman et al 2010) (rather than looking to what policy and practitioners think they
might ‘need’), both from themselves (agency) and others (structure), bringing the two
together in imagining futures free of crime and addiction.
Nb. In evaluating interaction between PAOP offenders and the criminal justice system,
it may seem counter-intuitive not to include specific reference to engagement with the
police, who represent the first line of defence again crime, and who would have had
repeated contact with the women in the current sample. However, the purpose of this
is to understand the function of specific penal ‘interventions’ (i.e. programmes and
other sanctions designed to impact on offending behaviour), and making an argument
for which of these have, and have not, ‘worked’ for these women in previous attempts
to desist from crime and substance use. During the interviews, the women engaged
little with their experiences with the police. A number of the women commented that
because of their repeat offending, they were “well known” to local police, and certainly
increased police contact was an unavoidable consequence of being identified as a
PPO (interaction with the police is, where relevant, described in this context). Plainly
put, the women were more concerned with how they ‘get out of the life’ rather than
ruminating on their experiences of the long arm of the law, which could not give them
what they wanted, or needed, to achieve this.
8.2 Female PAOP offenders & criminal justice interventions:
Previous experiences
8.2.1 The Prolific and other Priority Offender scheme
Of the twelve women interviewed, six were currently being managed under their local
PPO scheme. The women’s experiences of this were, in some ways, quite diverse,
although as this section documents, all agreed that the PPO scheme had done little to
support them out of the cycle of re-offending; indeed, for some, the opposite was true,
and they talked about certain risk-focused aspect of the scheme as directly implicated
in past and potential relapse and return to offending. The core of the PPO strategy offering offenders ‘a simple choice: reform or face a very swift return to the courts’
(Home Office 2004c, p.5) – is explored, in terms of the lived ‘simplicity’ of reforming as
suggested here.
Savannah’s experience
Savannah had been a Prolific and other Priority Offender for “about two or three years
now”. She seemed unaware of the exact process by which she had been selected,
explaining it in quite vague terms which seemed to indicate a sense of arbitrariness
about the whole process (or confusion, at the very least) for those actually on it: “it’s
the amount of offences I do in that certain time that they’ve explained to me ‘Oh, you’re
a PPO’”. She briefly discussed what the scheme required of her, and her feelings on
this, analogising the intensive monitoring/supervision aspect of the scheme to
Well, I’ll have to [engage], I don’t have a choice; as a PPO, you’ve got
to attend and um, you’ve gotta do a drug test twice a week. Um, you
have to attend whatever they want you to do - it’s part of your, erm,
Licence, I dunno. It’s like they’re stalking me.
In further trying to make sense herself of being a PPO, Savannah noted that
it gave her a ‘priority’ status amongst the offending population, which seemed
to give her a sense of entitlement to be prioritised for her support needs given
her higher risk of relapse/recall than non-PPOs. This was essentially the
narrative of the Premium Service – to prioritise interventions in accordance
with the Rehabilitate and Resettle agenda. She failed to identify the ways in
which the PS also prioritised her for Catch and Convict. This reminded me of
a comment made by CJPP6, who told me that some of her PPOs had taken
this status to mean they were “somehow special”, and that certainly for the
male PPOs, it was often a ‘status symbol’:
But I know as part of bein’ a PPO we get more prioritised over other
offenders who are just on normal Probation, so they have to be seen
to like help me? Like I’ve got a higher rate of bein’ recalled than
someone else would and, so Probation have to be seen to help me
and obviously reintegrate me back into the community.
It seemed that Savannah’s experience of identification as a PPO did not correlate
either with the seamless operation envisaged in the original Home Office guidance
(2004c), nor with the accounts of CJPP interviewees in Chapter Five, who constructed
an image of PPOs joint visits to individuals at home or in prison, and ensuring that they
were well-informed about the nature of the scheme, being sure to “point out all the
benefits” as they were “invited on board” [CJPP5: Manager of Drug Intervention
Programme]. This experiential gap between policy and practice is an important one to
note, as the potential high-stakes implications of failure to comply with the conditions
of being a PPO - i.e. being ‘swiftly’ apprehended and returned to court (Criminal Justice
Joint Inspection Group 2009, p.49) – raises questions related to penal legitimacy. How
fair and right is it that the justice system penalise individuals who are unaware of the
exact nature of their transgression?
Of course, one must consider that Savannah’s inability to recall the process of being
identified as a PPO might be the result of other factors than the failure of PPO
practitioners to alert her to the exact nature of the scheme – for example, drawing a
blank in this respect might well be a result of narcotic-induced memory loss if Savannah
was intoxicated at the time (although this in turn surely raises questions regarding
informed consent). In any event, the central issue here is that Savannah was not well
placed to comment on the potential benefits and pitfalls of being a PPO on the basis
that she was evidently unclear about what exactly the PPO initiative was all about.
While the above quote indicates what Savannah expected from the PPO scheme – i.e.
“to help me and obviously reintegrate me back into the community” - what she actually
received fell short of her expectations:
I was the first female PPO in [the city], and at that time, there was fifty
men PPOs and me. One female. And they didn’t think that it would be
good for me to attend any of the groups ‘cos it was all men? And there,
there really wasn’t much for female PPOs? Like as in helping us, and
stuff like that? And they haven’t really got the funding? Or like the
resources for women, like as a mother and things like that - it’s a lot
different for men than it is for women.
Savannah’s experience is an example of some of the issues associated with female
PPOs being so few and far between, and resources primarily being directed towards
the most ‘risky’ individuals (i.e. male PPOs), as explored in both theory in Chapter Two
and in practice in Chapter Five. She was aware of the need for gender differentiated
support, specifically in relation to her needs as a mother – Savanah had a daughter,
who lived with her grandmother – but that this need was not met by the PPO
As has been identified as the case with minority groups within criminal justice,
Savannah clearly ‘suffered’ (cf. Heidensohn 1991) on account of being one woman
among fifty men. The staff “didn’t think it would be good” for Savannah to attend the
support group – this was most likely because in mixed-gender group work, ‘patterns of
social oppression will [often] be repeated’, which often results in disproportionately
negative outcomes for women (Brown & Mistry 2006, p.133). Brown and Mistry note
that these tendencies can be combatted if ‘active steps’ are taken to do so;
unfortunately for Savannah, these ‘active steps’ were to remove her from the support
group (ostensibly for ‘her own good’), meaning that this means of support was rendered
unavailable to her. This example highlighted an inherent potential for gender to act as
a structuring force in dictating the shape of Rehabilitate and Resettle support for
women, and how and why this might differ from that available to men.
Savannah seemed not only to have a keen political awareness of the impact of her
minority status as a female PPO, but of the wider issue of the importance of accounting
for gender within programmes for offenders, and the need for change:
[W]omen have different issues, like, you know, where they’ve been into
prostitution, or been around men that have, you know, men that have
treated them badly, that have got confidence issues – as a female, you
don’t want to go attend a group with fifty men. So yeah, I’m just glad
that someone’s recognising it and wanna do something about it. It’s
Savannah’s comment here links women’s “confidence issues” to the type of support
they require, as well as recognising the need for more gender-differentiated support.
She accounts for women’s “different issues” (e.g. sex work, domestic abuse and
violence), and the ways in which they can affect the type of support they will feel
comfortable accessing, echoing the findings of Gelsthorpe et al (2007), who identified
‘empowerment’, building self-esteem and confidence as crucial in designing
interventions for women. Savannah’s experience here indicates the ways in which
‘gendering’ criminal justice interventions can result in the provision of more appropriate
services for female offenders, which could in turn increase the likelihood of reducing
Amy’s experience
Amy was 31 years old, and had been addicted to heroin since the age of 16 – as noted
above in Chapter Six, she felt that her addiction had “basically controlled my life” since
that age. Her escalating offending had seen her progress from prolific shoplifting to
robbery, for which she received a 3 years prison sentence; her longest to date.
Like Savannah, Amy’s understanding of her identification as a PPO was characterised
by an assumption that it would be about “support”, as well as a lack of clarity as to
whether she was, in facte, a PPO or not:
I came out [of prison], and I was a PPO, right? I was having meeting
with Probation and there was this copper there that does the PPO-ing?
One minute I was a PPO, the next minute I weren’t! Like, I didn’t fit the
criteria or something? Like, they had a meeting and ‘cos I’d been
behaving myself – only for a couple of weeks, two or three weeks –
and then I wasn’t one again. So I didn’t really get a chance for that
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
Firstly, it is worth noting that Amy also conceived of the PPO scheme not in terms of
its Catch and Convict priorities, but in relation to the support offered through the
Rehabilitate and Resettle strand of the strategy. This is important because the literature
indicates that while the latter strand of the strategy is central to its perceived efficacy,
it is the former which represents both the priority and the underpinning principle.
Secondly, Amy’s confusion regarding her current PPO status indicates a seeming
arbitrariness in de-selection, which became a practice priority following the publication
of the PPO Refresh document (Ministry of Justice 2009). It is possible however that
Amy’s de-selection occurred not owing to “a couple of weeks of behaving” as she
supposed, but because committing a robbery had elevated her to MAPPA-level status.
MAPPAs [Mutli-Agency Public Protection Arrangements] exist to effectively risk
manage violent and sexual offenders, and individuals may simultaneously be under a
MAPPA as well as a PPO scheme of offender management. Provided effective
communication is achieved such an arrangement can greatly benefit MAPPA teams,
who are able to draw on the resources of the PPO scheme they are working with
(Ministry of Justice/National Offender Management Service 2012). No particular
benefit is discernible for the offender being managed in this way however, as the
primary goal here is increased efficacy in risk management.
It is therefore likely that Amy was being managed under both MAPPA and PPO. Her
perception of this was not one of being under increasing surveillance however, but one
of accruing maximum ‘support’ from wherever she could find it:
Basically it means I’ve got the police looking out for me, erm,
Probation, DIP [Drug Intervention Programme] team – it’s just multiple
agencies that keep an eye on me?
Amy perceived this arrangement in a far more benevolent – and even positively
paternalistic – manner than Savannah, who felt that the Orwellian-level surveillance
of the PPO scheme alone was akin to being stalked. Again though I was struck by
Amy’s perception that the PPO intervention was solely about ‘support’ for her, and not
about protecting the public.
Badger’s experience
Like Savannah, Badger had been a PPO for “quite a few years”, and when I asked her
what her hopes had been when she initially agreed to sign up, she replied bluntly, “That
they would help me”. I inferred from her tone and body language that this had not been
the case, and said as much:
Me [inferring]: And that wasn’t your experience?
Badger: No. Like, when I come out of jail last time, they put me in a
hostel full of drug users, full of dealers, um, kept me in there even
though I told them ‘You’ve gotta get me out of here’ – they kept me in
there. Um, I’ve told them I wanna move out of [London borough]; they
won’t move me out of [there], because I’m a PPO, they wanna keep
me close to ‘em. It just don’t make sense – if you’re there to help me,
why ain’t you helping me?
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
Like Amy and Savannah, Badger presented with a desire and need for ‘help’ and
‘support’, and yet all had been pulled into the Catch and Convict web of the PPO
scheme. Badger explained how she was desperate to move away from London, as she
found it almost impossible to escape her drug connections while remaining in the city
– this threatened her chances of maintaining a state of recovery from her heroin
addiction (see Robins 1993 on the negative correlation between proximity of substance
users and chances of staying ‘clean’ for those in recovery). Simultaneously, in forcing
Badger to remain close-by for monitoring purposes, the PPO scheme managing her
had failed to acknowledge the ways in which this increased the likelihood of her
returning to prolific offending as, like Savannah, Badger identified addiction and the
need to finance her addiction as the core of her prolific offending since adolescence.
In a manner also similar to Savannah, Badger took issue with the Orwellian nature of
the PPO scheme, which she felt – while initially, and dishonestly presented as a means
of helping her - was yet another means for the criminal justice system to “keep tabs on
me”. She saw nothing in the activities of the PPO Scheme, and those affiliated with it,
as supportive – she felt she was little more than a statistic to them:
This PPO Scheme, it don’t work. It just don’t work. They make it sound
good. [pauses] But it ain’t... I feel like we’re just statistics? And as long
as their statistics are going up, they’ve got a result, but it’s [pauses].
It’s how they’re going about it?
There was also a gendered aspect to Badger’s negative feelings around the PPO
scheme – namely, that her (male) ex-partner, who had also been a PPO n the same
area, had received far more material help in trying to ‘go straight’ than she had:
Badger: [T]he help that they was giving him and the help that they was
giving me was completely different. He got more – like he got a flat
straight away? He was gettin’ ten pound vouchers off ‘em, Oyster card,
everything. And I was just stuck in a hostel, getting’ told to get my
Me: So do you, you don’t rate PPO as a support system for women?
Badger: No. Not at all. Not at all – I think it’s just a way where they can
keep a check on ya, it’s; you don’t get no extra support.
The fact that Badger’s male partner received “completely different” support is likely to
be linked to the concept of ‘resources following risk’, and the fact that female offenders
– including PPOs, as indicated in Chapter Five – are traditionally of lower ‘risk’. It is
possible that his offending was more high profile and problematic in the local area, and
therefore the practitioners of that particular PPO scheme prioritised his criminogenic
needs, giving him stable accommodation and facilitating travel in an attempt to curb
his prolific recidivism.
Louise’s experience
Like Savannah and Badger, Louise had been a PPO for a “couple of years”, and
described it as “hard” compared to her “normal Licence”, and struggled with the
demands of the scheme, telling me “You’ve got like four appointments a week - if you
don’t go to them appointments, you breach”. For her, the most – and indeed, the only
– positive aspect of the PPO scheme was that it was not all about the expertise of the
practitioners, and that it had given her the opportunity to meet other individuals who
had had similar lives and experiences, which had helped to reassure her that she was
not abnormal:
[I]t’s quite nice actually, because some of ‘em [...] are like me, d’ya
know what I mean? In that they’ve been through similar experiences...
so it was like nice to meet people like maybe, ‘cos I used to think I’m
the only one, but now I know I’m not, y’know?
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
Louise had two main grievances with the PPO scheme. Firstly, it was clear that the
inconsistency in response with regards to her relapsing onto heroin between her
previous PPO Probation Officer and her current one (i.e. that the former tried to support
her through it, and get to the root of its cause, whilst the latter, steadfastly adhering to
the rules, informed her that two failed drug tests would result in recall to prison,
regardless of the circumstances) was a source of tension between Louise and the riskcentred nature of the PPO scheme. Her previous PPO drug workers were conversely
regarded in favourable terms because they understood that ‘relapse is the rule rather
than the exception with addictions’ (Prochaska et al, 1992, p.1104) [emphasis added].
In failing to understand this, Louise feared that her new Probation Officer would just be
setting her up to fail:
[T]hem two [drugs worker], they were good; actual good PPO workers
d’ya know what I mean? And they got me; they understand, you know?
They’re not ones that like [mimics authoritarian voice] “Uh two positive
piss tests an’ you’re recalled back to jail” [sounds angry now]. That’s
like dangling a piece of fucking gear in front of my face – that’s how I
felt. I just started cryin’ and put the phone down on her – I just don’t
want her as a Probation Officer ‘cos I think if she is my PPO worker
then she’s just gonna set me up to fail. That’s how I feel [...] I don’t
think she should be a Probation Officer, because she don’t- she don’t
know how to help people? She’s just not a nice PPO worker.
Secondly, Louise believed being a PPO had “fucked up” her life, as it was her PPO
status – and the central focus of the PPO Scheme on reducing her re-offending and
eliminating any factors related to her persistence in reoffending (i.e. her ex-partner,
Joshua, who was himself addicted to heroin, and a PPO) – that forced the end of their
relationship. In this respect, one can see elements of the “brutal” nature of the scheme
identified in Chapter Five by CJPP4:
[I]t was part of my licence conditions not to see or speak to my partner
- if I do I’ll be recalled, so even though it was the hardest thing I ever
had to do, I had to part myself from him? In that manner, being a PPO
- it fucked my life up in a way? ‘Cos I’m not with the person I love.
This ‘brutal’ aspect of the PPO scheme had also affected Badger, whose partner was
also a PPO, telling me that “when we first got together, they didn’t want us together
because we’re both PPOs”. This would have been assessed as a risk factor for Badger,
although the penal legitimacy associated with this paternalistic model of enforcement
– that is, threatening the most punitive sanction (recall to prison, and the deprivation of
liberty this entails) for engaging in an intimate relationship – and whether this is a
condition also imposed on male PPOs when the situation is reversed is a phenomenon
as yet unexplored.
