Guest post by Dr Anna Schliehe. Anna joined the COMPEN project as a Research Associate in June 2016. She completed her doctoral research project in Human Geography on the Scottish criminal justice system and its responses to young women. This is the fourth post of Border Criminologies' themed series 'Penal Policymaking and the Prisoner Experience', organised by Ben Crewe.
As part of one of Compen’s sub-studies on entry, exit and post-release of prisoners across different prisons in England and Wales, the research team wanted to include experiences of female prisoners and women classed as foreign nationals in the prison system. The rapid increase of the foreign national prison population in the UK has been the topic of a number of blogs on Border Criminologies. As Emma Kaufman has argued, the ‘treatment of foreign nationals is deeply implicated in the politics of race and the construction of British national belonging’. It is also characterised by an intricate form of carceral circuitry in which sites of the prison, immigration removal centres are intertwined with the threat of deportation.
When Amelia (pseudonym) arrived at the prison, she had given birth the previous day and was holding her small baby daughter in her arms. When she got to the reception area, she said:
I was waiting (…) nearly three hours without hot... any drink. They didn't ask me for nothing. There [it] was so cold. (…) I just hold my baby on heart […] it was important to change her nappy, give her food, but I don't have like really a chance. Three hours, even they make themselves busy, but they [were] not busy because I see them what they did. And they was... and special the [one] who give me the property, my stuff, she was so rude and she was arrogant to me. And I've been so stressful; I've been scared what's happened then. I didn't know where I [was] going, how it's working this wing. (Amelia PB110417, p.1)
These acute, personal worries, which many women in prison face, were interconnected with other difficulties Amelia experienced specifically as a foreign national. One has to do with interpretation:
And interpreter... (…) she say opposite things, example: (…) 'Did [Amelia] had your password from Facebook?' and she said yes, but he said no. You know? And then I realise (…) I could understand yes no, it's very different. So I said, 'Stop' I said like that. My barrister came, I said 'She speak different things'. The judge he said, 'Okay, we will check everything'. And special er... interpret, the highest interpret, (…) the best, he found twenty two sentences wrong, different. So that's help to us. So again have to start again all court... (Amelia PB110417., p.9)
These anxieties of not being able to understand language or legal proceedings but still having to pay attention in order to avoid being misrepresented was common among the prisoners we met.
The way in which foreign national prisoners are brought to the attention of immigration authorities in the first place has specific legal implications that are particularly bound up with the process of their entry into custody. The paperwork used in reception asks about where people were born (rather than asking about their nationality) ‘which is ‘the broadest and most ‘effective’ way to identify foreigners’. These instances of ‘tightness’ work in even more intricate and opaque ways than for British nationals. The implications of the language used by the institution and the way prisoners are categorised and passed on to immigration authorities is a new form of capturing, gripping and monitoring prisoners that we have referred to in another blog.
Honestly, it was a big stress for me. Especially when they sent me to a detention centre – I was so scared because I spent in prison three years and then a new place, new people, new everything. And especially there, all of them, they have the big stress because most of them they want to go but they don’t have ticket and some of them they want to stay but they can’t and all of them are depressed. So they put all of this depress on me. (Olga, p. 2)
Uncertainty about release was hard to bear (see also here and here). Even now, in her own home, Olga experienced a great deal of anxiety about having to leave her young son again as well as her mother, who had to come to the UK to look after him. She felt at the mercy of a law that did not apply to her fairly. As Kaufman claims, each of these facets of prison and post prison life can be connected to the politics of identity on an individual and personal level as well as with regards to ‘broad philosophical questions about the boundaries of British society and the obligations of the British state’. Like tightness, the ‘breadth’ of imprisonment – its lasting impact – has a different quality for foreign national prisoners.
This very particular form of mobility and stasis, which runs through so many foreign national prisoners’ experiences, is described in carceral geography as another form of punishment. What Gill et al call carceral circuitry ‘carves up the imagined geography of discrete institutions which men and women enter and from whence they are ‘released’ in favour of emphasizing continuity across institutional and urban settings’. The containment and management as ‘risk factors’ of these particular foreign national bodies, from a national level to the micro-level of the home and the prison, shows a very particular form of breadth and tightness within the penal system in England and Wales.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)
Schliehe, A. (2018) Women’s Imprisonment and the Experiences of Foreign Nationals. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2018/05/womens (Accessed [date]).