1st Edition

Penal Cultures and Female Desistance

ISBN 9780367481995
Published July 30, 2020 by Routledge
240 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations

USD $49.95

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Book Description

This book makes a unique contribution to the internationalisation of criminological knowledge about gender and desistance through a qualitative cross-national exploration of the female route out of crime in Sweden and England. By situating the female desistance journey in diverse penal cultures, the study addresses two major gaps in the literature: the neglect of critical explorations of gender in desistance-related processes, and the lack of internationally comparative perspectives on the lived experience of desistance.

Grounded in a feminist methodology – underpinned by a critical humanist perspective – this book draws on 24 life-story narrative interviews with female desisters across Sweden and England. The discussion covers departure points, qualitative experiences of criminal justice, as well as barriers and ‘ladders’ in the female route out. While some cross-national symmetry is detected, particularly in the areas of victimisation and issues around short custodial sentences, overall the findings indicate that diverse macro-processes and models, especially in terms of 'inclusive' versus 'exclusive' penal cultures, effectually 'trickle down' to the women in this study and produce different micro-experiences of desistance.

Providing new qualitative evidence of the 'Nordic Exceptionalism thesis’, this book finds that, comparatively, the Swedish model offers a macro-context, supported and reflected in allied meso-practices, which is more conducive to the formation of female desistance narratives. This unique comparative study marks a step-change in desistance literature and will be essential reading for those engaged in the disciplines of penology, rehabilitation, gender and crime, and offender management.

Table of Contents

1. Introducing penal cultures and female desistance

2. Gender, penality and desistance in cross-national contexts

3. Researching women’s journey towards desistance in diverse cultures and contexts

4. Mapping the female offender’s journey: Points of departure

5. Penological landscapes and female perspectives: ‘Nordic Exceptionalism’ and ‘Anglophone Excess’

6. The female route out: Barriers, ‘ladders’ and the role of relationality

7. The female route out: Employment, inclusion and participation

8. Concluding thoughts on penal cultures and female desistance




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Linnéa Österman is an early career researcher and lecturer at the University of Greenwich. Her research interests revolve around gender and crime, desistance, qualitative comparative criminology, Nordic criminal justice and restorative interventions. Completing her doctorate in Criminology at the University of Surrey in early 2016, Linnéa has been involved in a number of research projects focusing on women’s experiences of justice in various cultures and contexts over the last 10 years. She is a passionate criminologist and a social justice optimist, and dabbles with music-making in her spare time.


"Linnéa Österman's book makes an important contribution to the international literature on desistance. Not only does it focus on women’s experiences of desistance but, more significantly, by comparing the experiences of female desisters in England and Sweden, it highlights the role of broader penal cultures – characterised as ‘Anglophone Excess’ and ‘Nordic Exceptionalism’ – in shaping barriers to desistance and routes out of crime."

– Gill McIvor, Professor of Criminology and Co-Director of the SCCJR, University of Stirling, UK