Mary’s experience
Mary had only a brief experience of being a PPO, having been identified as a prolific
offender during her previous period at liberty, which lasted only 6 weeks before being
arrested and remanded in custody for her current charge. She did however tell me a
little about her hopes for the Scheme. She said she agreed to be part of the Scheme
because she thought they would help her to get clean and stop offending; in her own
words, at that point in time, “I thought I was going to sort my life out – get out of here
and be re-housed and just to, to not use drugs anymore”:
Somebody from the PPO come to see me, and they asked if I would
like to be on the PPO. And ‘cos I thought I was going to sort my life out
– get out of here and be rehoused and just to, to not use drugs anymore
– And they did sort of help me, but I wasn’t on it – well, I am still a PPO,
but I wasn’t out there very long to get the help. I mean, they come to
see me in here, and when I got outside I was on Probation and, plus
having to see a PPO officer once a week. But he was away at the time,
for three or four weeks, so I didn’t see him while I was out there, and
then I got arrested again.
Mary, PPO, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal)
Again, like all of the women above, there was a gap between the (benevolent) support
what Mary had anticipated the PPO scheme could offer her, and what the reality of this
was, although she did acknowledge that she “wasn’t out there very long to get the
help”. The fact that she went unseen by the PPO team for the “three or four weeks”
before she relapsed and returned to prison seemed to highlight the impact for Mary of
not being given what she thought she had been promised, and essentially left to her
own devices; it was in this way that she quickly found herself back in addiction again.
Cathrine’s experience
Having only been identified as a Prolific and other Priority Offender just before she
came into prison, Cathrine’s experience of being a PPO was even less than Mary’s.
Her primary impression of the scheme was that she had heard it was “quite good, even
though you have to liaise with officers and that” (which I assumed she either considered
an inconvenience, or else she had - undisclosed – issues with the police/probation).
However, her own very brief engagement with the PPO Scheme was – like almost all
the women’s experiences - characterised by ambiguity and uncertainty, as
demonstrated by her response to my question as to her length of time on the Scheme:
Erm [pauses, thinks] Um, I dunno? I can’t remember. I think it was
just before I come in, when I was on my DRR? And I asked my, ‘cos I
had a feelin’ that I was gonna be a PPO anyway and erm I asked my
Probation Officer if I was a PPO, and she said yeah. No, no, it wasn’t
– it was the woman in here I asked.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
8.2.2 Prison
Prison was by far the most commonly discussed criminal justice intervention within the
interviews. When I asked the women how many times they had been in prison, some
of them simply laughed at me, indicating that they had lost count. Others offered rough
estimates, and Lennox had to consult her OASys paperwork to find out the answer:
Oh wait a minute, it’ll tell me in here [shuffles papers, mutters to self]
Yeah, it’ll tell me in here. I’d say about [pauses, thinking] seven or
eight? [more sure now] Seven or eight, yeah.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
Erm [pauses, thinking]. Don’t know. Loads [pauses].Loads.
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
I’ve been to nine different prisons; I’ve been in Bronzefield twenty-one
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
Over recent years there has been a widespread condemnation of the use of prison for
non-violent and non-serious female offenders, leading in some instances to policies
committed to divert the majority of women away from the carceral, and towards
community-based punishment (e.g. Corston 2007; Ministry of Justice/National
Offender Management Service 2008). However, for some of these women – who had
more experience of prison than most of their female offending counterparts –
incarceration had provided opportunities that eluded them on the outside; for most (for
example, as Bubbles notes in Chapter Seven, in relation to mental health support), it
was about getting “help” which they perceived to be unavailable elsewhere, as well as
providing a space for time to ‘get oneself together’:
I think that was in my early twenties – I just wanted to get arrested […]
a few times I did, did just get into prison to get help? […] I used to use
that time for rehabilitation? To like dry out, get myself clean, get myself
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, s.18 GBH)
Louise stated that coming to prison had saved her life:
I thought “D’ya know what? I can’t do this no more”. I was at my rock
bottom, um, basically I was six stone before I came into custody, so I
purposely went to do a burglary, put my fingerprints everywhere
knowin’ I was gonna get caught for the burglary? [...] I wanted to get
caught to come into jail? [...] ‘Cos I knew I had to come in otherwise I’d
have been dead today.
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced
(2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
For Louise in particular, the fact that she would wilfully come to prison was a particularly
strong indication of how desperate she was for help, as to return to prison meant to
submit herself to the possibility of being trapped in a place where she had previously
been sexually assaulted by a male prison officer. To me, this made incarceration seem
like a uniquely painful experience for Louise, and any women who might be in a similar
situation – certainly in considering the ‘pains of imprisonment’, Sykes (1958) did not
ruminate on the potential for the carceral as an arena in which prisoners might be
violated by staff, and then forced to repeatedly return to that same environment and
have to face the fear of further such assaults on a daily basis during one’s sentence.
Tapping into theoretical debates about the nature of the prison institution, Badger
indicated that she did not feel rehabilitation was possible in a prison setting, nor did
she experience it as ‘punishment’, which is what she assumed prison to be for, it
seemed – for her, it was a space not necessarily to reflect and make plans for
desistance, but to have a break from the chaos of life outside:
It’s like sometimes when I’m outside, I want- I wanna come back to jail,
just to sort myself out? Just have a little- like have a little rest, d’ya
know what I mean? [then louder] I know I ain’t gonna get rehabilitated
in here, like you don’t [pauses] – they see it as a form of punishment,
but it’s not, it’s away- away from all the madness outside, time to just
relax, chill, get your head back together [pauses, then sounding
ironically amused] Then just go back out and start all over again.
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
This was in contrast to what Lisa said about coming in for ‘rehabilitation’, although in
reality, she described a very similar pattern to Badger (i.e. come to prison to get clean,
to get oneself ‘sorted out’) rather than the sort of secondary desistance that we might
now equate with ‘rehabilitation’; that is, supporting the maintenance of permanent
positive changes in one’s self and identity.
Morgan constructed prison as a ‘safe’ space for individuals in addiction, away from the
‘chaos’ of life outside:
You’re wrapped up in a prison environment; you’re wrapped up, it’s
safe – I know that sounds mad but it is if, if you’re off the streets and
it’s[…] it’s safe, and then you step out there and it’s chaos for
somebody like me - it’s chaos.
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
Alex similarly commented that being ‘on the out’ sometimes left her feeling more
“trapped” than when she was in prison; that is, having been coming into prison regularly
for the past eleven years, she felt comparatively safer in prison than out in the
I’ve been in and out of jail all the time from the age of nineteen and I’m
thirty now [but] when I’m out there, I just feel lonely – I either mix with
the wrong people, and [...] It’s like a nightmare out there. People think
freedom is good, but [...] out there, sometimes I feel trapped, like I’m
still a prisoner, do ya know what I mean? And in jail some people can
make themselves feel [pause] free.
Alex, non-PPO, aged 30, sentenced (length unknown, s.18 GBH)
For some of the women, the very state of being incarcerated was narrated positively,
as it offered an opportunity to re-evaluate their life as was, take stock of where they
were compared to where they wanted to be, and formulate their sentence – particularly
where it was longer than any other previous sentence they had served – as a ‘triggering
event’12 in deciding they were ready to break the cycle of persistent recidivism. In this
respect, the conversation which was about ‘persistent re-offending’ now becomes one
of desistance. This should not be of surprise; after all, the attempt to desist from crime
is a ‘common […] occurrence, even among recidivist offenders’ (Farrall, Bottoms &
Shapland 2010, p.546) [emphasis added]. Deciding to desist – to ‘put offending behind
them’ (Farrall et al 2010, p.549) - is usually conceptualised as the first step on the
A ‘triggering event’ is conceptualised by Laub et al (1998, cit. in Maruna 2001, p.25) as an episode or
discreet occurrence which ‘can cause a person to question one’s direction’ in life – within the context
of desistance theory, it refers to an event which is implicated in an individual’s decision to make a move
away from offending behaviour, although should not be considered as directly causal.
pathway out of crime. Relatedly, being locked up in prison has been identified as a
common place in which ‘persisters’ first decide to desist (cf. Maruna 2001). For the
women in the study, being incarcerated had offered them time and space – and a
period of being substance-free – to reflect on life:
It’s like, I was just sat in my room on Main Block and er, yeah, like I just
thought “I can’t do this no more”?
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
These decisions often centred on temporal aspects of life – a sense of running out of
time to achieve the things one wanted, and “getting too old” for a life dominated by
substance use and crime, suggesting that for these women, ‘ageing out’ of deviancy
was a powerful promoter of potential change:
It’s total madness, isn’t it?! Um, you know, I’d like sort of [pause]. A
change of life. Because I’m forty one - no, forty-five now, [and] I want
to change my life. Get a job.
Marie, non-PPO, aged 45, sentenced (12 months, s.20 GBH)
[I’m] getting old now, [and] I think it’s just time now, um, for me to take
time out for myself now? Reflect on everything that’s happened in the
past, and move on to [...] a more productive life.
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, s.18 GBH)
Whilst age was a factor for many of the women in deciding to ‘go straight’, age rarely
existed as the lone impetus to commit to desistance. For example, Bubbles,
discussing her plans for the future, identified i) age, ii) her daughter, and iii) a “loving
husband” as the factors in her desire to desist:
I’m 23 – I’ve still got my whole life ahead of me. I don’t wanna be like
forty-odd and still in and out of prison [brief pause]. ‘Cos then, like, I’ve
lost my daughter for good [...] And I want to be there for my little girl,
you know what I mean? I wanna watch her grow up – I can’t do that if
I’m in prison. So this time, it’s the time - ‘cos you can’t keep doin’ it,
bein’ in and out of prison all the time, you know? Especially if you’ve
got kids and you’ve got like a lovin’ husband out there - you can’t keep
doin’ it to them – it’s not fair [long pause]. I just wanna change my life.
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded
(Theft/Shoplifting, Common Assault)
Whatever the reasons for their decisions to desist, it was clear that ‘the prison’ played
an important role as a safe space to facilitate a period of recovery within which the
women could – safe from the ‘chaos’ of outside life – think through their priorities for
life. This was particularly the case in the stories of those women who had been given
longer prison sentences than had been previously the case, which they perceived to
be a wholly positive rather than a negative occurrence, allowing opportunity for
meaningful change that was not possible during the repeat short sentences served
I’ve been clean for over a year, erm, I’ve done courses and that. This
long sentence has been, um, like a blessing in disguise for me,
because I’ve got clean whereas before I wasn’t in long enough to be
rehabilitated. But this time I have.
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
Lisa similarly expressed that she was “glad” to be in prison because she had been
afforded the same concepts – time and space to ‘sort oneself out’, in addition to the
resources to identify behavioural patterns consider, and begin taking steps to create
distance from her pre-sentence self:
I’m glad I’m here because I’ve been able to sort myself out and that,
and like you know deal with my issues, and so I can make sure it
doesn’t happen again? And I’ve realised like my behaviour patterns as
well? [...] ‘Cos when I was out there, I was like mainly in addiction a lot
of the time, but I’ve managed to get myself out of that now? So, um
[inhales deeply], hopefully I can break that cycle.
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, s.18 GBH)
Of course, not all felt this way – Mary told me that she simply “couldn’t handle another
long sentence”, having only been out of prison 6 weeks from a 2 and a half-year
sentence before being arrested on her current charge, whilst Morgan thought it was
“sad” (i.e. tragic) that the prison represented the ‘safest’ environment for some women;
for her, the fact that women like her could only cope with life in the structured environ
of the carceral was “sad, in so many ways” [Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)].
One of the key findings of the Howard League’s recent evaluation of short-sentences
was that individuals ‘often left prison the same as... when they came in’, if not worse
off than they were previously (Howard League for Penal Reform 2012). The women in
the sample had served countless short prison sentences (i.e. less than two years),
which had never allowed time, space, and resources necessary to support the women
in making a sustainable change – as Lennox identified, the most they could offer was
a detoxification from alcohol before turning her back out on the streets to the same
lifestyle and environment from which she had come:
I’ve been in here for a fourteen-week prison sentence; you do half, so
I’ve done seven. Then they gave me a ten-week; you do half again so
I done five. But I’m not bein’ funny, these short sentences have been
no good to me? ‘Cos all’s I’m doin’ is gettin’ the sentence, off the drink,
an’ as soon as I get out, where do I go? Back. On. The drink.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
The extent to which Lennox feared her imminent release – which would be with the
status of ‘homeless’, as her local borough council was evicting her for rent arrears while
she was on remand, as noted in the previous chapter - and seemingly inevitable
relapse meant that rather than looking forward to release, she desperately wanted to
stay in prison longer, because she did not feel ready for life on the outside again:
I doubt if they’ll give me Probation, but as people says, puttin’ me back
in prison isn’t goin’ tae do me any good. But part of me [slaps her leg
– sounds almost angry with herself] wants tae come back’ – isn’t that
sad […] It maybe sounds harsh but I’m gonna ask the judge, I’ll say
‘Please can you give me some more time in this prison’.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
Amy felt that her previous experience of multiple short sentences had typically left her
with a feeling of “being in limbo” and “pushed to the side”, as the needs of shortsentenced prisoners were overlooked in favour of the more long-term individuals. The
outcome of past short sentences had always been that nothing had changed, and that
a return to drug-use was more or less inescapable - “it was like you know you’re gonna
use as soon as you step out the door” [Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years,
8.2.3 Offending behaviour courses
Accredited offending behaviour programmes [OBPs] and substance misuse
programmes now form a central part of the work of NOMS in the attempt to reduce reoffending. The women had experienced both prison-based and community-based
programmes, as discussed below. The origins of OBPs, which now feature heavily in
the penal system of England and Wales – the Ministry of Justice (2012b) website lists
almost 50 such programmes within their current suite of OBPs – are located with the
RNR paradigm, grounded in an evidence-based, ‘what works’ ethos. As such, they
have been subject to similar criticisms on the grounds that they have their roots in an
androcentric design, based on data pertaining to ‘what works’ for men. In response,
the following section considers what – if anything – the women’s experiences of OB
courses offered them in terms of progressing towards desistance. The women only
referred to three such programmes: the Thinking Skills Programme, Sycamore Tree,
and RAPt – the role of these interventions in talking the women’s PAOP offending is
now examined in turn.
Thinking Skills Programme and Sycamore Tree
The Thinking Skills Programme [TSP] is a cognitive-behavioural programme designed
for medium or high risk re-offenders in both Prison and Probation services. It aims to
reduce the likelihood of future recidivism by tackling four key ‘criminogenic targets’ –
‘impulsivity, decision-making, interpersonal problem-solving and the influence of
others’ (Barnett 2012, p.157) - through group discussions, role plays, and personal
assignments. These traits correspond to the ‘big four’ risk factors identified in Chapter
Two as criminal history, procriminal attitudes, associates, and antisocial personality
(Andrews & Bonta 2010), yet these have been shown to be largely irrelevant to the
pathways to offending behaviour for women (Trotter 2007; Buell, Modley & Van Voorhis
2011), potentially rendering TSP an inappropriate means for reducing women’s
Certainly none of the women who had completed TSP associated it with inducing any
prior motivations to desist. The course was described as “basic common sense” by
Savannah, who added “I know what I’ve gotta do, I’ve done it over the years, you
know?” [Savannah, PPO, aged 29, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, Burglary)]. That
is to say, the course taught her nothing new – she felt that she knew how to desist from
offending and substance use; it was just the practicalities of doing so standing in her
That said, the actual completion of such courses – whether or not anything new was
learned – held a symbolic value for some of the women. For Badger, completing TSP
was her way of showing her Offender Supervisor that she had “done [her] part” - that
is, she had participated in the course as agreed, showing a willingness to comply with
her pre-sentence plan, although she did not feel TSP had “helped” in any tangible
manner in terms of supporting her to build an offending-free future.
