Crime and punishment are gendered concepts. The types of crime in which women and men engage are dissimilar, and their rates of offending vary considerably. Female offenders seem to experience each stage of the criminal justice system differently than do men. During arrest, female offenders are treated chivalrously by male officers (Visher, 1983). Women are dealt with differently in criminal court, and sentencing disparities between the sexes exist. The chivalry hypothesis may also explain some of the differences in sentencing (Johnson & Scheuble, 1991). Women are often handled differently from men by the correctional system, and it is incorrect to assume that the experience of imprisonment is identical for both women and men. Prisons for women are unlike institutions for men, and women adapt to the prison environment differently than do men.
There are several reasons for studying women's prisons separately from men's. Carlen (1994) proposed that, for the past hundred years, female convicts have been housed separately from male inmates throughout North America and Europe. This fact sets the context of imprisonment for women apart from that of men. Moreover, scholars of the early twentieth century did not write about or campaign for women prisoners or their institutions. As a consequence, the gender-specific needs of female prisoners were somewhat neglected by researchers (Carlen, 1994; Rafter, 1983). This chapter begins to rectify that problem, and it should serve as a comparison to the experience of male imprisonment that is described throughout this book. This chapter also addresses female imprisonment as one of the current issues in prison management identified by Rausch (1996).