We celebrate the power of a few women, yet ignore the 9,000 who are locked away

It is so expensive to keep women in jail I cannot understand why David Cameron doesn't close all female prisons

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The Independent Online

Two things happened this week which reveal how hypocritical we are about giving women a chance. Outside the precious world of the media, there was little excitement when Woman’s Hour revealed its 2015 “power list” – which focused on females the judges reckon wield the most influence.

It includes (not surprisingly) Nicola Sturgeon and Angelina Jolie. Some might carp at the inclusion of Katharine Viner, the new editor of The Guardian, read by fewer women than some of the tabloids.

It’s a quaint idea that lists help and inspire other women to succeed. As someone who’s been on and off various lists, I know that to get to the top in any field of endeavour, women generally have to navigate around and past powerful men. Understanding how to do this is key, not “mindfulness” or apeing other female role models.

The Woman’s Hour top 10 contains four people who work in the media and one former Sunday Times journalist who has just been appointed director of the Downing Street Policy Unit. Outside the inward-looking world of media, women who have no power are still being treated appallingly right here in the UK.

On the same day as the power list, it wasn’t deemed very newsworthy that an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System published an report stating that although more than 9,000 women were sent to jail last year, almost half were not convicted. Some will have been remanded and then acquitted; some didn’t receive a custodial sentence and some will get community service.

Thousands of vulnerable, poor and uneducated women in Britain end up with criminal records for no reason other than we haven’t found a better way of helping them. Men make up 95 per cent of the prison population, and of the females incarcerated, very few – two out of 10 – are serving sentences for violent crimes. Most are victims of domestic abuse, drug addicts and controlling relationships. They come from dysfunctional families and are generally uneducated. They need support, counselling, education and mentoring in parenting and life skills, not locking up, separating them from their already fragmented families. Six out of 10 have dependent children; a third will lose their homes while they are in prison and some will lose all their possessions.

Eight years ago, Baroness Corston delivered a report calling on the Government to scrap women’s prisons. Nothing has happened, and now there are twice as many women in jail as there were 20 years ago. Almost half will be reconvicted within a year and fewer than one in 10 gets a decent job in that time. Put bluntly, they are in a cycle of despair.

All over the country, rehab centres have closed or had their funding cut. It is so expensive to keep women in jail I cannot understand why David Cameron cannot make the sensible decision to close all female prisons, remove addicts to treatment centres and create a support network which includes community service and reparation for minor offences. The small number of prisoners convicted of serious crimes could be housed in special units.

I can’t bear these statistics. They are a disgrace in modern Britain which claims to take women’s rights seriously. By the way, for the first time ever, the Army has appointed a woman to command a brigade. Congratulations to Brigadier Sharon Nesmith. I’m sure you’ll get a call from Woman’s Hour any day.

 

It’s only rock’n’roll – and not necessarily art

I still treasure my tiny battered teenage diaries which faithfully list all the gigs I went to between 1963 and 65, complete with critical analysis. One Saturday, I went to Ealing Jazz Club and saw the Rolling Stones – and wrote in crabby pencil the withering comment “not bad”. I was deeply in love with Jeff Beck at the time, although he was completely unaware of it. I was lucky enough to see the Stones before they had a record deal, to watch them rehearsing on Sunday afternoons at Ken Colyer’s club, following them on the Underground back to their flat off the Fulham Road.

A few years ago, I made Mick Jagger roar with laughter when I reminded him of the two creepy mods shadowing him from Earls Court Tube station. Happy memories, but I won’t be pitching up to the Saatchi Gallery in April next year when “Exhibitionism” opens, a show devoted to costumes, set designs and memorabilia from the Stones’ personal archives.

Gradually, there’s been an erosion of what constitutes important art – the V&A led the way with its Bowie show – and now the Stones’ ephemera will tour the world, making them lots more cash.

Yes, Bowie brought more visitors than ever into the V&A, and the latest McQueen show is a huge success, but galleries need to seduce these new visitors into visiting the other wonderful things they have in their collections – which might predate the mid 20th century.

 

The police seem to have learnt nothing from Savile

Alistair McGowan gives the performance of his career as Britain’s most prolific sexual abuser in An Audience with Jimmy Savile at the Park Theatre in north London. Jonathan Maitland’s play (which sadly ends this week) has been criticised by some for causing upset to the victims, but it succeeds brilliantly in showing the cosy world of the BBC “club” where sleazy behaviour was ignored if you were a star or a powerful producer.

I can confirm that part of this drama was horribly accurate, as I suspect was the scene where Savile is interviewed by two police officers and the male detective is seduced by his banter to the disgust of the female officer.

Do victims of abuse get a fair hearing post Savile? This week a report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary looked at how the police had dealt with 576 cases of child abuse and neglect across eight forces. The results are shocking – there was an “inadequate” response in 220 of the cases. Only 177 were found to have been dealt with to a “good” standard and 179 rated merely “adequate”.

The report finds that police too often accuse children of crimes rather than treating them as victims. As for online abuse, more than half of the cases monitored were not investigated properly; in one force, that figure rose to 72 per cent.

The NSPCC said the report was a “damning indictment” of the police, who say the number of sexual abuse cases they will be investigating will exceed 70,000 by the end of this year. The police could justifiably ask for more resources, but a huge change in mindset is what’s really needed.

 

A bit of fine-tuning can make this a true wonder

Damon Albarn’s new musical, wonder.land, opened at the Manchester International Festival this week, and transfers to the National Theatre in November.

It’s an epic work, with astonishing costumes and technology and dazzling staging. All the show lacks is a few showstopping moments and some culling of the linking material. I’m not a huge fan of the Chas and Dave-style father figure either.

These are minor niggles because this modern-day take on Alice in Wonderland definitely kicks off on the right foot. Moira Buffini’s lyrics are both witty and sophisticated – and you can’t say that about many musicals these days.

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