In discussing her experience of the Sycamore Tree programme - a course grounded
in the principles of restorative justice and victim awareness – Alex also identified her
willing participation on this and previous courses as a symbolic indication of the positive
direction in which she was moving on this particular sentence. This was a message to
her Offender Supervisor that, in complying, she was making changes to her behaviour
and thinking which did not occur during her previous period of imprisonment:
This is the first time since I’ve been in prison that I’ve kept my head
down and done courses [...] I’ll be starting my next course in about a
couple of weeks, and I can’t wait, ‘cos it was me what put in the
application form to do certain courses? When I came into jail the last
time, I couldn’t be arsed. I walked out angry, committing crime, selling
drugs again – and I don’t wanna go back there [Me: yeah]. But this time
I’ve learnt a lot and kept my head down.
Alex, non-PPO, aged 30, sentenced (length unknown, s.18 GBH)
In contrast to Savannah’s experience of TSP, Alex had “learned a lot” from taking part
in Sycamore Tree – her enthusiasm for the course was palpable in discussing this, and
her reference to the change in her feelings and behaviour since her last period of
incarceration (from “I couldn’t be arsed” to “I can’t wait”) is indicative of the ‘attitudinal
shift’ identified as an important outcome of participation on Sycamore (cf. Feasey &
Williams 2009).
Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust drug-rehabilitation course [RAPt]
The most enthusiastically-received OBP was the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners
Trust course; a prison-based drug rehabilitation programme, based on the 12-step
model of Alcoholics Anonymous – this means that there is a far more psychological
and behavioural ‘treatment’ element to RAPt than to simply getting medical drug
treatment/’detoxed’, which many of the women had discussed as experiencing.
RAPt operates both within the criminal justice service and the community, and aims to
‘help people overcome the grip of addiction’ (RAPt 2012, p.3), with the majority of
graduates from the RAPt course ‘stay[ing] drug and crime free on release’ from prison
(RAPt 2011, p.1). Three of the women – Cathrine, Lisa, and Morgan – had graduated
from the RAPt course during their current sentence, and spoke in exceptionally positive
terms about the impact of undergoing the RAPt course.
Cathrine, for example, saw the RAPT course as a real turning point for her in beginning
to move away from her dependence on drugs – she told me that had she not been on
the course, she would still be taking methadone and would “probably be wantin’ to get
out to get some drugs”:
I was knocking the door at RAPT saying [in frantic voice], “I’m ready, I
need to come over!”, cos I didn’t wanna be doin’ it anymore? I was
gettin’ tired of chasin’ people and [sighs]. So yeah [without it] I’d
probably still, I’d still be goin’ out to use.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
This seemed to represent what is described above as a ‘triggering event’; that is, an
episode or discrete occurrence which ‘can cause a person to question one’s direction’
in life (Laub et al 1998, cit. in Maruna 2001, p.25).
Lisa described a similar experience of a ‘triggering event’ resulting in the realisation
that she needed to take action to end her dependence on alcohol and drugs. She told
me that she had attempted to complete the RAPt programme before, but
It didn’t really sink in before […] I was, was still in flipping fairy land off
of the drugs and that.
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, GBH)
However, her most recent offence, of s.18 GBH against her partner, had caused her
to reconsider the matter, and she had decided to try again. This time, she had found
the course “really useful”, helping her to “look at things in a different way” and dealing
wither “anger, which she described as “one of my biggest issues”. She also said that it
was “nice to have the support” Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6
months, s.18 GBH) provided as being part of RAPt; taking her away from the main
prison and locating her with drugs workers twenty-four hours a day.
Morgan had also recently graduated, and like Lisa, had already attempted to complete
RAPt before. She enthusiastically described the course as “one of the best things I’ve
ever done”:
It’s like learning about yourself? Like how you think, how you behave,
how you react, how you don’t react to things, what you’ve done in the
past and how you grew up?
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
Morgan also identified RAPt as key in the development of communication skills,
particularly in relation to asking for help/support, which were problems she identified
within her pre-sentence self. Speaking somewhat philosophically about the power of
the RAPt mentality to facilitate change in “broken” individuals, she evoked images of a
blooming flower to describe the sheer beauty of witnessing others reborn anew in front
of your eyes:
For me the programme is- ahh, it’s just amazing. And how, how you
see people change? Like you see them coming in broken - they don’t
wanna talk. They’re like ‘Fuck this, fuck that’, don’t wanna do nothing.
And then they work the steps and it’s, it’s like a flower that blooms –
oh, it’s amazing.
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
The only apparent downside to the RAPt course was the lack of service provision within
the female estate, where only one prison was able to facilitate the course:
There’s only one in the whole of England for women - they need to
[create more], sooo badly! […] They’ve got lists and lists for women to
come and do it.
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
This also meant that for women wanting to complete the course, tough decisions had
to be made around what committing to the course truly meant for them – for example,
moving many miles away from family and support to undertake it.
8.2.4 Probation
Most of the women disclosed some form of experience of being managed by the
Probation Service; for example, being ‘on licence’ following release from a previous
prison sentence; being on a Community Supervision Order, as an alternative sentence
to imprisonment; being on an Electronic Tag; and being part of the Prolific and other
Priority Offender scheme. Those experiences specific to being managed by the
Probation Service as a PPO, and already discussed above, will not be rehearsed again
A number of the women had serious reservations about being released from prison ‘on
licence’ – this was particularly the case for those women being managed as PPOs (as
discussed above), although also affected the non-PPOs. For example, in
hypothesising as to the likely outcome of her upcoming trial, Bubbles told me that she
would rather do extra time in prison than be sentenced to a probation order:
I know that if I get Probation I won’t stick to it. [Me: no?] No. Because
they’re, they’re no good – you go in there, d’ya know what I mean, they
expect ya to talk about your life story but it’s like, really, they’re not
interested – they’re just like ‘Oh yeah, girl, yeah, yeah – yeah I know
how you’re feelin’, yeah’, and it’s like ‘Oh you patronising uhhhhhh’.
And I’m- so I don’t go back. And then you get breached and you come
back to prison anyway [sighs]. So I’d rather just do my sentence and
then I got nothing hanging over me. Then I can try and move on with
my life.
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting, Common
Lisa’s personal experience – which was only discussed very briefly – revealed that she
had “never really liked Probation” and had “never found them helpful”, while Alex
likened being ‘on licence’ conditions to being incarcerated, with similar restrictions
placed on one’s liberty and autonomy:
I’ll be on Licence for 2 years. Which I don’t really want – all I really
want is just some support from them […] I don’t want to feel like um
they’ve got control of my life, ‘cos like when they’ve got you on
Licence, really and truly you’re still a prisoner. Because if I was to like
mess up, I’d come back to jail on the same number – I’m still a
prisoner. So I won’t be free until that 2 years’ time is up.
Alex, non-PPO, aged 30, sentenced (length unknown, s.18 GBH)
For Alex then, ‘support’ and ‘Probation’ were two entirely separate concepts, and she
was clear that she wanted the former, and not the latter, recognising that it was ‘the
reduction of offending and not ‘support’ which represented the ‘ultimate goal’ of
Probation’s supervisory activities (Rex 1999, p.367). It will be interesting to see in
which direction the contemporary Probation Service will go, in the wake of the
Transforming Rehabilitation agenda and the new directive to provide a statutory
minimum of 12 months probationary supervision, and its impact on – in particular –
substance-addicted women offenders, who risk breach and potentially prison on each
occasion that they relapse.
8.3 What women want: Female PAOP offenders’ ‘imagined
futures’, and overcoming structural impediments to desistance
Since ‘limited attention has been paid to what influences women’s forecast of
postrelease success’ (Cobbina & Bender 2012, pp. 288-9), the current section looks to
the ‘imagined futures’ of the female PAOP offenders in the current sample, seeking to
establish what they want, and what ‘needs’/factors they see as possibly standing in
their way, i.e. the ‘structural impediments’ to their desired futures, an issue also
overlooked in relation to female offenders more generally.
‘Structural impediments’ to desistance are those factors or situations, generally
considered as ‘beyond the individuals’ control’, which are blocking access to
‘participation in mainstream society’ (i.e. ‘re-entry’) (Farrall et 2010). They identify such
impediments as centred on the four following elements of free social life: (i)
Consumption: the capacity to purchase goods and services; (ii) Production:
participation in economically or socially valuable activities; (iii) Political engagement:
involvement in local or national decision-making [including voting]; and (iv) Social
interaction: integration with family, friends and community. An example of this might
relates to whether or not the individual in question is somehow impeded in her or his
quest for x or y – Bottoms et al (2004, p.373) give the example of ‘the fact of a criminal
conviction’, which is ‘clearly not an advantage, but a structural impediment, to the jobseeker’. These are the issues which concern us in this current section.
8.3.1 Learning to live substance-free
“[L]earning how to cope being drug-free” [Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years,
4 months, Burglary)] was one of the most frequently stated aims occurring during the
interviews. Whilst drug support services were available, these often centred around
detoxification, rather than supporting the women in learning how to maintain a drugfree life post-release – as Badger observed, “it’s alright me doin’ it - it’s the help that I
need after” [Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)]; help
which, in her experience, had not been made available. Similarly, Savannah wanted to
learn how to manage future emotional issues without recourse to substances:
That’s why I’m trying to sort myself out now, so if I do come across
hurdles in the future, I can deal with ‘em? Rather than having a
breakdown and drugs, I can do something else?”
Savannah, PPO, aged 29, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, Burglary)
According to Blackwell et al (1996, cit. in Grant 2007, p.1), in order to be ‘better
prepared to provide assistance to women who seek help [for their addiction], it is
necessary to know how women extract themselves from problem situations’. The fact
that so many of the women’s ‘relapse stories’ revolved around drugs and alcohol as
the primary coping mechanism for a problem situation - e.g. a bereavement, sexual
assault, breakdown of a relationship, or even a simple argument with a partner –
suggests that this may be a key area for focused support when working with substanceaddicted repeat female offenders.
As noted above in Section 8.2, many of the women in the study had made the decision
to desist from future offending. However, they also acknowledged that this was only
the first step, and that various impediments existed to successfully maintaining a
substance- and crime-free life. Louise and Morgan talked frankly about this; about their
fears, their expectation of failure, and the forces that threatened to frustrate their plans
for desistance. Previous (and often multiple) experiences of failing to maintain
desistance from substances and offending weighed heavily on them, and acted to
remind them of all the things that could go wrong:
I feel a bit stronger this time […] I know it’s not gonna be easy for me
[...]I am absolutely terrified of goin’ out and using […] I hope that I’ve
got enough courage, uh, basically to go out and do it, d’ya know what
I mean? An’ make something of my life – I’m young enough, I can do
it, you know, to sort it? So I just hope I can do it. But It’s just, it’s just
havin’ that [emits groan of frutration] Ohhhh, I dunno [suddenly sounds
despairing] - it’s so easy to say when you’re in jail! […] [Last time] I
said in my mind I wanted to, an’ like when I got out it was, again –
uhhhh [sighs, sounding resigned]. Different story.
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
It’s so hard - so hard - not to get back into the old routine. Like, as
much as you want it - your head’s sayin’, ‘Right, now’s the time, this is
it. I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it’ - it’s so hard if when you’re an addict
and you’ve got an addiction it’s [sharp intake of breath] it’s so easy to
grab you again you know, I need the support and the stability,
otherwise it’s just gonna go pear shaped again.
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
It is apparent from the women’s past experiences that it is never enough to simply
experience an intervention - for example, the PPO scheme, substance/addiction
treatment, temporary accommodation. Successful maintenance - ‘the stage in which
people work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action’ represents the important (and, of course, difficult) part of sustaining a new behaviour
pattern (Prochaska, DiClemente and Norcross 1992, p.1104). The maintenance of
recovery from substance addiction, for instance, is the one that ‘last[s] a lifetime’; it
must be continually worked at in order to ensure that the previous, undesired
behaviours do not once again take root (ibid)13.
8.3.2 Accommodation
When I asked the women where they would like to be six months after their release
(whenever that might be), they responded with fantasies which indicated the
importance of safe, stable and appropriate accommodation, both for themselves and
(where relevant) their children; something which they had rarely experienced:
Just a nice little place of my own, where my kids can come and stay?
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
I guess just to be housed somewhere I’d like to live? Like probably in
my own little flat or something like that? You know, have my sons to
come up and stay with me when they want to, and my grandson?
Mary, PPO, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal)
I go home soon at Christmas, so, yeah! [then quieter] I just hope it goes
well, it’s just my tag – I’ve never had a tag before because, well, ‘cos
I’ve never really had a stable address to go out to before?
Maintenance is the fifth, and penultimate, stage of Prochaska et al’s model. Whilst ‘maintenance’ is
theoretically followed by the ‘termination’ stage, the authors acknowledge that for those recovering
from addiction in particular, it is more likely that subsequent life will proceed until the end in a perpetual
stage of maintenance. For those recovering from addiction (and perhaps those attempting to abstain
from criminality?), then, the only certainty in terminating the undesirable behaviour pattern is death.
The four stages which precede maintenance are as follows: (i) precontemplation, ‘the stage at which
there is no intention to change behavior’; (ii) contemplation, ‘the stage in which people are aware that
a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment
to take action’; (iii) preparation, ‘a stage that combines intention [to take action in the near future] and
[…] some reductions in their problem behaviors’; (iv) action, ‘the stage at which individuals modify their
behaviour, experiences, or environment in order to overcome their problems […] [and] requires
considerable commitment’; and (v) maintenance, which is ‘the stage in which people work to prevent
relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action’ (Prochaska et al, 1992, pp.1103-4).
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
Of course, the reality was that the women – particularly the PPOs - were likely to end
up back in the “junkie-filled hostels” which so clearly threatened their chances of
recovery, and thus staying crime-free. The findings from the current research identified
the bail hostel as a key contributing factor to the women’s past relapse and return to
offending, as discussed in Chapter Six, as well as featuring in their fears about the
future. Prior experiences of forced residence at bail hostels which lacked in-house
support and effective monitoring by practitioners, and which were a haven for dealers,
all featured in the stories of Mary, Badger, Louise – Badger viewed her frequent return
to bail hostel as keeping her in a “vicious cycle”.
Placing these women in an environment that both facilitated and encouraged
substance use – both of which are major factors in the success or failure of individuals
attempting to ‘get clean’ (cf. Robins 1993) – therefore represents a key ‘structural
impediment’ to their chances of maintaining desistance, both from drugs/alcohol and
crime. Similar problems arose when women on the PPO scheme wanted to move away
from their local area in order to improve their chances of maintaining their recovery.
However, as documented above, the risk-averse nature of the PPO scheme, the need
to keep such individuals close-by, and the unwillingness of other areas to accept a
high-risk, ‘problem offender’ into their communities, all represented ‘structural
impediments’ to the women getting what they wanted – a move to another area.
If the women had to be accommodated in temporary housing such as a bail hostel, the
women wanted it to be far safer and substance-free environment than current provision
can appear to offer them. They wanted staff to be available around the clock at the
premises; not just to watch and judge, but to provide emotional and practical support
with maintaining their new lifestyle. They wanted protection from the drug dealers
whose predatory activity meant that there was a ready supply of drugs in such
establishments, and protection from fellow residents who might have relapsed, and so
provided temptation to relapse. Where the women had supportive families, and where
the families were willing to have them to temporarily living at their residence, the
women wanted to be allowed to do so without a fight.
8.3.3 Employment
Poor employment histories have been specifically associated with female offenders
(HMCIP 1997), with Corston (2007, p.7) suggesting that the ‘chaotic lifestyles and
backgrounds of many women result in their having very little employment experience’.
Some of the women – particularly those who were younger than the average age of
the group – had no experience of work at all. Others had sporadic ‘legit’ work histories,
but these had often come to an end as a result of their addiction:
I applied for a job in a bookies, which I got, and became manager, and
I managed it for a couple of years [pause] And again, the drugs got in
the way? And, uh, basically, the drugs have been just the brunt of
everything, and I lost that job.
Morgan, non-PPO, aged 31, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, Intent to supply Class A drugs)
I came to London, obviously I knew no one […] and by chance I went
into the Savoy Hotel an’ I got a job in there, but it was only in the
kitchens, but it was still a work, a job […] But the drink – it was the drink
[Me: you got sacked?] Yeah.
