Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Editorial: Voices from the Wyoming Women's Prison-A Collection of Writings by Incarcerated Women

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Editorial: Voices from the Wyoming Women's Prison-A Collection of Writings by Incarcerated Women

Article excerpt

This special issue features the dynamic results of feminist collaborative work undertaken as part of Wyoming Pathways from Prison (WPfP), a trans-disciplinary and trans-professional statewide collaborative that aspires to support currently and formerly incarcerated people in navigating the waters of higher education and life more generally. WPfP works in close collaboration with the Wyoming Department of Corrections (DOC) and is co-coordinated by Susan Dewey, Alec Muthig, Katy Brock, and Rhett Epler with the primary goals of: offering college credit to incarcerated people at no cost, mentoring University of Wyoming (UW) students in teaching and leadership, engaging in valuable service to the state of Wyoming, and providing UW students with real-world experience through teaching and assistance to the DOC.

This work builds upon and takes place in dialogue with multiple higher education initiatives in jails and prisons across the United States. As Katy Brock observes in her article featured in this special issue, "Benefits of Education in Prison," incarcerated people's access to education can play a potentially transformative role in fostering selfesteem as well as preparation to rejoin communities and enter the workforce upon release. A recent list of higher education programs in U.S. jails and prisons compiled by Victoria Bryan and Rebecca Ginsburg, director of the Education Justice Project at the University of Illinois, identified 152 such programs, which vary in size, scope, and courses offered from those granting college degrees to small-scale projects focused on one or two key areas (Bryan & Ginsburg, 2016). 152 may seem like a large number, but not when considered in light of the fact that these programs provide services to the 6,937,600 adults incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons (U.S. Department of Justice, 2013).

Research with currently and formerly incarcerated women expanded dramatically following the equally dramatic rise in drugrelated convictions among women in the 1980s. Many of these researchers argue that justice system-involved women and girls face a different set of issues than men as a result of their criminal convictions due to dominant cultural expectations that women will be passive, altruistic, and obedient (Belknap, 2007; Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2013; Chesney-Lind & Eliason, 2006). As incarcerated women violate all of these gendered cultural norms, public perceptions of them do not always account for the uniquely gendered forms of violence that can inform women's pathways into and through the criminal justice system (Belknap, 2010).

Across the United States, research indicates that incarcerated women have experienced violent physical, sexual, or emotional forms of violence or other grief-generating events and often struggle with the concomitant mental health consequences of such events long before their incarceration (Batchelor, 2005; Cook, et al. 2005; Leigey & Reed, 2010); in one study, an incarcerated woman succinctly noted, "prison is the safest place I've ever been" (Bradley & Davino, 2002). Once released from prison, women face myriad challenges with respect to employment, housing, and resource access due to the significant stigma that surrounds felony criminal convictions. (Richie, 2012). These challenges are compounded by the reality that the majority of incarcerated women are mothers of young children, that women often earn less money than men, and that women are more likely than men to be victims of intimate partner violence (Parker & Reckdenwald, 2008).

WPfP chose to begin its higher education initiatives in a women's facility precisely because of the special challenges facing incarcerated women. WPfP has been extremely fortunate to enjoy a supportive and collegial relationship with the DOC, particularly its Correctional Education Programs Manager, Betty Abbott. Ms. Abbott worked tirelessly to facilitate a strong collaborative partnership between the DOC and UW, and this special issue would not have been possible without her. …

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