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Easton & Piper: Sentencing and Punishment 4e

Chapter 9: Guidance for end-of-chapter questions

At the end of chapter 9 you were given:

  1. A case study about Amy 
  2. Discussion questions focusing on issues of gender and ethnicity in prison. 

A. Case study

At the end of Chapter 7 we used the following scenario to focus on the role of personal mitigation in sentencing and to ask you to consider whether better solutions to Amy?s situation existed in social and welfare policies. We now wish to consider Amy?s situation on the basis that her appeal was unsuccessful and she has to serve her custodial sentence.  The scenario was as follows: 
Amy is a mother with four children under 10 years of age. The children?s father, Ben, has been in prison for two years. Amy has several convictions for theft, all preceding the period in which she went to live with Ben and had her children. Amy got into severe financial difficulties two years ago and agreed to deliver packages of drugs, on a regular basis, to distributors. By the time she was caught she had delivered a very large quantity of a Class B drug. She pleaded guilty shortly after her arrest to a charge of possession with intent to supply under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, s 5(3) although she insisted that she had been led to believe the drugs were only ketamine (Class C). She received a sentence of 18 months.
Ben?s family have always rejected her; her own family consists of an ill and elderly mother and a sister who has two children. No one offers to look after her children and she agrees that they be voluntarily accommodated by the local authority. A recent review by the local authority noted the children?s distress in their new homes (they cannot all be accommodated in the same foster family). Amy appeals her sentence.

We then asked you:

  1. To consider what might be the main problems that Amy would face in prison as a women and a mother and whether such difficulties are being addressed.


Obviously Amy?s main concern would be possible separation from her child. If it is not possible for the child to remain with her, then arranging suitable care would be crucial and ultimately with a view to being reunited with the child on release. So access to visits and release on temporary licence (ROTL) to deal with family matters would be paramount.   However, there have been limits imposed on female prisoners? access to ROTL because of security concerns over male prisoners. At the same time, the need for gender specific policies which take account of women?s role as prime carers has now been recognised so weight should be given to this role and to maintaining family contact in allocating her to a particular prison.

  1. To consider the situation if Ben had been released from prison eight months before Amy?s conviction, Amy was 6 months pregnant when she began her sentence, and  Ben,  the father, left Amy before the court case. We asked whether, in those circumstances Amy would be likely to be transferred to a Mother and Baby Unit.

Amy is clearly likely to apply for a place and this would be determined on criteria including any risks arising from her presence on the unit and whether any risks can be managed. If she succeeds the baby could stay with her for 18 months.


B. Discussion questions
At the end of Chapter 9 you were asked to reflect on the following questions:
1. Is it fair to say that the current prison regime impacts more harshly on some groups of prisoners than others? If so, consider the ways in which equality of impact might be achieved.
Here you could discuss the social and personal costs of imprisonment of particular groups of prisoners, for example, women, black and minority ethnic groups, foreign national prisoners, gay prisoners, prisoners with disabilities or religious minorities.  In considering ways of achieving equality you could consider inter alia the suggestions of the Corston Report, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal system, the Race Review and the Prison Inspectorate reports as well as the annual NOMS Equalities Reports and the Bradley Report.

2. Why were gender specific policies introduced in prisons in England and Wales?
Here you could consider the influence of the Wedderburn and Corston Reports and the recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal system as well as the work of campaign groups working with women prisoners and highlight their findings.

3.  Do the experiences of ethnic minorities in prison differ from those of non-minorities?
Here you could consider a range of issues including access to resources and the experience of harassment and victimization, and review the recent research on the perceptions of prisoners in different ethnic groups and the extent to which these prisoners live in parallel worlds.

4. Do the experiences of prisoners with disabilities in prison differ from those of prisoners without disabilities?
Here you could refer to access to facilities within the prison as well as feelings of safety and problems in negotiating procedures within the prison environment. You could consider the problems of identification of prisoners? needs and ways of improving their situation.