Lennox, non-PPO, aged 62, remanded (Breach of ASBO)
In one case, one of the women – who was successfully ‘going straight’, with a legitimate
job – was dismissed when her employer found out about her previous offending record:
[I]n the past, I’ve lied on my application and said ‘Oh, you know, um,
no - I’ve got no previous convictions’, and then someone’s come in and
seen me and grassed me up, and said ‘Oh, did you know she’s an exshoplifter or whatever’, and then I get sacked. But if I’m honest with
them, they don’t give me the job anyway! So it’s a Catch 22.
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
This indicates how difficult it can be for individuals with a criminal record – female or
male – to find a ‘legit’ job. Given the length of criminal record held by some of the
women, and the years they have spent in prison, it is likely that securing sustained
employment may not be simple, which Louise and Amy subsequently noted:
[Because] I’m an ex-offender it is gonna be difficult for me to get jobs?
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
That’s my job I would like to do [working with children], but I know that’s
gonna take a couple of years to do because of my criminal record.
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
This, however, did not stop Amy wanting “a cushty little job” [Amy, PPO, aged 31,
sentenced (3 years, Robbery)], nor did it stop Louise fantasising about her “dream
job” – “lookin’ after kids with Down’s syndrome or disabilities” – which she had wanted
to do since she was “a little girl” [Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4
months, Burglary)].
Other women also talked about their employment aspirations – one of the most
important things about this for Cathrine was that she would be able to furnish her new
home with decorative items she had bought, rather than simply shoplifted:
I’m really startin’ to get fed up of life in addiction. I just want to live, and
have clean friends and that, you know? Erm, and just be able to get a
job – I don’t care if it’s just stacking shelves or what – and to get a flat
of my own where I‘ve actually bought, bought the stuff with my own
money, you now, and not shoplifted?
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
There was also a strong ‘generative’ overtone (Maruna 2001, p.xvi) to the future job
plans of some of the women – that is, ‘a desire to make a lasting contribution or leave
a positive legacy (‘something to show’) with one’s life” (Maruna 2001, p.104). Maruna
(1999, p.7) suggested that ‘criminal desisters are likely to have more spiritual and
generative goals and strivings than persistent offenders’ – however, most of the
‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offenders I interviewed were in a somewhat ‘liminal’ state
(Jewkes 2005); they were both PAOP offenders on paper, yet in their stories and
through their future plans, they constructed a life centred on desistance and recovery
from addiction.
The ‘generative’ narratives within the stories of women in the current study seemed
somewhat more altruistic than Maruna suggests they may be; that is, it was not simply
about having ‘something to show’ for one’s life (although that did undeniably feature in
one of the women’s narratives), but rather about helping and protecting the next
generation from suffering the same fate as they had. Louise, for example, had as a
back-up employment option of youth worker, or drugs counsellor, using her story to
warn “rebelling” young people about where they could end up if they continued on the
path they were on:
Or, um, [I’d like to] be a youth worker, d’ya know what I mean, with kids
– just gettin’ to that, they’re just gettin’ to that age you know where
they’re thinkin’ about kind of rebelling or doing this an’ that, and I
wanna say like ‘Listen – here’s my story, and here’s where I am today’,
d’ya know what I mean? [Me: yeah] You know, or maybe work with
drug users, like maybe - in time – I can help people that’s been in my
situation, d’ya know?
Louise, PPO, aged 23, sentenced (2 years, 4 months, Burglary)
Wanting to “help people” who had been in a similar situation also informed Bubbles’
generative future employment narrative, who had already been engaged in working
with young people at her local drug centre:
I did start doin’ like speeches like – groups, at my local drug centre,
with people aged sixteen to twenty one [Me: oh right] that were on
drugs an’ that? An’ I used, because where I’ve been in and out of prison
like, and the drugs an’ that, I know a lot of what to say to the young
‘uns. And they respect me for it [pause]. I’ve got two off, and on ‘em on
methadone, and they’re still, they haven’t touched any drugs.
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting, Common
It was evident that Bubbles was proud of this achievement; she appeared to have
already ‘acquired new purposes, a fresh set of meanings and a satisfying new role’
which Maruna (2001: p. xvi) identifies as crucial elements to ‘reform’. Proctor (2009)
suggested that such positive ‘generative’ aspirations, experiences and work should be
nurtured and encouraged with female offenders, in order to ‘support and sustain former
female prisoners’ pro-social aspirations’ (p.29). This may be a means for achieving one
of Gelthorpe et al’s (2007, p.54) ‘nine lessons’ for working with female offenders;
‘foster[ing] women’s empowerment’ and supporting them in ‘feel[ing] motivated to seek
appropriate employment’ [emphasis added]. There remains a paucity, however, of
literature addressing the concept of generativity and the role this might play in
maintaining the desistance of – specifically - substance-addicted female PAOP
offenders, with Proctor (2009) and Grant (2007) representing two rare, relevant
examples of scholars engaging in such work.
Being able to offer support as someone who had “been through it” was particularly
important to Bubbles, indicating the legitimacy accorded to the ex-offender or
recovering addict; that is, that only someone who had experienced prison, mental
health, drug addiction, et cetera, could legitimately offer advice and support, as
opposed to anyone who had not had these experiences, indicating the importance in
this social world of obtaining expertise from a counsellor or ex-prisoner ‘made good’
(cf. Maruna 2001):
I can go into a drug place and get a job there, because of what I’ve
been through myself, y’know? And with my mental health as well, so people can come in that’s got mental health conditions or drugs, d’ya
know what I mean? And I can talk to ‘em ‘cos I’m going through it [SW:
yeah] – You don’t get [pause] someone that sits there an’ says [puts
on/mimics sympathetic/patronising tone] “I know what – I know how
you’re feeling” and all that, and you’re thinking [now sounding angry]
‘Don’t patronise me because you don’t, because you’re not goin’
through it’.
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting, Common
It was evident from this comment that having already “lined up” a job at her local drug
centre was indeed an impetus to Bubbles for constructing and maintaining a life
centred on sustaining desistance from drug use (and therefore offending), starting with
“getting stable” on a heroin replacement medication.
8.3.4 Opportunities to address their ‘unresolved grief’
‘Unresolved grief’, identified as a problematic yet central feature of imprisoned
populations (Finlay & Jones 2000), featured heavily in the women’s stories. A small
number of the women were engaged in counselling or had experienced this in the past;
for those who currently wanted therapeutic support to address past traumas, however,
such support was rarely made available. This concept was more or less absent from
the CJPP accounts of ‘need’ in Chapter Five, but seemed to represent the sort of
addictogenic need identified in the previous chapter.
The extent to which the women desired such support was evident in the interviews:
Savannah, for example, was already having counselling, which she said was “helping”,
and identified this as an important means for supporting her to learn how to manage
her emotions:
I’m getting counselling and that to manage my emotions now, and
things like that, but I – I just fuck up sometimes? Like, I’m alright for a
couple of years, and then I end up relapsing? […] I sort of built a wall.
But obviously when I, you know, was emotionally unstable, it all comes
down. Because it’s like anything that was gonna make me feel better?
Savannah, PPO, aged 29, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, Burglary)
Badger wanted counselling for the bereavements she had experienced in her teenage
years, although was not quite ready to engage in this:
Badger: No, I was meant to, to start counselling before the summer but
I just don’t [much quieter – this is obviously quite a distressing topic].
Just don’t wanna do it, man. Don’t wanna do it.
Me: Perhaps it’s something you might think about later?
Badger: [a bit louder, more asserting this] Yeah it’s something I’ll do
before I leave here, definitely, but, not right now? It’s not something I
wanna do right now.
Badger, PPO, aged 26, sentenced (4 years, 6 months, Burglary)
Lennox was hoping to speak with a bereavement counsellor about the death of her
mother, and the loss of her only child, some two decades ago, while Mary wanted
someone to talk with in prison, but could not access counselling, owing to the long
waiting list, and so had settled for a lady from the chaplaincy departments (despite not
being religious):
I’ve asked for counselling, yeah, but it takes so long to get it, you know?
They have put me on the list for it, ‘cos like I’ve got a lot of things that
went on in my life from a young age that I still have to deal with, you
know? I mean, once a week some woman comes to see me from the
chaplains, really lovely she is, and she comes up every Saturday or
Sunday to see me, just to ask about how I am and how my family is.
And she knows quite a lot about me, ‘cos she used to come and see
me when I was in here last time. So yeah, she’s quite nice, and she’ll
come up for about half an hour every week.
Mary, PPO, aged 40, remanded (Burglary with intent to steal)
This half an hour every week may have been a short time temporally, but to Mary, it
was a lifeline.
Conversely, Louise was keen to never have counselling again, after a prior experience
– where the counsellor “opened all these cans of worms” before unexpectedly ending
the session, leaving Louise “bawlin’ [her] eyes out” – left her very much against the
idea. Must be done sensitively, and not during a short sentence.
8.3.5 Parenthood: The chance to “be a better mother”
Of the women in the current study, seven were mothers - Amy, Bubbles, Cathrine,
Badger, Lisa, Mary, and Savannah - and five were not - Alex, Lennox, Louise, Marie,
and Morgan. Of the mothers, two had children who were no longer dependents, but
who were still relatively young (i.e. late teens/early twenties).
All of the women were relatively young mothers; at the youngest, Lisa had given birth
to her daughter at the age of 17, while Savannah was the oldest, who was 21 years
old when she had her children. Only Mary did not say when she had her sons, but
given that one was 24 years old and the other 21, and she herself was 40 years old,
the math indicates that she must have had her first son in her mid-teens. Hers were
the oldest children among the sample, with Bubbles’ 4 year old daughter the youngest.
Rowe (2012) notes the devastating emotional impact that occurs during the first
occasion a woman is separated from her children by a period of imprisonment‘, while
Celinska (2013, p.23) identifies the enforced separation from children as the ‘most
difficult aspect of imprisonment for mothers. Mothers in prison face ‘multiple problems’
in maintaining strong ties with their children during periods of incarceration (Bloom &
Chesney-Lind 1994, cit. in Owen 1999, p.88), which Owen (1999) identifies as a key
aspect of the ‘gendered consequences’ of the women’s imprisonment ‘binge’
experienced in the United States. Distance between homes and prisons, failure of
prison authorities to support continued contact with care-givers, and limited resources
to support transport and other means of contact all mean that time in prison
compromises the likelihood of a positive maternal relationship being maintained. These
represent consequences of the failure of the penal state to effectively promote and
support the maintenance of ‘positive connections’ between mother and child (cf.
Mignon & Ransford 2012, p.69), in a phenomenon described by Comfort (2007) as
‘punishment beyond the legal offender’, but which also clearly represent a gendered
consequence of women’s incarceration, given their majority status as primary caregivers within the prison population.
Children’s lives are ‘greatly disrupted’ when their mothers are arrested (Myers,
Smarsh, Amlund-Hagen & Kennon 1999). It was therefore perhaps almost inevitable
that multiple arrests, convictions, and periods of incarceration had acted to significantly
weaken the bonds between the women in the study and their children. It is likely that
these relationships had also been damaged by the women’s on-going drug and alcohol
addiction, which can act to significantly ‘impede parenting’ (Barnard & McKeganey
2004, p.552), For the mothers in this study, the current period of incarceration was by
no means the first separation; the persistent and prolific nature of the offending by the
women in the sample, as well as an enduring history of substance addiction and a
revolving door relationship with the prison, meant that these women had been
repeatedly separated from their children. As with the women in Maidment’s (2008)
study, ‘child protection [was] already a well-established layer of social control in their
lives’ (p.136) prior to the current period of incarceration, and while the majority of the
children were still within the family, none of the women were the primary carers of their
own child or children, although. Amy, Badger, and Savannah all had children currently
living with their maternal grandmother (although Amy also had a son, who lived with
her ex-partner), while Bubbles’ sister was currently caring for her daughter, and Lisa’s
daughter – who had recently moved to university accommodation - had been living with
her mother prior to this. Cathrine’s daughter, however, had been placed with foster
parents. The women’s stories about their child or children therefore drew attention not
only to the pain of the first separation, but of the enduring pain of this, whereby the
period of separation was not only the time spent in prison but- because of their histories
of offending and addiction across the life course – the potential for each separation to
be the last one, with the permanent removal of the child or children.
The sense of loss conveyed by the women when discussing their children was
palpable. In discussing past experiences of frustrated desistance, for example, Lisa
reflected that repeatedly failing to “sort this out” – that is, to overcome her addiction
and get out of the cycle of relapse recidivism, and return to prison – meant that she
had not been the mother she had wanted to be, expressing her regret at missing out
on key events in her daughter’s life:
If I’d have been able to sort this out years ago, my life would’ve been
quite different. I’d have been able to be there for my daughter growin’
up – she’s like, she’s like nineteen now, she’s at university, dya know
what I mean? I’ve missed a lot of her life.
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, GBH)
Such over-arching feelings of loss and guilt were frequently expressed alongside
countless incidences which compounded these feelings; for example, the first time a
child was taken into care:
The first time [she] went into care - I remember her little face. [pauses]
It still makes me feel guilty.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
Their painfully honest accounts of the guilt and shame they felt marked them out as
different from, for example, the imprisoned women in Enos’ (2001) sample (cit. in
Celinska 2013, p.23), who sought to ‘present themselves as ‘good mothers’. Similarly,
in Celinska’s (2013) own research, ‘many’ women in her US-based sample ‘claimed
they did not belong in prison, and made downward social comparisons to the many
unfit mothers they had observed in prison’ (p.24). Conversely, there were no such
narratives in the current sample’s discussions of their identity as a mother; most of
child-centred talk they engaged in was characterised by acknowledgments of failure,
deep feelings of guilt and regret, and what seemed to be a sense of loss –
bereavement, even - regarding the years of their children lives that they had lost:
[My daughter] got caught with a bottle of vodka? And that shocked me,
‘cos it made me feel guilty as well, thinking that maybe I’d passed it on
to her as well, you know? That maybe because of me, she’s doin’ that?
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
In addition to these deep-seated feelings, mothers in the study also acknowledged the
impact of their addiction, repeat criminalisation, and multiple incarcerations on their
children; this was not only in terms of the loss/bereavement experienced, but also the
anger, grief, abandonment and resentment harboured by their children. Over time –
and with repeated incidences of separation as experienced for example by Lisa’s
daughter, Jasmin14 (who was in her late teens) – children of incarcerated mothers can
ultimately experience ‘detachment’ from their parent (cf. Tuerk & Loper 2006). Jasmin
had responded to Lisa’s most recent prison term by beginning to reject her mother’s
attempts at contact. The pain in Lisa’s voice and body language was evident as she
struggled to explain the breakdown in parental contact with her daughter:
I haven’t seen my daughter in a year [sighs] […] She wouldn’t come [to
visit] – she wouldn’t even answer the phone to me at the minute. [Lisa’s
tone of voice changes– this is clearly quite painful, and I get the sense
she closes this down for self-preservation] [then, more brightly, but with
the sense this conversation topic is finished] But that’s another story.
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced (3 years, 6 months, s.18
Katz (2000, p.637) suggests that ‘women’s desistance [has] little to do with becoming
a parent’. This view would perhaps overlook the fact the women’s determination to
desist from crime and substance use – even if this was, in the end, frustrated – had
everything to do with becoming a parent:
A pseudonym.
When my kids were born, I did get off the gear? [...] I was in no position
to go into full-blown using - I had my kids.
Amy, PPO, aged 31, sentenced (3 years, Robbery)
I had a baby, got clean, and stayed clean ‘til they was about 3 or 4.
Savannah, PPO, aged 29, sentenced (3 years, 6 months,
When I was 16, I got pregnant with my daughter - I gave up cannabis
and started using amphetamines, and gave up the drink as well.
Lisa, non-PPO, aged 36, sentenced
(3 years, 6 months, s.18 GBH)
The women also discussed episodes later in their children’s lives where they had tried
to overcome their addictions and that on occasion, their desperation to ‘get clean’ and
‘go straight’ for them – and the despair inherent in having these ambitions frustrated –
was implicated in their histories of multiple relapse:
We tried comin’ off the gear – we was on hundred and twenty mil
methadone15, erm, and we’d reduced right down – it took us almost a
year to reduce right down to like five mil or something like that. And
then Social Services told me I’d have to be off my methadone for a
further year before they’d even think of givin’ her back to me. So that
put, well- I just thought, ‘Oh my god, they’re never gonna give her back
to me’, so I just went straight back on the drugs again.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
Returning to Katz’s (2000) comment above, while ‘becoming a parent’ may not have
ultimately been the turning point to secondary desistance (and perhaps it is
unreasonable to expect that it would be; after all, this does nothing to take away from
the structural impediments discussed above), ‘being a parent’ – and perhaps more
than that, being a mother - dominated the women’s ‘imagined futures’ and underpinned
the accounts they gave of their current plans to tackle their addictions and stop
returning to prison:
A synthetic opioid, commonly used as a substitute in treating addiction to heroin.
