In 2002 as well!
Chris Tchaikovsky Determined campaigner who put women's plight in prison on the political agenda
Yvonne Roberts The Guardian, Friday 24 May 2002 08.34 BST Article history
Chris Tchaikovsky, who has died aged 57, was one of this country's most effective and influential campaigners for penal reform for women. In direct and practical ways, she never swerved from trying to reduce the pain of female offenders, while endeavouring to secure a better future for them once they were released.
In 1983, with the inter- national criminologist Pat Carlen, she founded Women in Prison (WIP). At that time, the different needs of female offenders, particularly the fact that many were mothers who frequently lost not just their liberty but also their children into care, scarcely figured. Chris identified the issues, and pushed them persistently. She utilised a wide range of contacts - lawyers, prison governors, civil servants, politicians, journalists and celebrities - to expedite change, expose scandal and increase awareness.
She was delighted with the popularity of the ITV series, Bad Girls; as its consultant, she supplied many of the factually based storylines. At a time of dramatic increases in female prison numbers, she believed the programmes reminded the public that most female offenders have experi enced appalling abuse and sexual exploitation, their lives marked by poverty and violence.
In recent years, through WIP - and working closely with the prison and probation services - Chris established Education Training Connection, a charity which offers education and training opportunities to women in jail. She pushed hard for more drug rehabilitation programmes. WIP, whch has a policy of employing ex-offenders, also hugely improved resettlement provision. Many women who previously would have found themselves on the streets instead had jobs and homes on release.
Always hampered by a lack of funds, WIP worked on a raft of issues, including improving conditions for mothers and babies, and tackling the appalling neglect of the mentally ill and suicidal. Chris was also the first to raise major concerns about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of women in prison, working with the charity, Inquest. She used to quote a Joan Baez song, "Little victories and big defeats".
While campaigning was important, the needs of ind-ividual prisoners came first; WIP's involvement might range from years of support in prison to ensuring that a woman on day release would have £10 to take her children to McDonald's.
In 1985, Chris contributed to Criminal Women, a book that has become a seminal work in criminology. She wrote many papers, and made numerous contributions to academic conferences.
In 1997, she became a Cropwood fellow, spending a year at Cambridge University's institute of criminology, where she produced a study of 100 women prisoners. Typically, her focus was on what was beneficial for the individual offender; it was, she said, a unique opportunity for women in difficult circumstances to learn and benefit from each other's experiences.
Almost half the women in her study had gone through the Holloway Remand scheme (HRS), which diverted them from long custodial sentences into reparation within the community, and in which Chris had been a driving force. In addition, she was instrumental in setting up Women in Special Hospitals (Wish), an organisation whose aim was to highlight the needs of those incarcerated in mental institutions.
What gave Chris her insight was that she had served time herself. Born into an affluent, loving, middle-class family in Cornwall, one of six sisters, she was repeatedly expelled from school, and said she found herself drawn to "outlaws". Having moved to "swinging London" in the 1960s, she was attracted to the bohemian lifestyle she had read about in French existential novels.
Late in the decade, she ran a criminal gang known as the Happy Firm because the boss believed both in laughs and equal pay. She specialised in cashing cheques and travellers' cheques with forged identification. She spent "bad money", as she called it, on the finer things in life, and shared it generously with others.
In 1974, she served her final prison sentence. During her 15 months inside, a woman had burned to death in her cell; it was rumoured that her alarm bell had been disconnected so that the staff could sleep. Chris began a degree course, and ran a successful women's disco. Then, in the early 80s, she heard that a second woman had also been burned alive in Holloway - and WIP was born.
She was 6ft tall, charismatic, funny, fearless, and- rogynous and successful with women, gay and heterosexual. She had a high IQ, and a huge appetite for learning. People from all walks of life were drawn to her. Asked why she had an affinity for offenders, she would say, "They are my tribe."
Chris, who died surrounded by family and close friends, had been ill for some years with respiratory problems, but she pushed herself to ensure that WIP would continue. She had a breadth of vision and a generosity of heart that persuaded others to see issues from a different perspective. Chris Ryder-Tchaikovsky, prison reformer, born May 28 1944; died May 19 2002