Women in Prison

Nearly 10 percent of those incarcerated in prison in the United States are female. According to the Institute on Women and Criminal Justice (IWCJ), in 2006 there were 105,000 women in prisons across the U.S. The Institute also reports that from 1977 to 2007, female incarcerations had risen by the stunning 832 percent. The reasons given for this increase are the stricter sentencing laws and a record number of drug offenses, the number of female drug-dealers reaching a peak, resulting in overcrowded women prisons.

The most common crimes that women commit are theft, drug offenses, fraud and forgery, whereas their involvement in crimes such as murder, rape and assault is rare. According to statistics, women offenders do not account for even half the crimes committed in any of the latter category. The only criminal offense that is predominantly "female," is prostitution.

The general tendency that women are less frequently involved in crimes is remarkably persistent across countries, population subgroups within a given country, and historical periods, although the reasons for this are not clear. The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that 60 percent of female state prison inmates have been subjects to various forms of physical or sexual abuse prior to their incarceration. Moreover, about 30 percent had been abused by an intimate, and one in four by a family member. Nearly 80 percent of the women in state prisons were either recidivists or had a current conviction for violence.

In 2009 prison administration started an analysis on women prison conditions and inmates' needs. They recognized the special needs that women have. One of these studies, ordered by the World Health Organization (WHO) is called Women's Health in Prisons: Correcting Gender Inequity in Prison Health, and included prisons from Europe and the United States. WHO examines in great detail the situation in these facilities in terms of human rights standards, inmate relations, inmate parents-children relations, health care and services, mental health, pregnancy, sexual abuse, violence and other aspects and gives recommendations for improvements, related to the findings.

Some of the recommendations state that pre-trial and detention should take place only in case that offenders pose a risk to society. In cases of pregnant women, it should only be used as a last resort and that a strictly individualized approach to each inmate should be followed in monitoring, health care and treatment. Pre-release plans should be made to ensure access to care after the release. WHO issued a declaration, known as the Kyiv Declaration on Women's Health in Prison in 2009, undertaking its implementation in all female prison facilities in Europe over the following three years.

Another study, published by IWCJ under the title Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community-Based Alternatives examined only U.S. women's prisons. According to the study, about 6 percent of female prisoners were pregnant at the time of admittance and 60 to 70 percent have been the primary carer for at least one child before their incarceration and will remain so after their release. Figures show that although the rise in number of female inmates is a national phenomenon, only the states of California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia have prison nursery programs, which experts believe to be beneficial for mothers and children alike.

Women who participate in these programs generally show a lower rate of recidivism and their children seem to be unaffected by their mothers' incarceration. Moreover, these programs avoid foster family placement of the children. The majority of incarcerated women serve short sentences and have been convicted in non-violent crimes, so chances are they continue taking care of their children after they have been released. The crimes that most inmates have committed are provoked by drug addiction, poverty or poor education — issues that IWCJ believes are more successfully dealt with in communities, not in prisons.

Similar to the WHO recommendations, the IWCJ also states in its report on the study that mothering and pregnant offenders should be placed in non-incarcerative, community-based institutions when possible. In order to facilitate social integration upon release, women should also attend educational and vocational programs while they are serving their sentences.

Women in Prison: Selected full-text books and articles

Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States By Rickie Solinger; Martha L. Raimon; Tina Reynolds; Ruby C. Tapia; Paula C. Johnson University of California Press, 2010
Women Who Offend By Gill McIvor Jessica Kingsley, 2004
Inner Lives: Voices of African American Women in Prison By Paula C. Johnson New York University Press, 2003
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Living in Prison: A History of the Correctional System with an Insider's View By Stephen Stanko; Wayne Gillespie; Gordon A. Crews Greenwood Press, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Women and Prison"
Female Initial Psychological Adjustment to Prison as Related to Ethnicity and Other Relevant Characteristics By Clay, William, III The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring 2009
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Factors Associated with Drug and Alcohol Dependency among Women in Prison By Johnson, Holly Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 318, June 2006
Health Issues among Incarcerated Women By Ronald L. Braithwaite; Kimberly Jacob Arriola; Cassandra Newkirk Rutgers University Press, 2006
Children's Family Environments and Intellectual Outcomes during Maternal Incarceration By Poehlmann, Julie Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 67, No. 5, December 2005
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Incarcerated Mothers and Fathers: A Comparison of Risks for Children and Families By Dallaire, Danielle H Family Relations, Vol. 56, No. 5, December 2007
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Increase in Incarcerations among Women and Its Impact on the Grandmother Caregiver: Some Racial Considerations By Ruiz, Dorothy S Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, Vol. 29, No. 3, September 2002
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