My daughter’s four in August... she’s livin’ with my sister at the
moment, ‘til I get myself sorted. That’s another reason why I am
determined to sort myself out […] I’m gonna fight to get [her] home. My
sister had said that if I can prove myself for six months, stay on my
methadone, do regular dip tests and take the certificate to her and
show her, you know what I mean, in six months’ time I might be able
to have my daughter. Slowly, d’ya know what I mean? Like weekends,
we’ll do it like that. And then I’m gonna get her home for good. And
then I’m gonna marry my boyfriend [corrects self] Well, my fiancée,
should I say, so [pauses] I’ve got a lot to look forward to. That’s why
I’m so determined.
Bubbles, non-PPO, aged 24, remanded (Theft/Shoplifting,
Common Assault)
[I want] to be a better mother to my daughter, you know? Someone
she can look up to... I wanna be a good role model to my daughter.
Cathrine, PPO, aged 34, sentenced
(Possession & Intent to Supply, 3 years, 6 months)
I know what I’ve gotta do, I’ve done it over the years, you know? And
it’s like I’ve got two children to think about...I need to get out there and
sort them... [I want to be] free from offending, free from drugs, and just
to be a mum again... [They’re] the most important thing to me.
Savannah, PPO, aged 29, sentenced (3 years, 6 months,
8.4 Summary
It is conceptually interesting – and perhaps somewhat counterintuitive - that the
women’s experiences of incarceration were overwhelmingly constructed as positive,
contrary to the generally accepted view that prison is a disproportionately punitive and
problematic mode of penal sanction for women (cf. Carlen 2013; Corston 2007). Such
narratives were primarily focused around the ability of incarceration to remove the
women from the chaos of a life in addiction, offering opportunities for change and reassessment of one’s life and its direction in a manner that was simply not achievable
when embroiled in their chaotic lives ‘on the out’. Where such opportunities focused
on developing skills for living a life beyond drug and alcohol addiction, the women
spoke favourably of their time inside as “saving” them. Care should be taken of course
that this is not read as a statement in favour of a bias towards incarceration for such
individuals; it is important to consider, for instance, the incredibly low baseline of
support from which such sentiments are born. Those women on remand and serving
short sentences - as well as those women reflecting on previous experience of such
terms - spoke in unequivocally negative terms about their chances of achieving
change, pointing to the adverse effects and damage done by repeated short custodies
across their life course. Rather, this represents a statement in favour of broad
decarceration of women offenders, and in its place a more appropriate support
structure which - like prison - can enable women to escape the environment in which
their offending/addiction occurs (a situational risk factor which should not be
considered as a separate issue) but without the negative effects of incarceration.
However, there was broadly less focus on the women’s experience of time inside when
compared to their concerns relating to their post-release experience. This fact gives
some insight into where – from the women’s perspectives – the main failings of the
CJS lay, in respect of supporting them out of the cycle of addiction and repeat
criminalisation. It should be clear by now that for these particular women, these two
issues could not be addressed in isolation from each other. There were clear
similarities between the women in terms of what they wanted – to learn how to live life
substance-free, and how to cope with stressful situations without recourse to
substances. In short, they wanted help in replacing their primary maladaptive coping
strategy with adaptive ones. Relatedly, a less punitive/criminalising approach to
relapse, and more appropriately managing these lapses within a supportive
environment, was the key to sustaining change in terms of achieving primary - and
moving towards secondary - desistance.
The absence of such support – and indeed, the punitive crime-control orientation of
the Prolific and other Priority Offender initiative – meant that the PPOs’ narratives of
achieving change on the current sentence were broadly bleak, and projected a sense
of hopelessness. There was a general confusion among the women in thinking that the
PPO scheme was about “support”, when the reality – clearly poorly communicated to
the women themselves – was to incapacitate them, as a high-frequency offender. As
observed in Chapter 5, rehabilitation and resettlement was not necessarily the focus
of the PPO scheme, regardless of women’s individual needs.
Finally, it is important to consider the ways in which data in this chapter conveys the
gendered experience of PAOP offending – this was particularly evident within the
narratives of parenthood from those women in the study who were mothers. In addition
to the myriad other issues the women were battling – beating addiction, maintaining
recovery over time, securing and maintaining appropriate accommodation, concerns
regarding employment, and unresolved trauma histories – those with children were
also struggling to maintain contact or deal with the on-going separation from them,
which was linked to the women’s histories of addiction and repeat criminalisation. While
male PAOP offenders may experience the pains of separation from their children –
although such issues have yet to arise in the PPO literature – women in general ‘have
greater difficulty adjusting to separation from their children’ (Mignon & Ransford 2012,
p.70). Furthermore, women in the current study were different to non-PAOP and nonrepeatedly criminalised women, since the pains of separation experienced by the onetime imprisoned female offender – while of course devastating to all concerned – do
not amount to the repeat occurrence of this phenomenon, in addition to the everpresent (or indeed, already realised) threat of permanent removal of their children as
a direct result of their offending and substance-use. To paraphrase Sykes (1958),
these issues represent specifically-maternal ‘pains of repeat criminalisation’; that is, an
example of the unique and gendered pains of persistent and prolific offending for
9 - Conclusions
9.1 Introduction
Gender ‘matters’ to the study of the ‘career criminal’ (DeLisi 2002, p.40) (emphasis
added), yet has been largely overlooked within both the ‘criminal career’ literature and
the body of work on female offenders. This is not merely an academic matter - such
studies are necessary to provide ‘accurate knowledge about women’s criminal
careers’, which is of fundamental importance both to criminological theory, and for
criminal justice practitioners, who depend on such knowledge in order to work
effectively to with them (Block et al 2010, p.76).
This research set out to explore how women whose offending careers could be
described in the language of ‘persistence’ and ‘prolificity’ experienced this from day-today across the life-course. Using a life story approach, the study has provided an
alternative lens for viewing such behaviour, drawing attention away from an offencefocused gaze and directing it towards the lives behind the labels. The lived realities of
PAOP offending in the lives of women (both of those who were interviewed, and those
being managed by CJPP interviewees) were revealed to be far more than a simple
matter of free-willed recidivism, and were almost-exclusively narrated as underpinned
by omnipresent – and indeed, omnipotent – addictions to drugs and alcohol which had
plagued them since adolescence. The research also highlighted the ways in which the
language of ‘frustrated desistance’ was more useful in representing why the women’s
offending careers endured over time than that of ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ re-offending,
looking to both the agentic and structural conditions which prevented them from ‘getting
out of the life’. Importantly, the findings revealed the ways in which inappropriately
resourced criminal justice interventions which lack a gender-sensitive infrastructure –
and in particular, the Prolific and other Priority Offender initiative – may actually act to
reduce the likelihood of success in this endeavour, rather than enhance it.
This final chapter first summarises the academic basis for the current study, and the
methods by which the research underpinning the data chapters was undertaken. It then
discusses some key conceptual lessons drawn from the study’s findings in relation to
its two core aims, as set out in Chapter One. To reiterate, these were: (i) To attend to
the how and why of women’s PAOP offending across the life course, and to conclude
whether existing frames of reference (specifically the language of ‘persistent’ and
‘prolific’ offending) adequately achieve this; and (ii) To understand how various criminal
justice strategies and interventions – with a particular focus on the current PPO
schemes – operate within such lives.
9.2 Summary of Findings
This thesis began from the starting point that while the bodies of literature on ‘career
criminals’ and women who offend are both extensive, there existed little research at
the intersection where these two substantive areas meet. As a result, the extent of our
knowledge regarding the persistent female offender remains ‘at a relatively early stage’
(Brennan, Breitenbach, Dieterich et al 2012, p.1482). As discussed in Chapter One
(Introduction), the comparative rarity of women who repeatedly recidivate has
rendered them – within the context of female offenders overall minority status – ‘too
few to count’ (Heidensohn 1991) in terms of research and policy. The most recent
Home Office strategy designed to tackle prolific re-offending – the Prolific and other
Priority Offender initiative – represented one such example, where women (making up
approximately 3 per cent of the national PPO cohort) were absent from both initial
guidance and subsequent research evaluations. Given the ‘increasing prominence’ of
women’s persistent and prolific offending (Soothill et al 2003; Ministry of Justice 2009),
the need to understand how and why female offenders repeatedly engage in crime,
and the potential role of new criminal justice interventions (i.e. the Prolific and other
Priority Offender strategy) in reducing these behaviours compared to existing
initiatives, Chapter One also identified the particular timeliness of the research
underpinning this thesis.
Chapters Two and Three delved deeper into the literature on PAOP offending, the
interventions over time which have been designed to modify such ‘chronic’ and
‘habitual’ recidivism, and the extent to which women’s experiences have been
neglected within these areas. Chapter Two also identified the extent to which the study
of the parameters of the ‘criminal carer paradigm’ (i.e. onset, persistence – a.k.a.
duration – offence type, and desistance) have been afflicted by definitional concerns.
The absence of a clear and consistent definition of ‘persistent offender’, for example,
meant that one could never be sure that even studies adopting the same terminology
were discussing the same population. Hopkins and Wickson’s (2013) attempt to inject
some clarity into these muddy waters meant that for the first time, ‘long-term
persistence’ and ‘prolific offending’ were explicitly constructed as difference – albeit
inter-connected – concepts; ones which perhaps lay on the same continuum of
behaviour, yet were subtly different. This was to have implications in the current study
in terms of offering a clear terminology for demarcating the boundaries between
women who had, and had not, been identified as PPOs, since both groups were
demonstrated a ‘persistent’, long-term relationship with offending, yet only the PPOs
were to be identified by the ‘short heavy bursts’ of offending Hopkins and Wickson
identified as ‘prolific’. Chapter Three, meanwhile, demonstrated that such concerns
were largely absent from the study of women’s offending, despite consistent
exhortations in the last two decades (e.g. Danner et al 1995; DeLisi 2002; Soothill et
al 2003; Pavlich 2010; Brennan et al 2012) to take seriously the experiences of women
who persistently re-offend. As noted above, studies from these two often-disconnected
areas of literature were harnessed to show a gap in knowledge at the point at which
they intersected – the female PAOP offender.
Chapter Four provided a detailed account of the research process. Underpinned by a
desire to engage with biographical accounts of the lives of female PAOP offenders, the
chapter outlined the ways in which the research design would facilitate the generation
of such information. Justifying its qualitative, person-centred approach with reference
to the dearth of such perspectives within the limited research into women’s PAOP
offending, the quest for a more holistic perspective on this phenomenon identified the
importance of engaging both with female offenders offending ‘persistently’ and
‘prolifically’ and agents of the criminal justice system with direct experience or
awareness of managing this particular population. In doing so, it does not claim to
represent the knowledge or experiences of all female PAOP offenders, nor of all
criminal justice employees working with such individuals, but does justify the value in
seeking to explore this phenomenon, in-depth, through the perspectives of a few
specific individuals.
9.2.1 The ‘how’ and ‘why’ of women’s PAOP recidivism across the life
course: The centrality of addiction, relapse, and a lack of adaptive
coping strategies
One of the overall aims of this thesis was to attend to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of women’s
enduring recidivism across the life course, as well as seeking to understand whether
the concepts of ‘persistence’ and ‘prolific’ offending adequately explain and represent
the recidivistic ‘criminal careers’ of such women.
As documented in Chapter Six, one of the key research findings was that despite their
different offence trajectories (see below), the genesis (i.e. onset) stories of the
women’s pathways into offending – that is, the how and why these female PAOP
offenders began offending – were almost always narrated within the context of a clear
‘drug-crime connection’ (Baskin & Somers 1998, p.76). The majority described a
process whereby initial adoption of substance use – as ‘psychological relief’ (Gordon
2002); the result of various traumatic experiences – and the integration of this into their
life, accompanied by poor parental relationships and strong associations with nonprosocial peers, meant that what started as a ’survival strategy’ (Gilfus 1992)
developed into an addiction. Practitioners in Chapter Five also identified the
disproportionate presence of substance use and addiction within the lives of prolific
female offenders, linking this to their pathways to PPO status. There was a tendency
within these accounts to focus more on the immediate criminogenic factors in female
PPOs’ lives and less on the sort of ‘trauma histories’ present in Chapter Six, although
CJPP interviewees who did engage in ‘onset’ discussions identified “troubled
childhoods”, criminogenic families and home environments, and coercion from male
partners as underpinning this process.
As noted elsewhere in this thesis, the concept of the ‘drug-crime’ link (Seddon 2000)
has been much debated, and – in a variation of the ‘chicken and egg’ debate – there
is much confusion in the literature in relation to which comes first, and the extent to
which causality can be inferred. Conversely, for the majority of narrated pathways in
the current research, there was no such confusion – the life history accounts of the
women in Chapter Six made it clear that in their experience, substance use preceded
offending. Existing literature on women’s pathways into offending, whilst featuring most
of the factors implicated by those in the current sample, often feature ‘trauma’ or
‘substance use’ in only one pathway – contrary to this standard pattern, these issues
tended to cut across almost all of the genesis narratives, PPOs and non-PPOs alike.
In this way, the data presented in the thesis contributed to our understanding of the
ways in which histories of abuse interact with offending behaviour across the life course
of criminalised women, particularly in relation to potential pathways built on the
development of addiction, and the subsequent onset of offending.
Chapter Seven explored the ways in which substance use also represented the
dominant narrative framing the ‘why’ of the women’s offending trajectories beyond the
initial onset and across the life course, with the women pointing to addiction as the
primary factor behind their offending and numerous re-convictions. Both the PPO and
non-PPO women stated categorically that if (and when) not ‘in addiction’, they did not
offend. It could be said that in this respect, the women described the reasons for their
repeat re-offending less in the language of ‘criminogenic need’, and more in that of
addictogenic needs; they did not recognise the need for ‘offending behaviour’
modifying courses, but talked about the necessity for proactive and appropriate support
in modifying themselves as an individual ‘in addiction’. The reasons given for past
relapses – which were narrated repeatedly as the antedates to recidivism - ranged
from arguments with partners to experiences of sexual violence, and from domestic
abuse to post-natal depression. Tackling deep-rooted and enduring addictions,
however, did not appear to be the forte of the criminal justice system, and so the
women were often returned to prison for substance-related offences – one of the
interviewees, for instance, was on remand for being in public with a can of Special
Brew, contrary to her ASBO, while others talked of being returned to prison for failing
a drug test, and being unable to maintain recovery in the post-release period. It was
also clear that at the core of these issues lay an absence of adaptive coping strategies,
and a subsequent return to the maladaptive coping strategies (i.e. substance use) the
women had been using since childhood. It was evident that the criminal justice system
was not helping matters by removing the women’s primary coping strategy (albeit a
maladaptive one), and declining to facilitate its replacement at the same time with a
series of adaptive strategies. The end result of this situation was that when the women
did come across a stressful situation following release from prison, they felt that they
did not know how to manage or cope with it, and so returned to substance use. Further,
the type of support indicated by the women as being necessary in maintaining a
substance-free (and thus, offending-free) life – e.g. support in learning how to make
friends and associates outside of a substance-using network; development of coping
skills to manage emotional distress without recourse to substances – was not made
available as part of their ‘needs’-related intervention package. The seemingly
paradoxical tendency of one branch of the criminal justice system (i.e. the prison) to
tackle the women’s substance use, while another (e.g. probation) condemns them to
a post-release life where relapse felt almost inevitable, represents a phenomenon
which is not only financially inefficacious at a structural level but also psychologically
damaging to individuals - as one practitioner noted, it is women’s “merry-go-round”
experience of the prison and probation services which destroys “their ability to believe
in a positive future”.
