Fragile Moralities and Dangerous Sexualities : Two Centuries of Semi-Penal Institutionalisation for Women book cover
1st Edition

Fragile Moralities and Dangerous Sexualities
Two Centuries of Semi-Penal Institutionalisation for Women

ISBN 9780367604417
Published June 30, 2020 by Routledge
184 Pages

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Book Description

In this book Alana Barton explores the social control and disciplining of unruly and 'deviant' women from the early nineteenth century to the present day. Her particular focus is the 'semi penal' institution, a category that includes refuges, reformatories and homes. She suggests that these occupy a unique position within the social control 'continuum', somewhere between the formal regulation of the prison and the informal control of the 'community' or domestic sphere, but at the same time incorporating methods of discipline from both arenas. The book draws on Dr Barton's extensive fieldwork at one such institution, currently a women's bail and probation hostel, which opened as a reformatory in 1823. Barton begins by examining the ideological and social conditions underpinning the creation of this institution, deconstructing the dominant feminising discourses around domesticity, respectability, motherhood, sexuality and pathology that were mobilised to categorise and control its nineteenth-century residents. She goes on to discuss the contemporary experiences of women within the hostel and their strategies for coping with or resisting the disciplinary regimes and discourses imposed upon them. Her analysis reveals that many of the discourses used to characterise and discipline women in reformatories during the nineteenth century continue to be utilised for the same purpose in a probation hostel nearly two hundred years later. She also reveals that the distribution of power in institutions is not fixed, but can be subtly negotiated and redistributed. Concluding with an examination of current developments in community punishments for women, this book will make a significant contribution to the literature around alternatives to custody for female offenders by strongly challenging contemporary debates liberal, critical and feminist around ’appropriate’ and relevant penal policy for women.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Women behaving badly: feminist theory and the social control of women; ’Wayward girls and wicked women’: the history and development of the semi-penal institution; Domestic discipline: semi-penal institutionalisation in the nineteenth century; Between the church and the state: semi-penal institutionalisation in the twentieth century; Vernon Lodge: the probation hostel for women as a semi-penal institution?; Conclusion; Appendix: methodology; Bibliography; Index.

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Dr Alana Barton, Centre for Studies in Crime and Social Justice, Edge Hill College of Higher Education, UK.


’Alana Barton’s book is an important and scholarly analysis of the role and operation of semi-penal institutions for women, identifying the mechanisms through which they seek to regulate deviant women’s behaviour. Equally important are the insights it offers into how historically women, in turn, have resisted or subverted these disciplinary regimes.’ Professor Gill McIvor, University of Stirling, UK ’This book makes a major and scholarly contribution to the literature on women and community penalties. Barton’s scrupulous reading of historical records, allied to her sensitive and empathic interviews with contemporary offenders, adds a new and significant dimension to this literature. She not only points to the corrosive role of community penalties in disciplining women probationers but also highlights the strategies of resistance the women developed to subvert the patriarchal discourses underpinning everyday probation practices. It is a book that deserves to be read by the widest possible audience.’ Professor Joe Sim, Liverpool John Moores University, UK ’...Barton’s book puts places like Vernon Lodge on the criminological map and should stimulate important further research.’ The Howard Journal '[Barton's] focus is the "semipenal" institution, an important and rather overlooked institution where social control is perhaps undocumented...The argument is made original, interesting, and robust through the careful and appropriate selection of quotations from interviews with key workers...and from key documents and archives relating to the running and management of the institution. This is original fieldwork, and there is evidence of painstaking and systematic analysis of documentary materials and interview data...this book has much to commend it...' Criminal Justice Review