In this context, I read with interest the Scottish Government’s Statistical Bulletin in its Crime and Justice Series entitled Prison Statistics
Percentages can be a bit bamboozling – or at least, give an inflationary impression of what’s what with the world. In brute numerical terms, in 1999-00 the average daily population numbered 5,975 – including those on remand, untried persons, persons convicted but awaiting sentence. For last year, that average number was 7,835 souls – or 1,860 more prisoners than just 10 years ago. Highlighting the degree to which incarceration (and criminality) is a gendered phenomenon, 7,422 of the 2008/09 figure were male, 413 female. Men constituted a wildly dominant 95% of the total average daily population last year. Those particularly concerned with the phenomenon of female imprisonment, however, will be particularly concerned that since 1999/00, the average number of women in prison has almost doubled, increasing from 210 to 413.
On this last point, I have my ambivalences. In particular, while women’s groups do have a concerned voice in the political process, as is proper, this sometimes causes those discussing imprisonment to ignore the gendered character of the jail. The men’s movement by comparison, can seem demented and atavistic to broadly pro-feminist men. I’d certainly include myself in that category. One consequence of this is that gender is not deployed consistently as an important basis to understand prison policy by our senators. One can have particular sympathy for the stories of particular women and for example, the travails and cruelties which pregnancy and birth in penal circumstances inflict. Rather than enforcing broader questions about gender understandings in prison, by framing the debate in terms of women in prison, our discussion becomes bifurcated. We have one discussion on women in prison – and then blithely squander the gendered insight by progressing to talk about prison in the genderless abstract, ignoring the maleness of the population and implicated issues of masculinity. Which seems to me a rather curious thing to do, given the ordering role gender clearly plays in the production of the population, as profiled.
We might take comfort in the fact that, if international comparison is attempted,
That is our responsibility. Lets live up to it.