The ‘how’ was also shaped by their addictions; specifically, it was the nature of the
women’s primary substance of choice which underpinned the type of offences they
committed and the differing frequency with which these were committed. Chapter Six
had revealed the ways in which the onset of drug and alcohol use – initially a coping
mechanism for ‘blocking out’ traumatic events in many of the women’s lives – rapidly
developed into addiction for all but one of the women. The genesis narratives also
provided an appreciation of the ways in which heroin addiction was almost exclusively
associated with the development of prolific/PPO offending careers, while dependence
on alcohol and other, non-heroin drugs (both illicit and prescription) primarily
underpinned the non-PPOs’ patterns of persistent offending. As shown in Chapter
Seven, these divergent patterns of substance use were associated with different
offending pathways. The PPOs in the sample described almost identical experiences
of their developing ‘drug-crime connection’, which was one which saw the ‘cost of
increasing substance use’ effect an escalation in offending (both in frequency and
severity) as they struggled to fund their growing (illicit, primarily Class A) needs.
Practitioners in Chapter Five also identified heroin addiction specifically as the driving
force behind women’s prolific offending, although suggested that compared to their
male counterparts, they were less likely to commit serious or violent acquisitive crimes
in this pursuit. PPOs in the sample who had committed such offences identified that
they did so when at their “rock bottom”. Conversely, the persistent offending patterns
of the non-PPOs were more frequently committed not for acquisitive gain, but as a
result of their intoxicated state. Both PPOs and non-PPOs in Chapter Seven described
that on occasion, they had committed specific offences solely as a means of getting
help for a life they felt had spiralled out of control.
Both Chapters Five and Seven drew attention to the ubiquitous issue of problems
securing accommodation, and in particular accommodation that was suitable and
‘safe’, given the women’s needs on release from prison – the point at which they most
commonly required such accommodation, often having lost their tenancies during their
repeated short prison sentences – were frequently those of women ‘in recovery’
Across the chapters, both the women PAOP offenders and the practitioners in Chapter
Five highlighted the ways in which individuals who were repeatedly criminalised across
the life course suffered acutely in terms of the created deep and complex fissures
within their familial relationships which extended upwards (to parents and
grandparents), sideways (to siblings) and downwards (to their own children). This in
turn diminished the support network available to the women. The relationship with
children was particularly complex, since many of the children of the women in the
sample were in the care of family members, or even foster parents; for these women,
the current period of incarceration was just another period of separation from their
9.2.2 Female PAOP offenders & the criminal justice response
The second overall aim of the thesis was concerned with understanding “how various
criminal justice strategies and interventions – with a particular focus on the current
PPO schemes – operated within the lives of female ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific’ offenders,
seeking perspectives both from the women involved, and the practitioners working with
them to try and curb these behaviours”.
Chapter Five highlighted that criminal justice practitioners and professionals broadly
recognise that women and men have different needs when it comes to the criminal
justice response, and that they seek to incorporate this knowledge, wherever possible,
into their practice. There was also recognition that, within this framework, prolific
female offenders were different, both from non-PPO women offenders and male PPOs;
this was mostly conceived of within the context of risk, with the female PPOs identified
as ‘less risky’ and ‘less serious’ in their offending. Prolific offenders were described as
having taken a different path from their non-PPO female counterparts, and as having
such complex criminogenic needs that the interventions did not exist to meet them.
While the practitioners and professionals questioned whether the individualised aspect
of the Rehabilitate and Resettle strand of the PPO scheme might actually benefit
women – in allowing them to better tailor interventions to women’s unique crime-related
needs - the comparatively few number of female PPOs, and the resultant lack of local
resources, was identified as a problem in realising this possibility.
In Chapter Eight, the women talked about the various criminal justice responses they
had experienced; these narratives most frequently focused on imprisonment (which
may be unsurprising, given the location of the interviews), but also included discussion
related to experiences of supervision under the Probation Service, offending behaviour
courses and – of course – the PPO strategy. Prison represented both a place for
reflection, and for relaxation, and – in some cases – even for rehabilitation, of sorts
(although one woman vehemently denied that it was possible to be rehabilitated inside
the carceral). The women’s past experience of support they had received in prison very
much informed the support they expected to receive this time round, which
subsequently informed their narratives of hope (or not) for their futures. For the majority
of the women on longer sentences (i.e. three years and more), this period of
imprisonment was an opportunity for change, and this was particularly the case for
those women who had completed, or were taking part in, the RAPt course. For those
on shorter sentences, however, the absence of opportunity for change (i.e. they were
not in long enough to access courses such as RAPt), and the losses incurred during
their incarceration – specifically of accommodation and benefits - meant that these
women were anticipating very little in the way of a revolution in their lives. In terms of
interventions, prison-based offending behaviour courses did not seem to contribute to
overcoming this problem. While the courses represented an important symbolic
function for some - whereby mere attendance at the course represented an
achievement, and provided evidence of ‘moving forward’ – others found that they
lacked practical application. That is, when you felt that you already had the skills and
knowledge the course was offering, they were of little value, and served only to
highlight that it was ‘on the outside’ where the help was really needed. The most
positive intervention discussed related to the RAPt programme, which was not simply
about the physical detox, but about addressing the roots of substance use, talking
through ‘triggers’, and so on.
Probation may have been in a position to offer such support as the women required,
but the resources and services required simply did not seem to exist (or were unknown
to individual practitioners). The non-PPO, persistent offenders had little contact with
the Probation Service – this was most likely because they had rarely been given a
Community Order, or had a sentence of enough length that a period of statutory
Probation support after would have been given. This is soon to change, with the advent
of the Coalition government’s Transforming Rehabilitation agenda, which pledges
statutory Probation Orders for all individuals released from prison, irrespective of
length of time served. Whether this is a positive outcome or not remains to be seen,
given that concerns have already been raised about the extent to which it takes into
account the evidence relating to women and crime, and the fact that provision of
services, ‘including those provided by probation, are under-resourced’ (Justice
Committee 2010-2012, section 2).
The Prolific & other Priority Offender initiative
While the relevance to women of the RNR model of offender management, its warning
that failure to respond appropriately to offenders’ unique needs not only wastes
resources (cf. Bonta & Andrews 2007) but could counter-productively lead to increased
(rather than decreased) likelihood of recidivism (cf. Andrews & Kiessling 1980, cit. in
Andrews et al 1990, p.29) seems to have some significance in relation to women’s
experiences of the PPO scheme.
CJPP interviewees in Chapter Five described female PPOs as committing serous
acquisitive offences which were deemed highly atypical of the general female offending
population; that is, female PPOs were experienced as engaging in both offending and
substance misuse to a frequency and degree of severity not experienced when working
with non-PPO female offenders. Aside from the tendency toward hard drug addiction
and acquisitive offending, however, CJPP interviewees’ accounts indicated that gender
differentiated the lives and experiences of ‘prolific’ offenders; that is, that male and
female PPOs were tangibly “different”. Despite committing acquisitive offences of
higher severity than is expected of female offenders (already identified as a condition
of their heroin addictions), female PPOs were described as retaining some of the
features of non-prolific female offending which rendered them dissimilar to male PPOs
(e.g. that the women were less prepared to commit violent crime to achieve their ends,
and that they were less ‘entrenched’ in the offending lifestyle, and more willing to
change). Female PPOs were constructed as more like female recidivists broadly – and
less like male PPOs – in sometimes having alcohol as the primary substance
underpinning their addiction. This in turn altered the nature of their offending profile;
such women were prolific ‘breachers’, violating ASBOs and being repeatedly arrested
for public disorder and drunkenness. This seemed to correlate generally with the ‘how’
narratives of the non-PPO persistent recidivists in Chapter Seven, although both PPOs
and non-PPOs identified the prevalence – and ever-present threat - of ‘breach’
offences to have affected them greatly, serving to increase their official arrest and
conviction figures without technically having committed a new ‘crime’.
Despite the wide recognition evidenced in Chapter Five practitioner narratives that
male and female PPOs were likely to have different criminogenic needs, getting
interviewees to specify what these might be was a far harder task for those who did
not work in an already woman-centred context. This might have been easier for them
had gender-responsive risk/needs assessments been made available, or access to
any prior research documenting the offending-related needs of prolific female
offenders, but – as has been made clear repeatedly now – no such research exists to
date to provide this function.
9.2.3 ‘Frustrated desistance’: The need for a new frame of reference
The language of ‘persistent’ and ‘prolific re-offender’, seems to semantically place
responsibility for on-going and repeated re-criminalisation fully onto the individual.
However, it was clear that ‘getting out of the life’ was a multi-staged and multiorganisation effort, and that the label of ‘persistent offender’ and ‘PPO’ served to
obfuscate the multiple barriers facing substance-addicted women attempting to
maintain a drug and alcohol-free life following release from prison.
Like Maruna’s (2001) ‘persisters’, these women were not resolutely committed to a
criminal lifestyle; on the contrary, almost all of the women talked at length about ‘getting
clean’ and living crime-free lives. Even those who were not confident of their chances
of doing so successfully, and maintaining this over time this time round, still identified
it as a future goal of theirs. As Chapter Seven revealed, these women described the
ways in which their agentic ability to escape the cycle of repeat criminalisation was
(and had been) constrained and blocked by a range of ‘structural impediments’ to their
desired futures. Such ‘impediments’ were most frequently: the absence of adaptive
coping strategies; problems with accommodation; a lack of appropriate support
services; and the seemingly omnipotent “pull” of addiction. To me, these offending
careers and histories of repeated re-criminalisation were less recognisable as
tenacious persistence than they were as examples of frustrated desistance. Unlike the
concept of ‘persistence’, that of frustrated desistance forces an acknowledgement that
on innumerable occasions the women in the current study had attempted to escape
the life to which they had often felt destined to return, and that their attempts at
desistance had been structurally and socially frustrated in some way or another.
Chapter Eight identified that in some cases, this was a direct (although non-maleficent)
result of the actions of agencies of the criminal justice system. Time after time the
women’s attempts to engage in action and change were undermined by criminal justice
and societal structures which, in the words of one woman, were ‘setting her up to fail.
A primary example of this – which seemed to be particular to the experiences of the
PPOs – would be accommodating a post-release woman, in recovery from addiction,
in a bail hostel populated by drug users and dealers, and failing to recognise or
acknowledge that sending someone in recovery to a residential unit where substance
use is both facilitated and encouraged (which represent major factors in the success
or failure of individuals attempting to ‘get clean’) (cf. Robins 1993) is setting them up
to fail.
An important issue, relevant to the previous point, arose from the stories of the women,
which suggested that the PPO initiative was so risk-averse that in some instances, it
could counter-productively act to perpetuate rather than eradicate the continuation of
prolific offending. This – as noted above - was specifically the case for those women
who had been forced to reside in a bail hostel, or return to their previous local area,
following release from prison. While practitioners in Chapter Five offering differing
perspectives on whether the scheme was the most appropriate means for supporting
the desistance process for substance-addicted, high-frequency female offenders, any
plans for future desistance the women described had very little to do with being a PPO.
There was also a suggestion raised within the practitioner interviews as to whether
these relapses might better be managed in a more secure and supportive environment,
as the key to achieving secondary desistance (i.e. addiction- and crime-free), and that
little would be achieved in this respect when coming up against a punitive, crime
control-centred policy like the PPO initiative. This view was supported by the PPOs,
who repeatedly identified that what they wanted was the ‘carrot’ of “help” and “support”
that had been promised to them, but felt that all they had received thus far was the
9.3 Implications of the research findings
The findings suggested that ‘solutions need to begin and end outside prison, and
indeed outside criminal justice’ (Owers 2010, para.58) – this latter point is perhaps
particularly the case in relation to the need to develop female PAOP offenders’
adaptive coping strategies, in order that they do not feel left unprotected in the absence
of a reliance on alcohol or heroin. This would be particularly useful, given the lack of
services identified in terms of getting to the roots of their substance use, and helping
them to “learn how to cope without drugs”. Some of the interventions currently offered
within the criminal justice response were of little use to the women in this long-term
goal, i.e. getting clean, and staying in recovery. Current provision for addressing
substance use – within the prison setting, particularly RAPt) – was highly beneficial,
and the provision of RAPt – if at all possible – could be expanded rather than scaled
back, as this could provide benefits not just for the individual offender themselves and
their families, but also because within their offenders’ local communities, if it were able
to address many of the issues underpinning female PAOP offenders’ addictogenic
needs. However, such interventions need to be both a) practical; and b) sustainable in
the long-term.
The findings also suggest that when presented with a female PAOP offender, criminal
justice practitioners and professionals might find it useful to engage with the life history
of the offender, and seeking to locate recidivism not simply as ‘re-offending’, but as
frustrated desistance. Where appropriate (i.e. where an individual is actively seeking
to desist from substance use and crime), this would direct the focus of the session to
potential structural impediments, and – importantly - onto the where, when, and why of
the specific avenue of desistance being ‘frustrated’. This may prove a fruitful avenue
for further consideration – that is, to listen to what the woman tells you she needs; for
example, protection from the drug dealers whose predatory activity meant that there
was a ready supply of drugs in bail hostels; and how to manage fellow residents at the
hostel who might have relapsed, and so provided temptation to relapse. These
narratives, it should be clear, are not intended as removing all responsibilising power
from the women – although they frequently gave accounts of feeling ‘doomed to
deviance’ – but as highlighting the ways that both agency and structure are crucial to
this complex process. That is, the question is not about whether female PAOP
offenders are ‘victims’, or ‘villains’ (cf. Anderson 2008), but what we can learn from the
ways in which such are both actors and acted upon in the development and
continuation of their criminal careers, and how best to support them when they are
ready to leave the life.
The findings also indicated implications for organisations, in terms managing bail
hostels more safely and securely, and bearing in mind the needs of substance-addicted
individuals. Firstly, a safer and substance-free environment than current provision can
appear to offer would be a good place to start. The women asked a lot of the staff at
the hostel, wanting them to provide both emotional and practical support with
maintaining their new, drug-free lifestyle. Perhaps rather than engaging in capacity257
building for such services, one should look towards promoting the continued
development of ‘women’s centres’, as advocated by Corston (2007). Such centres can
act to reduce the rate of women’s non-attendance breaches (Gelsthorpe 2009) – which
would be of particular relevance in lowering the re-criminalisation rate of the female
PAOP offenders in the current study. Furthermore, they may be of particular use in
managing relapse-related breaches, where specialist provision for women offenders
which incorporates support in ‘maintaining change and preventing relapse’ such as the
Women’s Programme (cf. Gelsthorpe 2010, p.6), could have a positive impact in the
lives of women in the current study, many of whom had been ‘breached’ on account of
Policymakers should always seek to engage with insights from women within the
criminal justice system, generated through in-depth qualitative research (cf.
Hedderman et al 2011) focused on what they want, rather than basing it on what others
think they need. Whatever form such support takes, it must account for the ‘structural
inequalities associated with women's criminalisation’ (cf. Corcoran 2010, p.233), which
were identified within the previous two chapters. Paraphrasing Farrall, Bottoms and
Shapland (2010, p.564), we must strive to create a situational reality for these women
where those social structures that are ‘constraining’ (i.e. those which block ‘opportunity
freedoms’) are worked around (or modified), and those which are ‘enabling’ (i.e. those
which enable ‘individuals and communities to work towards a better social policy
approach to the encouragement of desistance’) are worked towards. Within the context
of the lives of these female PAOP offenders, this would mean providing support around
adaptive coping strategies and ongoing support for maintaining recovery, as well as
creating better and realistic opportunities for employment, and understanding and
acting on knowledge relating to supported accommodation and the risks these pose to
substance-addicted women in particular.
The narratives of mothers in the present study highlighted the unique and gendered
pains of PAOP offending and repeat criminalisation and re-incarceration across the life
course for women. The experiences of women with children – represented in stories
saturated with emotions of regret, distress and anguish, anxiety, and fear – draw
attention to the need to take seriously the maintenance of family contact between
women who offend and their children, and that this issue might need more attention
where the mother has a history of addiction and repeat criminalisation. While the
Ministry of Justice claims to have family relationships at the core of its policy, the reality
is that each year around 17,000 children continue to be separated from their mothers
as a result of imprisonment (Prison Reform Trust 2011), and while it promises reforms
to women’s justice services to ‘keep women prisoners closer to home […] allowing
them to maintain crucial family relationships, especially with children’ (Ministry of
Justice 2013e), this assurance perhaps overlooks the heterogeneity of complex issues
related to the pains of repeat criminalisation for women PAOP offenders and their
children, particularly where there has been a lengthy history of substance use,
repeated re-incarceration, and local authority involvement. There is also a need to
more thoroughly integrate understandings that motherhood is not necessarily a
protective factors for women who offend (cf. Brown 2006); certainly this was the case
for many of the mothers in the study, who – despite desperately wanting to - had been
unable to maintain desistance from substance use and offending over time for the sake
of their relationship with their children.
