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Punishment in Disguise: Penal Governance and Federal Imprisonment of Women in Canada.

Kelly Hannah-Moffat

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001; 250 pp.

Kelly Hannah-Moffat's Punishment in Disguise is a fascinating account of penal reform and the governance of women prisoners in Canada. Hannah-Moffat begins with the sombre observation that a decade after the 1990 Report of the Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women recommended the implementation of a women-centred model of punishment, little evidence exists that "the regime has changed" or "that past lessons have been learned" (p. 4). Her purpose, however, is not to dwell on the disjunction between reform ideals and operational problems which are "inevitable" but, rather, to contextualize recent Canadian penal developments in a broader historical, political and social analysis of women's penality (p. 4).

Specifically, Hannah-Moffat seeks to end the silence in feminist studies of women's imprisonment about "the relations of power that emerge when women govern other women," and to contest Foucauldian (and feminist) claims that knowledge used to regulate women was based primarily "on 'expert' scientific or professional systems of knowledge production and dissemination," by demonstrating that lay women and amateur reformers (evangelical, maternal, feminist) historically played a central role "in the production of knowledge about women in their care" (p. 21). Critique aside, she draws on Foucault's work (and the vast governmentality literature he inspired) in order to explicate the power/knowledge relationships characteristic of the penal reform strategies--pastoral, maternal, disciplinary, and self-governing--that have shaped attempts to create women-centred penal regimes in Canada from the 19th century to the present. Thus, her book is a discursive analysis of documentary and interview data on prison policies and programs, with a special focus on the role of non-state women reformers, "not about institutional histories or the experiences of women prisoners" (p. 15).

Punishment in Disguise is a substantial contribution to the literature and debates on penality, and on regulation more generally. First, Hannah-Moffat illustrates clearly that similar penal reform strategies aimed at women prisoners have played out quite differently in Britain, Canada and the United States. Therefore, her study reinforces other research that reveals the importance of attending to the historical and cultural context in any analysis of how penal and other regulatory modes develop. For instance, unlike post-World War II Britain where women's prison programs were run mainly by experts, the Prison for Women in Kingston (P4W) had no records of "psy" programming until the late 1950s (p. 93). This jurisdictional difference suggests that Foucault's equation of "expert" knowledge and the regulation of women may apply to France and Britain but it but does not easily fit the Canadian case, at least in the realm of penal governance.

However, Hannah-Moffat does not propose a simple inversion that privileges the role of non-expert knowledges in the governance of women. Her analysis points to the co-existence of multiple knowledges and technologies of governing, particularly in welfare-based penal regimes. For example, she documents in convincing detail how the work of Elizabeth Fry Societies in Canada helped wed maternalism to rehabilitation and therapeutic approaches during the mid-20th century; and she surmises that, in the absence of formal "scientific" programming at P4W, prison staff probably combined common sense with their own stock of "expert" knowledges, to effect "habit training" among women prisoners (p. 103). Her conclusion that different penal logics and strategies persist and co-exist at the same time is a significant challenge to the many evolutionary accounts of an historical progression, with "new" knowledges periodically replacing "old" ones.

Second, Hannah-Moffat's study speaks directly to feminists on the omnipresent issue of engagement with the state. Like other research on the "policing" of women by women, Punishment in Disguise shows how "mainstreaming" invariably places feminists on the thin edge of cooptation and/or the appropriation and undermining of their strategies and goals. As Hannah-Moffat convincingly demonstrates, the same discourses and concepts can be used in very different ways and therefore, attempts to implement women-centred penal regimes based on maternal and feminist ideas are always risky ventures given the punitive nature of prison culture (p. 21). While women have helped improve conditions for women prisoners historically, the fate of the 1990 Task Force Report is a telling example of how women/feminists also have contributed to the creation of new power/knowledge relations in penal governance. The feminist-informed discourses of "empowerment," "autonomy" and "choice" which infused the Report, were appropriated and (re)formed in subsequent neo-liberal correctional strategies to justify building new prisons for women with no concomitant development of community resources and programs.

Refreshingly, Hannah-Moffat details the dangers for "outsiders" of cooperating with the state without blaming women/feminists for the "bad" outcomes of their reform strategies. Instead, she documents how the influence of women/feminists in the area of penal governance historically has reflected the contested nature and contradictory effects of the reform process itself. Maternalism concomitantly enabled middle-class women reformers to leave home in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and set parameters that constrained the ways in which they worked. Likewise, "maternal logic" buttressed penal strategies for women prisoners that generated both positive and repressive effects. These are important findings because they suggest that, while penal and criminal law may be among the toughest arenas for reformers to achieve meaningful change, feminists will confront the politics and contradictory impact of reform strategies in every site of engagement. There is no easy path to liberation.

Punishment in Disguise does not and could not cover every aspect of penal governance in Canada since the 19th century. However, the book helpfully points to topics and issues which merit attention in future research, including the need to extend the recent (and understandable) focus on Aboriginal women in Canadian penal reform projects to women in other racialized and ethnic minority groups, both historically and in the current context; to analyze penal reform strategies in the more "mundane" realm of provincial and municipal institutions; and to investigate how women prisoners themselves have experienced penal reform strategies over time. Overall, Hannah-Moffat has produced a groundbreaking, "stand alone" analysis with relevance for a broad range of feminist and non-feminist audiences. Her book should be required reading for anyone with an interest in socio-legal regulation.

Reviewed by Dorothy Chunn

School of Criminology Simon Fraser University Burnaby, British Columbia
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Chunn, Dorothy
Publication:Resources for Feminist Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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