"You don’t get justice at this place; you get a decision".
These were the words of a lawyer speaking to his client sitting close by.
Location? Southampton Crown Court.
Date? I don’t recall, probably three decades ago or more.
Why was I there? Again, I am not quite sure. Attending court was a very regular thing in those days for one reason or another. But no I have never been charged by the police - just three points on my driving licence to be exact - (groans from the GC gallery).
But those words "you don’t get justice" stuck with me, and over the years, I discovered the lawyer was right. I saw several people lie and get away with it, and of course, it always stuck in my throat.
Skip forward to 2021, and justice still sucks specifically for women irrespective of the fact they are victims or the convicted.
Every third day, I write a remembrance of a woman killed by a man in a campaign called #EveryThreeDays. And for every story I write, I probably research the murders of two perhaps three women. Sometimes I am left in tears, the murder of Joanne Hamer particularly affected me.
Then there is the case of Shana Grice from Brighton, who was stalked over a period of six months in 2016.
Shana reported the numerous incidents that occurred to her. However, in return, the police issued Shana with a fixed penalty notice for failing to inform them that she had a previous relationship with the perpetrator. After numerous incidents, she was found murdered in her bedroom, her throat slit, and the room set on fire.
Whilst Shana's case is perhaps one of the worst I have encountered since starting the #EveryThreeDays campaign, there are undoubtedly many similar ones when women report, but the police and support services fail.
But what of the convicted?
Having worked closely with pregnant women for many years, the incident of a young lady giving birth to a baby, in her prison cell, on her own and the baby dying shocked me. I decided to make it my business to campaign for women in prison, and the more I learnt, the angrier and more shocked I became.
Victims of institutional misogyny within the police, victims of a justice system that locks up women, but the underlying reason they are in trouble with the law can invariably be traced back to men. Some women get put on remand only to walk free or get short sentences - that must raise the question if there is a better way?
In this overview blog, I do not touch on the issues of addiction - that women suffer self-harm at well over double the rate of male prisoners. The fact that up to 50% of women are homeless when they leave prison, some leaving with just a cardboard box.
This blog also fails to mention that when in prison, women are offered minimal training in what one ex-offender described to me as "pink trades" - meaning hairdressers or cleaning. Trades that are badly paid on the outside - even if a job exists.
Why not plumbers and electricians where there is a demand for trained women?
I also fail to mention the genuinely horrific issue of the lack of healthcare in women's prisons - pregnant mums losing their unborn babies because of miscarriage - some of whom could have been saved had they not been incarcerated.
That male guards look on as women inmates go to the loo - with many cells not having modesty curtains around the toilet. That occasionally, they even look on as women change tampons and sanitary pads.
Not in prison.
I have heard about the case of one young lady who had her baby taken from her and then committed suicide.
The fact that there are not enough Mother and Baby Units (MBU's) - so many new mums (who should not be in prison in the first place) don’t even get access to one.
The fact that women wait for men if they are 'inside', but it doesn’t work that way when the other way round.
The fact that kids are victims of victims - of heart-breaking scenes at the end of visiting times.
That many women are physiologically broken when leaving prison. I spoke to one ex-offender one year after release. Even to the untrained, it was clear she was still in shock.
Do prisons work? Certainly not for women.
And is this piece a blog or a rant? I don’t know.
But believe me - women are victims.
The victims of cisgender men.
Authored by Steph @PlaceSteph