Health Issues among Incarcerated Women

By Ronald L. Braithwaite; Kimberly Jacob Arriola et al. | Go to book overview

1
An Overview of Incarcerated
Women's Health

KIMBERLY JACOB ARRIOLA
RONALD L. BRAITHWAITE
CASSANDRA F. NEWKIRK

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar
Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of
substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids-and I might even be said to
possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to
see me…. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, them-
selves, or figments of their imagination-indeed, everything and anything
except me.

-Ralph Ellison

Although originally written to chronicle the plight of one who was both black and American, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952/1982) also describes the angst that American society feels towards incarcerated populations, particularly incarcerated women. Largely African American, many incarcerated women bear the quadruple burden of their race/ethnicity, class, gender, and status as a criminal offender. That membership in these social groups—African American, woman, poor, criminal offender—confers serious health risk is clear. How group membership is embodied is much less clear. The invisibility of incarcerated women has resulted in little research and policy development that would advance their health status. Thus it is no surprise that in large part, their health is ailing as compared to incarcerated men and women in the general population (Maruschak and Beck 1997).

Incarcerated women face many of the same health concerns that women in the general population face, only with more frequency and greater seriousness of disease, illness, and injury (Maruschak and Beck 1997). The poorer health status of

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