Women and Crime Dame Ann Owers

 Women and Crime

Ann Owers

Chief Inspector of Prisons

My first unannounced inspection.    One of my first inspections.   Dartmoor has an impressive presence even before arriving.  It is on the open moor. Built of grey granite with a Latin (parcere subiectis – spare the vanquished.) inscription over the door. A relic from the Napoleonic wars in more ways than one. Inside a wire ‘cage’ for potential suicides. Some of the ‘vermin’ as the prisoners have been referred to. Thought of as a hard place for hard men. When I arrived at the prison gate with two of my inspectors, a man and a woman, there came a cheery greeting from the gate: “Good morning sir! Hello girls”.   I thought “there’s a bit to be done here”, but it was an iconic moment.  I was proud of my report. It was open and honest. Telling it like it was. My predecessor cast a long shadow, and they thought that a woman coming in from the voluntary sector might be a pushover.  When the report came out it was front page news.

But the greatest satisfaction was to have the prison service put their hands up and admit that things needed to change. It established me, and the report was spot on. So I was fortunate that my first report was of such a bad prison. I called it ‘the prison time forgot’.

Prison  is different for women

Women have a big sense of responsibility for home and family. Women react very badly to inactivity, and to having no responsibility for themselves and others. Women generally need social networks, and the lack of social networks affects them badly.  Also, when a woman goes into prison mostly she loses her children, she may be moved miles from home. She probably loses her partner, she often loses her home.

My difference in being the first woman to hold this office

Yes and No, you are the totality of what you are including gender. But of course it affects the way people relate to you. In terms of this job, a woman is seen as non-threatening.  When I speak to prisoners or staff I’m often seen as a non-threatening woman and I’m not threatening their masculinity. So they sometimes feel that they can talk to me, and tell me things they would otherwise not say. But, you work with what you’ve got. It doesn’t affect my approach to the job. Interestingly, though, there are many women in the voluntary sector.

Fiona Mactaggart  M.P.

 working for women

So what is really necessary for gender equality?

    I think that first, a legal framework, unless you have that you cannot get gender equality.The next thing is something about children, and then something about violence. Women are not as strong as men. I think that we have to surface and protect people who are subject to violence.    Women are more liable.
The hidden violence, rape, domestic
violence is largely targetted at women, 94%.Fiona Mactaggart MPI think that we need to protect women so that they feel safe. Older women don’t do things, don’t go outbecause they don’t feel safe. Feeling safe from harm is at the heart of equality.


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