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.