Book Review: Barton, A. (2005). Fragile Moralities and Dangerous Sexualities: Two Centuries of Semi-Penal Institutionalisation for Women. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate. pp. vi, 176

AuthorPamela Davies
Published date01 March 2008
Date01 March 2008
Subject MatterArticles
“experts” and the secret proceedings and money-and-power-driven culture that result in
legal outcomes ranging from unjust to harmful to atrocious. Chapter by chapter, using titles
like “Robed Rage,” “Lawless Law Guardians,” and “Anti-Social Services,” the authors
deftly paint the picture of the perfect storm that is created by the confluence of the actors and
their actions in this nightmarish legal drama. Using the sociological framework of ethnomethod-
ology, the authors dissect the “meaning-making” processes by which normal, fit, and loving
mothers are labeled as delusional, hysterical, or otherwise mentally deranged due to the mother
having made a good-faith report to the court that her child was being sexually abused by
his or her father.
The Overview (chapter 1) alone is worth the price of admission, with its little known
chronology of the protective mothers’ movement and the movement’s resistance to these
legal outrages. Each chapter places another piece of the puzzle into perspective, bringing
into high and horrifying relief the perverse reality in which a mother’s protectiveness, vig-
ilance, and empathy toward her children, viewed universally as desirable maternal traits,
are used to label her, instead, as overprotective, hypervigilant, and borderline as a “parental
alienator” who is therefore unfit. In this alternative universe, lawyers twist the legal rules
of evidence, violating litigants’ due process rights in backdoor legal conferences that end
with a judge’s order that to the mother and her allies is nothing less than insane but from
the viewpoint of family court madness is “in the best interests of the child.”
Rather than resting on the shock value of this scenario to make From Madness to Mutiny
a compelling read, the authors round out the book with a realistic and hopeful plan for true
reform. Absent the total “rebirthing” of the system called for by Neustein and Lesher, the
family courts are like a ship whose captain and crew have gone utterly mad, whose only
chance of redemption is mutiny by the passengers.
Mo Therese Hannah
Siena College, Loudonville, New York
Barton, A. (2005). Fragile Moralities and Dangerous Sexualities:
Two Centuries of Semi-Penal Institutionalisation for Women.
Aldershot, UK: Ashgate. pp. vi, 176.
DOI: 10.1177/0734016808314560
In my opinion, feminist contributions to criminology are often still marginalized or recog-
nized in connection with rather too small an enclave of writers. For this reason alone, I feel it is
important that there is a continued effort within the criminological community to focus on how
gender impacts the big issues of social control and imprisonment. In this book, Alana Barton
explores how women in particular experience social control, regulation, discipline, and impris-
onment in the 21st century and compares and contrasts this with their treatment and experiences
in previous centuries. Her particular focus is the “semipenal” institution, an important and rather
overlooked institution where social control is perhaps underdocumented.
Following Weiner (1990), Barton explains that the semipenal institution is “neither ‘formal’
in the sense of a prison, nor ‘informal’ in the sense of a home, but which, at the same time,
120 Criminal Justice Review

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