That is not to say, however, that women offenders are a homogenous group. Pledges
to reform women’s justice with a central focus on family ties may fail to acknowledge
that this may not be the key motivating factor in the desistance plans of substanceaddicted women PAOP offenders – five of the women in the current study, for example,
did not have children, and at least two of the women interviewed had no contact with
any family members at all. This therefore indicates that women PAOP offenders have
more complex needs – particularly in relation to motivational factors to desistance and
creating pro-social support networks to bolster their chances of success in maintaining
this, for example – than one-time women offenders, and that this is the case both for
women with and without children. More thought should be given to these matters in
commissioning services, particularly in the wake of Transforming Rehabilitation
Finally, consideration must be given as to whether the Prolific and other Priority
Offender project is appropriate for effectively meeting the crime-related – and
importantly, the addictogenic – needs of female offenders under its auspices. While
the female PPO who burgles twenty homes causes just as much impact as a male
PPO doing the same, and the current thesis is not naïve to this fact, practitioners
seemed to believe that female PPOs were more amenable to change, and less
entrenched in their ways. Given that much positive research has indicated the benefits
of women’s centres in reducing re-offending, and the negative response indicated by
the women with regard to the punitive attitude of the PPO scheme in the current study,
it is perhaps worth considering whether women identified as PPOs could automatically
be referred to the nearest women’s centre, for intensive – yet gender-sensitive –
support and management.
9.4 Concluding comments: Has ‘anyone been listening?’ and
‘Saying it again, again, and again…’
On reflecting on the study of women and crime at the end of the 20th century and the
impact of feminism on this, Frances Heidensohn (1998, p.46) contemplated whether
‘anyone had [been] listening’ to the ‘voices’ of female offenders drawn out through the
work of feminist criminologies, and what such women had to say about their own
situation, over the previous decades. In 2006, Loraine Gelsthorpe, patently
exasperated with the failure of the criminal justice and social policy apparatus to
mobilise itself in accordance with the lessons learned from such studies, stressed the
importance of ‘saying it again, again, and again’ until an appropriate response was
forthcoming (Gelsthorpe 2006).
The study of women’s PAOP offending is at even more of a disadvantage in terms of
the likelihood of being heard, as it currently exists as a study in its relative infancy,
even when compared to the body of work generated by feminist perspectives in
criminology, which continue to occupy a somewhat marginalised existence in relation
to ‘malestream’ criminological thinking. The problematic tendency to reduce lived
experiences to a series of ‘subgroups’ (cf. Laub & Sampson 2003, p.248) - which
appears to be a direction favoured by a number of key studies of women’s ‘pathways’
through offending (e.g. Daly 1992, 1994; Gilfus 1992; Brennan et al 2012) – may only
contribute to this marginalisation. This thesis has shown that gender matters to the
study of persistent and prolific offending, and that rewards can be gained by viewing
women’s experiences of this through an alternative lens; that is, looking less to the
offending behaviour and more to the lived events, experiences and lives that lie behind
it, and with an view to constructing more than a typologised representation of these
lives. In doing so, this research has deepened our understanding of the female PAOP
offender, the impact of various criminal justice responses within her life, as well as
providing an indication that including substance-addicted women on the Prolific and
other Priority Offender project may be serving only to perpetuate their cycle of reoffending, and representing one more structural block frustrating their attempts at
Given the high frequency, and velocity, of offending committed by the women in the
study – which was sometimes serious acquisitive crime, and in other cases repeated
acts of violence against the person – it is of course important to acknowledge the public
protection element as central to how we might proceed with developing knowledge in
relation to this specific population. It is also important to acknowledge that some of the
findings of the current thesis represent key themes within the broader literature on
women’s offending. The fact that women continue to experience the criminal justice
system in a manner that is not responsive to their gender-specific needs however, as
evidenced through the experiences in the current study, means that the rebukes from
Heidensohn and Gelsthorpe cited above continue to have relevance. For one reason
or another, the messages from the voices of women in the criminal justice system are
not getting through to the right people. This is of particular concern when considering
Rockell’s (2008) comments that ‘chronic or low-level female offenders’ – such as those
in the current study - are far more common in our communities and prisons than current
records indicate, highlighting the conceptual important and timeliness of the current
It is therefore essential that insight continues to be generated with regard to women
and criminal justice and, in particular, in relation to the relatively novel study committed
to exploring the lives of female PAOP offenders; that is, saying it again, again, and
again until the message does break through and we can be sure that people with the
power to change the way in which the criminal justice system responds to female
PAOP offenders have been listening. Moreover, researchers must continue to raise
the voices of women – and the practitioners working with them – above the parapet
until it is evident that the criminal justice policy and practice are acting in accordance
with lessons generated from lived experiences to produce a response that is truly the
most appropriate and effective both for public protection and for the women involved.
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Have you been identified as a
PPO/Prolific and other Priority
Offender (now, or in the past)?
Or are you not a PPO, but have
been convicted more than 6 times
(any offence) within your life?
If either (or both!) of
these apply to you,
then I would like to
hear your story!
 My name is Serena Wright, and I am a female doctoral student
from the University of Surrey.
 I am researching the lives of women who, like you, have had a lot
of contact with the criminal justice system.
 I would like to interview you to hear your experiences of the
factors that have been relevant in your re-convictions.
 I am not a part of the Prison Service or the Ministry of Justice, nor
am I from the Psychology department.
If you are interested in finding out more, please confirm with
_________________________, who will pass this information on
to me. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Research focus:
Women’s lives, and experiences of re-offending over the life course.
Serena Wright, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey.
Please tick the boxes if you agree with the following four statements.
I have read and understood the Participant Information Sheet for
the study (or have had it read out to me and have understood it),
and have had chance to ask questions.
I understand that my participation is voluntary, that I do not have to
answer any of the researcher’s questions if I do not wish to, and
that I can withdraw at any time, without giving reasons.
I agree to take part in the study, which means being interviewed by
the researcher.
I understand that in instances where I disclose information
suggesting that myself, or another individual, is at risk of imminent
and preventable harm, that the researcher cannot guarantee nondisclosure/confidentiality.
Please answer YES or NO to the following two statements by ticking the appropriate box.
I agree to our interviews being recorded.
I agree to let the researcher use quotes from our
interviews and conversations, as long as this is done in
such a way that I cannot be identified.
Name of
Name of
Research focus:
Women’s lives, and experiences of re-offending over the life
Serena Wright, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey.
Who are you?
My name is Serena, and I am a student at the University of Surrey and I am currently
undertaking research as part of my PhD/doctoral studies, in the Department of Sociology.
What is the purpose of the research?
Within sociology and criminology, there has been very little research which focuses on
understanding the lives of women who have either been identified as Prolific and other Priority
Offenders, or who have a number of re-convictions. I want to understand how your
experiences over your life of involvement with the criminal justice system, and the factors that
you see as relevant to your re-convictions.
What will participation involve?
If you are reading this sheet, then you have agreed to meet with me, via the flyer given to you
by OMU. You still do not have to take part. If you decide you would like to stay and be
interviewed, this would involve a one-to-one life history interview with me. During this
interview, I would like you to talk in as much detail as possible about your life and your
experiences of being re-arrested and re-convicted with that context. I would like to hear about
your experiences of criminal justice ‘interventions’, what has helped you, what hasn’t, and
what you feel needs to change (this doesn’t necessarily have to be you – for example,
features of a certain environment, or society) for you to avoid future re-convictions. The
interview can be as long or as short as you wish, but I am hoping they will be around an hour
and a half.
What happens to the interviews?
They will be heard by me, and me alone. I will transcribe our interview, and carefully
anonymise it; that is, ensure that no identifying features are left so that someone would be
able to know that it was you talking. This includes changing your name, although I would like it
if you would pick an alternative name; one which is meaningful to you, but again would not
identify you in the research. The transcriptions will then be used by me used by me to inform
the analysis in my doctoral research, and hopefully form some useful conclusions about the
experiences of women with multiple re-convictions, and/or who have been identified as a
Prolific and other Priority Offender.
Will you tell anyone what we’ve talked about?
I am under a duty of care to inform an officer if you have disclosed an intention to harm
yourself, or someone else, or anything which might pose a threat to the security of the
establishment. If I am concerned that you are upset following our interview, I would also be
under an obligation to ensure your welfare by passing this information on. Outside of this,
however, the interviews are strictly confidential – discussions that we have about matters of a
personal nature will not be disclosed to anyone else, and certainly no-one within the prison.
What are the potential benefits in taking part?
I am afraid that I cannot compensate you for your time and energy, for which I am very
grateful. I also have no influence over the prison regime or with probation or parole services.
However, some people find it to be a positive process to discuss one’s ‘life story’, and I hope
that you will enjoy having some time to focus on talking about yourself and your life in a nonjudgemental environment. I hope that the research will be of interest and use to a range of
audiences in the future, and also hope to publish these stories in a written format in the future,
so that you might also be able to further reassure you that the time you gave me was
Are there any risks involved in taking part?
It is possible that talking about past events, experiences, and personal life histories may be
discomforting or upsetting. In the event of any distress, the interview will be suspended and
only resumed once and if you feel comfortable to continue. You are free to withdraw from the
project at any point. As noted above, if I am concerned about your emotional well-being at the
end of the interview, or at any point during it, I would alert your Personal Officer to this.
If you have any further questions about the study, please ask me.
Thank you for your time in considering taking part in the research – I very much appreciate it.
Serena Wright
Department of Sociology
University of Surrey
Research focus:
Women’s lives, and experiences of re-offending over the life
Serena Wright, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey.
Who are you?
My name is Serena, and I am a student at the University of Surrey and I am currently
undertaking research as part of my PhD/doctoral studies, in the Department of Sociology.
What is the purpose of the research?
Within sociology and criminology, there has been very little research which focuses on
understanding the lives of women who have either been identified as Prolific and other Priority
Offenders, or who have a number of re-convictions. This study looks to explore this area, how
and why their offending has persisted over time within the context of their individual life
histories, as well as the role of criminal justice system in this.
What will participation involve?
You are not obliged to take part. However, if you decide you would like to be interviewed, this
would involve a one-to-one interview with me, at a place and time convenient to you. During
this interview, I would like you to talk in as much detail as possible about your work and
experience with female PPOs and/or women whose offending has persisted over. I would like
to hear about your experiences of their interactions with particular criminal justice
‘interventions’, what has helped, and what hasn’t. If your involvement with such offenders has
been primarily strategic, I would like to hear about your experiences of this work, and your
perceptions of what does, and does not ‘work’ in relation to women and re-offending. The
interview can be as long or as short as you wish, but I am hoping they will be around forty-five
What happens to the interviews?
They will be heard by me, and me alone. I will transcribe our interview, and carefully
anonymise it; that is, ensure that no identifying features are left so that someone would be
able to know that it was you talking. This includes replacing your name with a numerical
identifier, as well as anonymising any identifying details in relation to colleagues, the
city/region in which you work, names of offenders you have worked with, et cetera. The
transcriptions will then be used by me used by me to inform the analysis in my doctoral
research, and hopefully form some useful conclusions about the experiences of women with
multiple re-convictions, and/or who have been identified as a Prolific and other Priority
What are the potential benefits in taking part?
I am afraid that I cannot compensate you for your time and energy, for which I am very
grateful. However, I hope that you will find it a positive process to be able to impart your
experiences and expertise to me, and to take part in a study which is relevant to the area in
which you are working. I hope that, once concluded, the research will be made available to
practitioners and professionals like yourself, in a manner which may provide a useful insight
into the lives and experiences of this minority group, and to enhance understanding which
may in urn inform the manner in which they are managed within the criminal justice system.
Are there any risks involved in taking part?
It is possible that you might be concerned about your professional integrity, and the
management of the information you will have given me. I would like to reassure you that these
interviews, in their raw data format, will be seen/heard by me only, and that these will be kept
securely on a finger-print access protected USB stick, and that all transcripts will be
anonymised in order that you could not personally be identified from any quotes used in
writing up the research.
If you have any further questions about the study, please ask me.
Thank you for your time in considering taking part in the research – I very much
appreciate it.
Serena Wright
Department of Sociology
University of Surrey
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 07837258948
Interview Guide (a): Prolific/PPO female offenders
Participant pseudonym: ______________________
Date of interview: ______________________________
Participant given/read information sheet?
[ ]
Participant signed Consent Form?
[ ]
Interview preamble: Agree on pseudonym, reinforce importance to me of anonymity,
and how I will achieve that. Reminder of limits of confidentiality. Talk about interview
being about her stories and experiences, rather than a yes or no – no such thing as
‘getting off the subject’. Explain lay-out of interview, what we will discuss – reinforce
that she is free to leave at any time, with no consequences, and talk about protocol for
becoming distressed.
Background and Offence data (from OASys or found out during interview)
Current Offence:
Sentence Length:
Number of convictions:
Hx substance use?
If yes, primary substance:
When identified as PPO?
Opening question:
It would be really good if you could start by telling me the story of how you came to be here,
at prison x?
(If clarification requested, ask them to just start wherever they want to. Encourage narrative)
Section One: Pathways to offending
This section is really about how you first got into offending, what age you were, and the
circumstances around you at that time.
1. [if not already covered above, or need to expand] So could you start by telling me a
little bit about your childhood? [Probe: where lived, who with, how it was]
And could you tell me a bit about what age you first got involved in offending, or
started getting in trouble with the police? [Probe: How did that happen? With who?]
What else was going on in your life at that time? Did any of that contribute to your
offending, do you think?
[if not already covered] Would you say that alcohol or drugs played a part in any way?
Section Two: Persistence/prolificacy of offending & criminogenic needs
This section is about how and why your offending increased over time, any periods of nonoffending, and potential turning points in your life related to these experiences.
5. When would you say that your offending went from occasional or recreational to a bit
more serious or more frequent?
6. And why do you think that happened?
7. What do you see as the main issue or problem driving your re-offending in the past?
[Probe with issues from literature: Relationships, financial situation, substance use,
environment; historical or recent experiences of physical/sexual abuse, mental health]
Have you had any periods of time where you haven’t been offending since you
started? [If yes, probe for details, including why it started up again]
When you look back over your life to this point, can you identify any turning points
where you think “If that certain thing, or certain things, had happened – or had not
happened - my life would be in a completely different place right now? [these could
be like positive or negative].
10. How many times have you been released from prison before and thought “Life will be
11. And how many times have you been released from prison before and thought
“Nothing will change”?
Section Three: The Prolific and other Priority Offender scheme, and other
This section is about your experiences of being a PPO, and other experiences of the criminal
justice system.
Can you tell me about how you found out that you were going to be a PPO?
What did you initially think of the scheme?
And what do you think of it now? [Probe: Why? What has your experience been of it?]
In what ways has the PPO scheme tried to support you in trying to stop you reoffending? [Probe: Why?]
Can you tell me the most positive thing about being a PPO?
And the most negative?
In your experience, what are the main differences between the PPO scheme and any
other reducing offending interventions you may have received? [if asked to clarify,
give examples: e.g. courses in prison and through probation, being on licence, RAPT]
Has being a woman affected the way you have been managed on the scheme, do
you think?
Section Four: Relationships with CJS agencies
Moving away from just the PPO scheme, this section focuses on your relationships with
various criminal justice agencies.
Can you tell me about the sort of relationship do you have with the police?
And what about the prison?
And probation?
What has been your most positive experience with one of these agencies, or an
individual working for them?
24. And the most negative?
25. To what extent to you feel that these agencies can act to ensure that you don’t offend
The Future
Okay, this last section is about the future, and your hopes and concerns about it.
26. How hopeful do you feel about a future where you don’t come back to prison, or get
What do you see as the most important thing in that scenario?
What would it take, do you think, for you to never come back to prison?
What role do family, children [if any] play in this future?
Do you actually want to stop offending?
Do you feel that the criminal justice system – through courses in prison, support from
Probation, or the PPO scheme – can help you achieve that in any way?
The End
Thank participant for their time.
Ask if there is anything they want to ask me.
