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Women incarcerated: Why life behind bars?

An excellent example of a research paper by Tiffany Rozee - June 2008

Today, roughly149,000 women are incarcerated throughout the United States. (TIME Magazine Tammerlin/ Drummmond, Miami 2000) What has contributed to women being sent to jail, and how are they treated in prisons that were designed and structured for men? When a new methodology was introduced called the feminist scholarship (Belknap in 2001) there was more information brought to light on why women committed crimes, and how gender plays a large part in the type of crimes.

The feminist scholarship and "feminist criminology" focused on inequality and oppression of women by analyzing different steps in feminism, and the differences with women, gender and crime. (Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Crime Future Directions for Feminist Criminology Amanda Burgess-Proctor Michigan State University) Because until recently, "research into crime and deviance was focused on men and why they committed crimes, there was little emphasis placed on women, who were only looked as possible accomplices or prostitutes." (Anderson, M and Taylor, H Sociology in everyday life.) The feminine scholarship on criminology was developed because feminists "objected to the exclusion of gender in criminology analysis." (Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Crime Future Directions for Feminist Criminology Amanda Burgess-Proctor Michigan State University) Men and women have been given assigned and socialized into completely different roles in society, variety of obstacles, and lead completely different lives" they can not be pooled into one generic bowl of data."

War on Drugs
Over the last ten years, researchers have argued that the "war on drugs" is to blame for the increase of women being incarcerated. With harsh rulings and a "lock them up and throw away the key "attitude, when it comes catching people doing or selling drugs. Rather than taking the time and money to tackle the real issue. The justice system takes a "out of sight out of mind" approach to the problem surrounding drugs in society. So what could be the reason why there are so many problems with drugs? Is it people's constant fear, and dismay of life or their situation? Maybe people have been taught you have to live up to the fantasy life style shown on television and without money you can't. People sell drugs because they are poor, and they have no other way, and have been taught by watching others that's what they need to do to live, and to make it in the world. There are so many reasons why people do or sell drugs, and so many more inequalities that play a part that lead them to do so.

Some researchers and scholars have gone as far as to say "the war on drugs has become a war on women"(Belknap 2002; Bloom & Chesney-Lind 2000; Owen, 2000 & 1998, Cheney-Lind 1997) the bureau of Justice Statistics has found 1 in 3 women are doing time for drug offenses, there is measurable gender-based difference in the rates of this increase.(Drug Policy, Barbara Owen Department of Criminology California State University Fresno) "Racism and economic discrimination are inextricably linked to sexism in our culture, creating severe inequalities in the court system and the prison system." (May 1994 issue report of Women's Economic Agenda Project) Even without contributing or being present in criminal activity, a woman involved with a drug offender may suffer eviction, forfeiture, and the imposition of a greater disproportion of family responsibilities.("Counting the Drug War's Female Casualties" Phyllis Goldfarb George Washington University Law School) Because women rarely have an adequate amount of information, they can offer in to police or lawyers, to help the prosecution in many cases due to the lack of direct involvement, or fear of retaliation, women have very little to use as a bargaining tool during sentencing, to plea a bargain and usually end up with an un fair long, prison sentence.

Statistics show that the majority of violent crimes involving innocent people are not by women, or men use illegal drugs, cocaine of methamphetamine etc. but involve alcohol, which is a main contributor in many violent crimes. "Illegal drugs and violence are linked primarily through drug marketing: disputes among rival distributors, arguments and robberies involving buyers and sellers, property crimes committed to raise drug money and, more speculatively, social and economic interactions between the illegal markets and the surrounding communities." (Schaffer drug s) Why people are are being thrown in jail for drug use, if they have not committed a violent crime? Why they are not sent to rehab or a separate facility all together with so many "new prisons" being built? Why not have separate systems for drug offenders? It has been said that the rise in drug offenses are due in part to prohibition much like when alcohol was illegalized, and the noticeable crime increase during alcohol prohibition. Why Inter mingle women and men convicted of drug crimes, in a prisons with hard criminals, who have been convicted of more severe or crimes that they committed with a "clear mind". Meaning they weren't on drugs when they committed the crime, and their judgment wasn't impaired. These two completely different criminals need to be kept separate from one another. By sending these women and men who have drug problems to prison, you are only creating a "new" kind of criminal. The real criminals in prison, doing time for various crimes teach the ones coming in on basic criminal charges-of drug possession and/ or distribution, to become a more effective criminal when they get out. Or treat them with such abuse there is damage done to the prisoner put in jail on drug charges, that is irreversible and detrimental to their wellbeing and possibly destroys the chance they had for recovery. The prisons system has made these men and women feel "that they have nothing to lose, they now have a criminal record" which will forever tarnish their "status" and "role" in society. They will have a harder time getting a job, and credit. They may have already lost their jobs before entering the systems, family, respect and their house. This stripping of all assets has a rippling effect on someone; they will feel there is no other way to survive but to continue a life of crime.

