among Incarcerated Women
One of the two goals of Healthy People 2010 is the elimination of disparities in health among different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. It is clear that if we are to be successful in eliminating disparities in health, we must better understand the needs of incarcerated women. These women represent a group who is highly disenfranchised; marginalized; and ill-prepared to survive, lead healthy lives, and serve as good parents and citizens.
Men tend to be significantly more represented in the incarcerated population than women in our society. However, for more than a decade now, the rate of increase of women among the incarcerated has been much greater than that among men. Women who are incarcerated tend to reflect significant failure on the part of society in that they are most likely to have been victims of physical and sexual abuse as children and to have been in abusive relationships as adults. They have the greatest risk for mental health and substance abuse problems, infectious diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, and of being left out of the health care system in this country.
If incarcerated women reflect the failure of our society to provide a group of our citizens the kind of opportunities and protection that they deserve, then the question becomes whether the experience of incarceration is one that contributes to improving their lives. We want incarceration not only to protect society from offenders, where this is felt to be needed, but to rehabilitate them such that once they leave jail or prison, they are better prepared to function as good citizens, good parents, and generally good people.
The answer to this question is mixed as seen throughout this book dealing with the health needs of incarcerated women. It is certainly true that women in jail or prison are more likely to receive health care and even quality health care for substance abuse, mental health problems, infectious diseases, and chronic