Ask them if there is anything they wanted to tell me, but haven’t yet been given the
Ask if participant interested in having further contact with me, to show what I have done with
their data (e.g. any future publications).
Interview Guide (b): Persistent female offenders
Participant pseudonym: ______________________
Date of interview: ______________________________
Participant given/read information sheet?
[ ]
Participant signed Consent Form?
[ ]
Interview preamble: Agree on pseudonym, reinforce importance to me of anonymity,
and how I will achieve that. Reminder of limits of confidentiality. Talk about interview
being about her stories and experiences, rather than a yes or no – no such thing as
‘getting off the subject’. Explain lay-out of interview, what we will discuss – reinforce
that she is free to leave at any time, with no consequences, and talk about protocol for
becoming distressed.
Background and Offence data (from OASys or found out during interview)
Current Offence:
Sentence Length:
Number of convictions:
Hx substance use?
If yes, primary substance:
Opening question:
It would be really good if you could start by telling me the story of how you came to be here,
at prison x?
(If clarification requested, ask them to just start wherever they want to. Encourage narrative)
Section One: Pathways to offending
This section is really about how you first got into offending, what age you were, and the
circumstances around you at that time.
32. [if not already covered above, or need to expand] So could you start by telling me a
little bit about your childhood? [Probe: where lived, who with, how it was]
33. And could you tell me a bit about what age you first got involved in offending, or
started getting in trouble with the police? [Probe: How did that happen? With who?]
34. What else was going on in your life at that time? Did any of that contribute to your
offending, do you think?
35. [if not already covered] Would you say that alcohol or drugs played a part in any way?
Section Two: Persistence/prolificacy of offending & criminogenic needs
This section is about how and why your offending increased over time, any periods of nonoffending, and potential turning points in your life related to these experiences.
36. When would you say that your offending went from occasional or recreational to a bit
more serious or more frequent?
37. And why do you think that happened?
38. What do you see as the main issue or problem driving your re-offending in the past?
[Probe with issues from literature: Relationships, financial situation, substance use,
environment; historical or recent experiences of physical/sexual abuse, mental health]
39. Have you had any periods of time where you haven’t been offending since you
started? [If yes, probe for details, including why it started up again]
40. When you look back over your life to this point, can you identify any turning points
where you think “If that certain thing, or certain things, had happened – or had not
happened - my life would be in a completely different place right now? [these could
be like positive or negative].
41. How many times have you been released from prison before and thought “Life will be
42. And how many times have you been released from prison before and thought
“Nothing will change”?
Section Three: Interventions
This section is about any interventions or support you might have received over the years to
try and stop you re-offending in the future.
43. Have you ever taken part in any ‘interventions’ designed to reduce your offending
behaviour, so for example, courses in prison or outside, substance reduction
programmes, help with accommodation or finances, et cetera, or any other issues
possibly linked to your offending behaviour?
If YES, continue.
If NO, go to Section Four.
Can you please tell me a bit about your experience of a couple of these?
Can you tell me a positive thing for you about one of these interventions?
And what about a negative?
Do you think that these interventions, or the criminal justice system’s actions in
generally, are actually able to help with the reasons you re-offend?
Why/why not? [Probe: life circumstances, historical reasons, substance misuse, don’t
want to stop]
Section Four: Relationships with CJS agencies
Moving away from just the PPO scheme, this section focuses on your relationships with
various criminal justice agencies.
Can you tell me about the sort of relationship do you have with the police?
And what about the prison?
And probation?
What has been your most positive experience with one of these agencies, or an
individual working for them?
52. And the most negative?
53. To what extent to you feel that these agencies can act to ensure that you don’t
offend again?
The Future
Okay, this last section is about the future, and your hopes and concerns about it.
54. How hopeful do you feel about a future where you don’t come back to prison, or get
What do you see as the most important thing in that scenario?
What would it take, do you think, for you to never come back to prison?
What role do family, children [if any] play in this future?
Do you actually want to stop offending?
Do you feel that the criminal justice system – through courses in prison, support
from Probation, or the PPO scheme – can help you achieve that in any way?
The End
Thank participant for their time.
Ask if there is anything they want to ask me.
Ask them if there is anything they wanted to tell me, but haven’t yet been given the
Ask if participant interested in having further contact with me, to show what I have done with
their data (e.g. any future publications).
Interview Guide (c): Professionals/practitioners – Frontline
Participant name: ______________________________
Date of interview: ______________________________
Participant given/read information sheet?
[ ]
Participant signed Consent Form?
[ ]
Interview preamble: Reinforce importance of their anonymity, and that of their specific
institution/local organisation, and how I will achieve that. Talk about interview being
about stories and experiences, rather than a yes or no – no such thing as ‘getting off the
subject’. Explain lay-out of interview, what we will discuss – reinforce that they are to
leave at any time, with no consequences. Explain that we will start with more general
questions, before moving specifically on to persistent and prolific female offenders.
Background/Demographic Data
Years of service:
Opening questions:
1. It would be really good if you could start by telling me about your career trajectory, and
how you got into working with offenders more generally?
2. And how did you come to be involved working with persistent/prolific female offenders?
Section One: Working with PAOP offending women
So as you know, my research is interested in persistent and prolific female offenders – for my
sample, I have defined ‘persistent’ as women who have been convicted more than 6 times, of
any offence, across their life course, and ‘prolific’ female offenders as those whose offending
typically comes in intense, short bursts, including those identified as Prolific and other Priority
Offenders. Here I am interested in your experiences of both, but more so the persistent
offenders, particularly women with long histories of offending over time.
3. It would be really helpful to me if we could start with you telling me about one or two
women you have worked with, or that you know of, who fit one of the criteria above, and
give me a mini case-study of them [Probe: age, ethnicity, offence type, family
circumstances, living arrangements, offending history, relationships, substance use,
length of offending career].
4. In your experience, are women who offend persistently over the life course somehow
different to women who offend prolifically, in intense short bursts? In what ways?
5. What do you know of the pathways into offending that such women take?
Is this different to the persistent male offenders you work with? In what ways?
6. What sort of offending careers do persistent female offenders have? [Probe: offences
they commit; acquisitive vs non-acquisitive; serous vs non-serious; reasons for this]
7. And what about their lives away from offending? [Probe: family, partners, children,
employment, accommodation]
8. Do these women tend to have any mental health or substance use issues?
Is this to a greater or lesser degree than women who offend, but not persistently or
9. In your experience, what ‘criminogenic needs’ are usually most frequently occurring in
the lives of persistent female offenders?
10. What sort of official interventions – if any – tend to be most effective in support women
with long histories of offending out of that life? [Probe: Prison; Probation; Courses]
Probe for detail on importance of outside agencies/third sector/charity work
If indicating that this process is more related to self (rather than official interventions),
probe for more detail.
11. Where – if at all – do you consider there to be gaps in service provision for women who
repeatedly re-offend?
12. What services would you like to see in your local area which you think might help women
who repeatedly re-offend?
Section Two: On the PPO Scheme [Part I]
13. Do you work as part of the Prolific and other Priority Offender scheme, or do you have
contact in your occupational capacity with Prolific and other Priority Offenders in some
If ‘YES’, continue here, and then on to Section Three.
If ‘NO’, continue on to End.
[If not already answered above] Could you start by telling me about how you came to be
involved working with the PPO Scheme?
It would be really useful to me if you could explain what you understand of the PPO
scheme, the ideas behind it and how – in your experience - it works in practice, please?
[Probe: Identification/Selection, Catch & Convict, Rehabilitate & Resettle and Prevent &
Deter; De-Selection]
And what does the PPO scheme offer that previous interventions for persistent and
prolific offenders didn’t? [Probe: benefits of PPO scheme; experiences of shortcoming in
other interventions]
In your experience, how do the majority of PPOs respond to the scheme?
So, to sum up, how would you describe a PPO, in a couple of sentences?
Section Three: On the PPO Scheme [Part II] – Female PPOs
4. During your time on the PPO scheme, have you had experience of working with female
Prolific and other Priority Offenders, or knowledge of them through this work?
If ‘YES’, continue here.
If ‘NO’, continue on to The End
a) To help me understand the experience of working with female PPOs, it would be really
useful to me if you could think of one or two such women you have worked with, or that
you know of, and give me a mini case-study of them [Probe: age, ethnicity, offence type,
family circumstances, living arrangements, offending history, relationships, substance
use, length of offending career].
b) What do you understand to be the main causal factors behind women’s prolific
 Is this similar or different to male PPOs?
 Is this similar or different to some of the ‘persistent’ female offenders discussed in the
previous sections?
c) What are the ‘criminogenic needs’ you most often see with female PPOs?
 Again, is this similar or different to male PPOs?
 And again, is this similar or different to some of the ‘persistent’ female offenders
discussed in the previous sections?
d) In your experience, is the PPO scheme a useful and appropriate intervention for women
who are prolifically offending? Why do you think this is the case?
e) Have you found differences between working with female and male PPOs? What are
f) Could you please give me an example of a time when you worked with, or knew of, a
time when the PPO scheme de-selected a woman who had stopped offending?
g) And could you please give me an example of a time when you worked with, or knew of, a
time when the PPO scheme had been working for some time with a female PPO, with
little evidence of her offending decreasing?
The End
Thank participant for their time.
Ask if there is anything they want to ask me.
Ask them if there is anything they wanted to tell me, but haven’t yet been given the opportunity?
Ask if participant interested in having further contact with me, to show what I have done with
their data (e.g. any future publications).
Interview Guide (d): Professionals/practitioners – NonFrontline
Participant name: ______________________________
Date of interview: ______________________________
Participant given/read information sheet?
[ ]
Participant signed Consent Form?
[ ]
Interview preamble: Reinforce importance of their anonymity, and that of their specific
institution/local organisation, and how I will achieve that. Talk about interview being
about stories and experiences, rather than a yes or no – no such thing as ‘getting off
the subject’. Explain lay-out of interview, what we will discuss – reinforce that they are
to leave at any time, with no consequences. Explain that we will start with a couple of
general questions, before moving on to persistent and prolific female offenders, and
then PPOs, if relevant.
Background/Demographic Data
Years of service:
Opening questions:
1. It would be really good if you could start by briefly setting some context to your current
work by telling me the story of about your career trajectory so far, and how you got into
working with offenders?
2. And how did you come to be involved working with persistent/prolific female offenders?
Section One: Working with PAOP offending women
So as you know, my research is interested in persistent and prolific female offenders – for my
sample, I have defined ‘persistent’ as women who have been convicted more than 6 times, of
any offence, across their life course, and ‘prolific’ female offenders as those whose offending
typically comes in intense, short bursts, including those identified as Prolific and other Priority
Offenders. Here I am interested in your experiences of both, but more so the persistent
offenders, particularly women with long histories of offending over time. I am interested in your
experiences now, in your managerial/strategic capacity, but also with any frontline work you
may have done in the past.
Previously had relevant frontline experience? Yes [
If YES, continue here.
IF NO, skip to Section One (a)
] No [
3. It would be really helpful to me if we could start with you telling me about one or two
women you have worked with, or that you know of, who fit one of the criteria above, and
give me a mini case-study of them? [Probe: age, ethnicity, offence type, family
circumstances, living arrangements, offending history, relationships, substance use,
length of offending career].
4. In your experience, are women who repeatedly re-offending over the life course
somehow different to women who may be one-off offenders? In what ways?
5. What do you know of the pathways into offending that persistent female re-offenders
i. Is this different to the persistent male offenders? In what ways?
6. And what do you understand as characterising the offending careers of women
repeatedly re-offend? [Probe: offences they commit; acquisitive vs non-acquisitive;
serous vs non-serious; reasons for this]
7. And what about their lives away from offending? [Probe: family, partners, children,
employment, accommodation]
8. Do these women tend to have any mental health or substance use issues?
i. Is this to a greater or lesser degree than women who offend, but not persistently
or prolifically?
9. In your experience, what ‘criminogenic needs’ are usually most frequently occurring in
the lives of persistent female offenders?
i. Could you give me an example of the role of those criminogenic needs operating
in the life of a woman you have worked with, please?
Section One (a): For interviewees with no previous frontline experience
10. It would be really helpful to me if you could outline what you understand, in your
strategic/managerial capacity, as a typical female repeat re-offender – if such a thing
exists – and how she would be different to a one- or two-time offender? [Probe: number
of offences, offence type and severity, substance use, mental health, experiences of
abuse, relationships, family life, et cetera]
11. And what do you understand to be differences between women whose offending persists
over time to that of their male counterparts?
12. Could you tell me about any thoughts you have on the pathways into offending of women
who go on to become persistent offenders?
i. Again, do you see this as similar or different for non-persistently re-offending
ii. And what about any potential similarities or difference between them and men?
Section Two: Interventions
13. What sort of official interventions – if any – do you think tend to be most effective in
support women with long histories of offending out of that life? [Probe: Prison; Probation;
 Probe for detail on importance of outside agencies/third sector/charity work
 If indicating that this process is more related to self (rather than official
interventions), probe for more detail.
 Can you tell me about the impact of that intervention/those interventions in the
life of a female offender you have worked with, please?
14. Where – if at all – do you consider there to be gaps in service provision for women who
repeatedly re-offend?
15. What services would you like to see in your local area which you think might help women
who repeatedly re-offend?
Section Three: On the PPO Scheme [Part I]
16. Have you ever worked as part of the Prolific and other Priority Offender scheme, or have
you had contact in your occupational capacity with Prolific and other Priority Offenders in
some way?
If YES, continue here, and then on to Section Four.
If NO, continue on to End
17. [If not already answered above] Could you start by telling me about how you came to be
involved working with the PPO Scheme?
18. It would be really useful to me if you could explain what you understand of the PPO
scheme, the ideas behind it and how – in your experience - it works in practice, please?
[Probe: Identification/Selection, Catch & Convict, Rehabilitate & Resettle and Prevent &
Deter; De-Selection]
19. And what does the PPO scheme offer that previous interventions for persistent and
prolific offenders didn’t? [Probe: benefits of PPO scheme; experiences of shortcoming in
other interventions]
i. Could you give me an example of this in action?
20. And what scenarios, in your experience, does the PPO scheme not work?
 Again, could you give me an example of this in action?
21. In a couple of sentences, could you please describe to me what you have found to be a
‘typical PPO’, if such a thing exists?
22. What have you identified as the primary drivers of PPO’s offending?
Probe: What are their main ‘criminogenic needs’?
23. In your experience, how did the majority of PPOs respond to the scheme?
Section Three: On the PPO Scheme [Part II] – Female PPOs
24. During your time or involvement with the PPO scheme, did you have experience of
working with female Prolific and other Priority Offenders, or knowledge of them through
your work?
If YES, continue here.
If NO, continue on to End
25. To help me understand the experience of working with female PPOs, it would be really
useful to me if you could think of one or two such women you have worked with, or that
you know of, and give me a mini case-study of them [Probe: age, ethnicity, offence type,
family circumstances, living arrangements, offending history, relationships, substance
use, length of offending career].
26. In your experience, what have been the main causal factors driving the persistent/prolific
nature of offending behaviour in the lives of the female PPOs you have worked with?
i. Can you give me a particular example of this in terms of a specific individual,
ii. Is this similar or different to male PPOs?
iii. Is this similar or different to some of the ‘persistent’ female offenders discussed in
the previous sections?
27. What are the ‘criminogenic needs’ you most often saw with female PPOs?
a. Again, is this similar or different to male PPOs?
b. And do you think these are similar or different to non-PPO female offenders?
28. In your experience, is the PPO scheme a useful and appropriate intervention for women
who are prolifically offending? Why do you think this is the case?
29. Did you find differences between working with female and male PPOs? What are these?
30. Could you please tell me about a time when you worked with, or knew of, an incidence
where, a female PPO was de-selected and had stopped offending, and the circumstances
around that?
31. And could you please give me an example of a time when you worked with, or knew of, a
time when the PPO scheme had been working for some time with a female PPO, with little
evidence of her offending decreasing?
The End
Thank participant for their time.
Ask if there is anything they want to ask me.
Ask them if there is anything they wanted to tell me, but haven’t yet been given the
Ask if participant interested in having further contact with me, to show what I have done with
their data (e.g. any future publications).
Dear __________________,
Thank you for your time, thoughts, and energy

- Surrey Research Insight Open Access