One way to analysis women and crime was best described by "(Pollock, 2002; Belknap, 2001; Chensey-Lind, 1997). "Research on women in prison has reveled that women's criminality must be understood in terms of the context of women's lives". They described three central issues that shape a women's life before imprisonment, that plays a vital role to why a women ends up in prison: Abuse in previous relationships; primarily by a male, problems in family and personal relationships, children (primarily with males) and drug use. "(Pollock, 2002; Belknap, 2001; Chensey-Lind, 1997). If women have had a history of abuse, sexual, physical has shown to lead to drug use; chances are a life of crime is what this will amount to, and increase in imprisonment for women. About 80 percent of women inmates have already experienced some kind of sexual or physical abuse before prison. (Powerless in prison: Sexual Abuse against Incarcerated Women: Nicole Summer, RH Reality Check on December 2007) If statistics show how women have been imprisoned in part, to some type of abuse either by the person they committed a crime towards, or in a previous setting sometime in their life, why isn't there a different system in place for women? Abuse is something women are much more susceptible to than a man. Men battle with physical, emotional and/or verbal abuse, in most cases by their father or other male family member. Women have a much higher rate of being a victim of physical, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Believed largely in part to how women are portrayed in this world as: sexual objects, small, and weak vulnerable, sensitive, gentle, subordinate. Women are preyed on by men, what chance does women have to fight off abuse? Most commonly women are abused as a child, and in most cases goes unnoticed for years, if not until adulthood. In any other setting these women would be categorized a victim, yet are being placed in a system that isn't fit to help victims, only make more.

Women's rights ignored
Women in prisons have been given an unequal opportunity for rehabilitation. "Historically, women have been underrepresented at all levels of the criminal justice system. This under representation of women has resulted in a criminal justice system created by males for males which the diverse needs of women are forgotten and neglected" (Health Disparities and Incarcerated Women: A Population Ignored" Ronald L. Braithwaite, PhD, Henrie M. Treadwell, PhD, and Kimberly R. J. Arriola, PhD, MPH (Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952) Women's prisons were not built with women's needs in mind, they were built for Men. Reports have shown women in prison routinely complain that their gynecological and routine exams, including required breast examinations are not given, and that basic medical attention of female inmates is often overlooked or ignored. (Health Disparities and Incarcerated Women: A Population Ignored Ronald L. Braithwaite, PhD, Henrie M. Treadwell, PhD, and Kimberly R. J. Arriola, PhD, MPH) Women have very different needs then men, not only emotionally but also physically. Some of the problems women are faced with when they enter the system are due to a limited history of medical attention. The statistics show 80% of women in prison report incomes of less than $2,000 per year in the year before their arrest, and 92% report incomes under $10,000) Making it so many women, who enter into the prison system have had very little previous healthcare. Someone entering as former prostitutes have a higher chance of having STD's, HIV/AIDS and/or other diseases. It has been found that 70% of Women incarcerated suffer with mental health issues, (www.womeninprison.org) issues stemming most likely from a history of physical and/or mental abuse. These disorders need to be treated by a physician to fully recover. Instead women are sent to prison where they are open to additional abusive situations and neglect.

Behind the bars

"Amnesty International reports that in 2004, a total of 2,298 allegations of staff sexual misconduct against both male and female inmates were made, and more than half of these cases involved women as victims, a much higher percentage than the 10 percent that women comprise of the total prison population."

"In federal women's correctional facilities, studies shows 70% of guards are male and records show correctional officials have subjected female inmates to rape, other sexual assault, sexual extortion, and groping during body searches. Male correctional officials have unlimited access to women's privacy, they watch women undressing, in the shower or the toilet. Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment"(Amnesty USA. com)

What message does this send to women incarcerated when the justice system tolerates this behavior. (Powerless in prison: Sexual Abuse against Incarcerated Women: Nicole Summer, RH Reality Check on December 2007) Women guards should be the only people allowed in areas in the prison where privacy is required, better yet maybe only women guards should be allowed in women prison facilities. Because the message I get is "You belong to the system now, and you have no say in who sees your body and what is done with it" this most likely is the same message they received outside of jail, before incarceration, while being abused and raped. Then they are sent to jail and are made to feel violated and raped by the system. It also tells women "That they are not safe anywhere, a man has the right to hit you and abuse you" and get away with it. Even with in a system that was designed to protect. Do you lose your basic rights as a human being upon entering prison?

The majority of the cases where a women was sent to prison on violent charges, they were charged in "self defense" Women sent to prison because they killed/or attempted to kill the person who was beating them, or raping them. Women are being beat, abused and raped by prison guards, who are there to "serve and protect" Women are made to feel unsafe, and are placed back into the harmful situation they lost their lives , family and children and thrown into prison because of. Prison Guards have also been known to threaten to take away prisoners visitation with family or children in an effort to silence a female prisoner. In many cases, guards are encouraged to view a prisoner's chart, to see what they are "up against". In male prisons, I can see how it is an important decision to be prepared, but why would a male guard need to view files of a women who was a "non violent" offender? It has been noted that many times the Guard is obtaining information to be used against the prisoner, names of family members' addresses, personal past problems, another way guards rule with fear. Not all guards behave this way, but the statistics which including letters written by prisoners, suggests that it is a common behavior that has gone unnoticed, or ignored.

