Creating 'healthy' prisons for women: incorporating gender-sensitive thinking into penal design, policy and planning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Social and Policy Sciences


This project is concerned with the experiences and treatment of those incarcerated within women's prisons across Scotland, Ireland, England & Wales. A history of poor mental health is one of the most common shared experience in prison (Angiolini, 2012). Despite this, mental health within prisons remains one of the most seemingly intractable issues. To date, gender responsive prisons and facilities have been implemented in parts of America to deal with the complexities of women's pathways to criminality, the programmes are based on the idea that women's experiences and motivations differ to their male counterparts (Bloom et al, 2005). Ultimately, a gender responsive approach is one that aims to reflect - through design and services - the realities of women's lives, addressing various social and cultural factors and the pathways that lead them to criminality.

Aims and Objectives:
This project will examine whether 'gender sensitive' thinking should feed into penal design and policy. Specifically, the project will address whether and to what extent new custodial features can be gender responsive whilst recognizing the intersection between gender and multiple other identities.

The research questions this project is therefore addressing are:

1. Should gender sensitive thinking feed into penal design, policy and planning?
2. To what extent can prisons be gender responsive and offer gender responsive services whilst representing sexual minorities?
3. What are the best practices for implementing gender sensitive thinking?

Methodological Framework:
This project is informed by queer theory and the socio-criminological studies of the prison. Queer theory offers a lens whereby one can deconstruct the monolithic ideals and examine why these came into being. Essentially, a queer perspective will allow the project to cast a critical eye over the use of gender responsiveness in the design and planning of prisons. Crenshaw (2012) highlights that despite a gender responsive approach recognizing gender, it does little in the way of recognizing how multiple identities intersect, particularly ignoring racial and sexual identities of marginalized women.
Current literature around prison design argues that the design and architecture of institutional spaces has both physiological and psychological impact on those within them (Moran, Jewkes & Turner, 2014). Wener (2012) suggests that the design of prisons is related to the philosophy of the institution, or even the criminal justice system as a whole, arguing, that they are more than just "bed space for arrested or convicted men and women" (pg.7). Currently, prison design is driven by efficiency, security and cost rather than about achieving rehabilitation. Although queer criminology is still in its infancy, it is gaining attention from several scholars (Buist and Lenning, 2015; Panfil, 2018; Ball, 2016). This project will build on the works of these academics and explore a queering of gender responsiveness in prisons; challenging the heterosexual norm that currently underpins HMPPS thinking, commissioning, planning and design.

Given the overall aim of this project, it is essential to interview those who have lived experience of being in prison in the UK. Approximately 50 individuals who have been in prison within the UK in the last 5 years will be interviewed about their experience of treatment and care during their time in prison, the interviews aim to explore operational practices experienced as well as the nature of the interactions between staff and inmates. Additionally, semi-structured interviews with both prison staff and prison architects will enhance the data collection.

Overseas fieldwork may be added back if/when COVID-19 situation changes.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2381312 Studentship ES/P000630/1 28/09/2020 27/12/2023 Kayleigh Charlton