There are as many histories of women’s imprisonment as there have been women in prison and no single textbook can claim to do justice to any one of them. Yet even within the composite story of women’s imprisonment in England which we choose to give in this chapter, there are glimpses of several different histories. To attempt an understanding of women’s imprisonment as we know it today, therefore, we have to contemplate the ebb and flow of penal politics in ages past, and become familiar with the seemingly circular, but usually asymmetrical, movements of ever-changing and inter-related modes of state and penal governance both nationally and globally. Presentation of contemporary penality’s constitutive practices and ideologies – such as prison medicine, prison administration, competing conceptions of welfare and risk, penology and discourses of womanhood and femininity – is, furthermore, not made any easier by the constant evolution and transformation of the penal discourses within which those practices and ideologies are known. Instead of trying to depict a linear history of penal events and policies, the presentational techniques employed in this book will deliberately endeavour to picture the discontinuities, contradictions, fragmentation and transformations in women’s imprisonment as they have been inscribed within state penality and popular consciousness. Let us therefore begin as we intend to go on, and start with the history of a major contradiction, one that has run through much penal discourse about women who break the law – the contradictory notion that women criminals are both women and not women (see Worrall 1990).