Mother's in Prison are still Mothers.
Out of the 149,000 women incarcerated through out the United States, 7o% is found to have at least one child under the age of 18 years old. (TIME magazine, Tammerlin Drummond/Miami 2000) 15% have infants younger than 6 weeks and between 5% and 10% of incarcerated women enter correctional facilities while pregnant. (Health Disparities and Incarcerated Women: A Population Ignored" Ronald L. Braithwaite, PhD,Henrie M. Treadwell, PhD, and Kimberly R. J. Arriola, PhD, MPH (Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952) Being a mother incarcerated takes an emotional and physical toll, psychological with the trauma around issues of bonding, separation, and parenting. Many of these issues are never addressed in prison, and a mother may never get the counseling attention a she requires to cope and recover. Do Mother's in prison have enough resources to continue to take an active roll in their Childs life? Some prisons have programs for Mothers and their children, such as Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Wilsonville, OR. They offer Parenting and Family programs. Parenting classes, Girl scouts & Boy Scouts Behind Bars, all programs to help Mothers interact with their children and take a positive role in their lives, even if it is from behind bars. But many prisons do not participate in this type support/ rehab. Women are usually given sole custody over children. The system often sends the women to serve their time further away from home more often then it does for men/fathers, making it difficult for the caregivers of the children of the imprisoned mother to bring a child around to visit. There should be rehab facilities and/or centers for women placed in locations accessible to their family.

Work in prison
Some of the programs being offered to women today seem outdated, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon offers: laundry, sewing and knitting These programs were listed among the programs offered when the first female prison in Indiana opened in1873, though I agree it helps keep women's minds occupied in a positive way, I don't think it is helping them learn the necessary skills to join the working society. This facility does focuses on a wide range of rehabilitative services, mental rehabilitation. But isn't it time women receive better training for jobs they will be able to obtain upon leaving prison? College classes, Associates degrees? Training in jobs that can help them bring in an income seen as the majority of women/mothers incarcerated is raising their child in a single parent household. Another program Coffee Creek offers is one to obtain a GED (General Education Development or General Equivalency Degree.) program. Which upon receiving will be crucial in obtaining a job, but what if a prisoner would like to finish high school? A high school diploma is more detailed in terms of curriculum with focus on a much wider span and variety of knowledge than a GED certificate. The GED certificate program focuses primarily on the questions that will be on the exam. Having obtained my GED after attending high school for three years, I feel that I learned a lot less than if had stuck with Public school curriculum.

In conclusion, until we listen to the voices of the victims we will never truly understand why people do what they do, most times out of desperation, and we cannot learn the most effective way to help. It is an unfair assumption to think one system will work for everyone. Everyone is different and should not be punished for being different. There seems to be conflict in this society with "being wrong" it often associated with ignorance, this is not so. Being able to say a system does not work and it needs to be changed, is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of strength. There is so much inequality in this world, and all of the studies and research to prove it. Yet, those who implement the changes are not strong enough to admit the system is failing everyone, including their selves, and the longer inequality is accepted the more there will be, and we will keep taking giant steps backward. It is important to use our voice when others are too afraid to, or have had their mouths forced closed.

"Be the change you want to see in the world" Mahatma Gandhi


On line article: TIME Magazine, Tammerlin Drummond, Miami 2000

On line article: "Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Crime Future Directions for Feminist Criminology" Amanda Burgess-Proctor, Michigan State University, Sage Journals On-line

On line article: "Women In Prison" Drug Policy Alliance - Barbara Owen, Department of Criminology California State University Fresno

On line article: "Health Disparities and Incarcerated Women: A population Ignored" Ronald L Braithwaite, PhD, Henrie M. Treadwell, PhD, and Kimberly R.J. Arriola, PhD, MPH.) Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952)

On line article: "Powerless in Prison: Sexual Abuse Against Incarcerated Women," Nicole Summer, RH Reality Check on December 2007

On Line article: "Counting the Drug War's Female Casualties" Phyllis Goldfarb, George Washington University Law School Goldfarb, Phyllis, (July 28, 2003). Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Vol. 6, No. 2, Fall 2002 Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=429281

On line article: "Women in Prison: An Interview with Activist Tracy Huling, by, Sarabi, Bridgette. Summer 2001 issue of Justice Matters

On line article: www.womenandprison.org "Do I Have to Stand for This?" by Kimberly Burke , Riverside Unit, TX, 2002

On line article: womenandprison.org "Illegal Strip Searches at the Cook County Jail" by Tori Marlan

On line: DOC Operations Division: "Coffee Creek Correctional Facility"

On line: www.womenandprison.org

On line: Schaffer Library of Drug Policy: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/

On line: www.womendoingtime

On line: Wikipedia.com

On line: Google.com

On line: www.amnestyinternational.org

On line: www.socialscienceresearchnetwork.com (SSRN)

Book: Anderson, M Taylor, H "Sociology in Everyday Life"