Improve Treatments of Women Offenders When Sentenced Term Paper

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Treatment of Women Offenders: The Problem

The issue of the treatment of Women offenders when they are sentenced requires knowledge not only of the process which incarceration necessitates but also an in-depth understanding and knowledge of other related factors. These may include psychological and emotional aspects as well as physical and social issues. These issues constitute a complex problem area that has been discussed to varying degrees in numerous studies and reports.

There are many suggestions and ideas as to improving the conditions and situation of women entering correctional facilities. However, this paper will attempt to elucidate and detail the extent of the problematic areas which affect women offenders entering prison. The paper will also ascertain from literature the central focal areas where problems exist and the severity of these specific problems. In terms of methodology, a wide and extensive range of sources were consulted. These include online sources, databases, books, journals and newspaper reports. It was felt that the most comprehensive and timely sources were needed in order to ascertain the contemporary extent of problems experienced by women entering prison.

2. General Issues

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Women entering prison are subjected to numerous pressures and problems. In the course of this study it was found that it is essential to always consider these problems from a holistic point-of-view. In other words, the problems that women experience are interconnected with one another and cannot be artificially separated. For example, the woman who enters prison will often have a family and children and this exacerbates the problems that she might experience within prison. Therefore it was felt that this paper should be especially aware of the interconnectedness of the various problem areas that may impinge on and affect another.

Term Paper on Improve Treatments of Women Offenders When Sentenced Assignment

Statistics concerning female inmates in the Untied States are also indicative of the problem areas that are most prominent. Present statistics indicate that over 1.7 million people are incarcerated in the United States of which two-thirds are held in federal and state prisons and the others in local jails. (RETALIATION AGAINST WOMEN in MICHIGAN STATE PRISONS)

During the 1980's there was a radial change in the female prison population. "In 1980, there were just over 12,000 women in U.S. state and federal prisons. By 1997, that number had increased to almost 80,000. In about a decade and a half, the number of women incarcerated in the nation's prisons had increased sixfold."

Chesney-Lind) a recent study alarmingly states that "if the jail population continues to grow at the current rate, by the year 2053 the U.S. will have more people in jail than out. (Schwartz C.) There are now 150,000 women incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails. (ibid) According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of incarceration among women is growing at a faster pace than that for men. "From 1986 to 1996 the U.S. saw an 888% increase in the number of incarcerated women. Since 1990 the number of female defendants convicted of felonies in state courts has grown at more than two times the rate of increase among males." (Ketcham L)

The fact that there has been such a radical increase and growth in the female prisoner population is an important factor and immediately suggests that there will be an increase in the problems that these women experience. This is particularly the case with regards to issues like health care, which will be discussed below. Statistics also show that "...the vast majority of these women are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, such as drug offenses, property crimes, and prostitution." (ibid) This is another factor which will have a bearing on the following discussion. An important statistic with regard to this paper is that "... half of all female prisoners have experienced some form of sexual and/or physical abuse prior to incarceration." (ibid) This is another fact which produces a wide range of problems for those entering prison. The fact that "more than two-thirds of women in prison have children under the age of eighteen, and among them, 75% (versus 10% for men) are the sole custodial parent," (ibid) is a further indication of where the problem areas for female prisoners might lie.

Those entering prison for the first time are usually the most prone to abuse and problems areas. The group that has been identified as suffering the most from ill treatment when entering prison are young, first time offenders and those with mental disabilities...." (ibid)

Lesbian and transgender prisoners also often suffer disproportionate abuse by other prisoners as well as prison staff.

Literature on the topic reveals a wide range of issues from psychological to physical maltreatment of prisoners. There are also a host of extenuating and exacerbating factors such as married women who leave children outside and pregnant women entering the prison system.

Physical and sexual abuse

There is a large body of research material that refers to the problems of sexual as well as other forms of abuse that new prisoners have to endure. The Human Rights Watch released a report entitled All Too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of Women in U.S. State Prisons, (1996) which documented pervasive sexual harassment and abuse by both guards and other employees in various correctional facilities throughout the United States. This report "exposed the failure of states to respond to women's reports of sexual abuse and harassment." (RETALIATION AGAINST WOMEN in MICHIGAN STATE PRISONS) the report indicates that the problems of sexual abuse for those women entering prison were due to two central factors: namely that "... states failed to conduct impartial investigations of allegations of sexual abuse, and they further failed to protect women who reported these abuses to prison authorities, leaving them vulnerable to retaliation by guards. (ibid)

Since this report was published the Human Rights Watch has "continued to receive reports of sexual abuse of and retaliation against women incarcerated in jails, state prisons, and federal prisons." (ibid)

The report also indicates that there may be cases where prison staff may retaliate against women who protest and seek legal aid and advice to protect themselves. The report states:

We have been particularly disturbed by reports of an apparent campaign by some corrections officers of retaliation against several of the women in Michigan prisons who are active in the ongoing civil litigation against the Department of Corrections alleging widespread sexual abuse by guards and staff. (ibid)

The above is a particularly worrying aspect as it directly impacts on the treatment of women prisoners and their democratic right to seek assistance from abuse. This is an area of concern as it involves the interference of prison staff in the process. The report also illustrates the experience of women entering correctional faculties.

As reported in All Too Familiar, being a woman prisoner in a U.S. state prison can be a terrifying experience. If you are sexually abused by a prison staff person, you cannot escape from your abuser. Grievance or investigatory procedures, where they exist, are often ineffectual, and corrections employees continue to engage in abuse because they believe they will rarely be held accountable, administratively, civilly, or criminally. Few people outside the prison walls know what is going on or care if they do know. Fewer still do anything to address the problem. (ibid)

Another disturbing fact was that "nearly every woman... interviewed reported various sexually aggressive acts by guards." (ibid) the Justice Department investigation that resulted found as well that women in some prisons had been "raped, sexually assaulted, subjected to groping and fondling during pat-frisks, and subjected to improper visual surveillance by guards in violation of the legitimate privacy interests of the women." (ibid)

This report is substantiated by many other reports and studies. For example, "women in prison have experienced far higher rates of physical and sexual abuse than their male counterparts. 43% of women surveyed reported they had been abused at least once before their current admission to prison." (Schwartz C.)

Psychological problems

There are a large percentage of women who enter prison with some form of mental illness, or co-ordination problems, According to Bureau of Justice Statistics (1999c)," nearly 8 in 10 female mentally ill offenders reported prior physical or sexual abuse." (ibid)

This is an important factor as the link between mental illness and sexual abuse can lead to further and even more serious problems. A number of studies also mention that a prison environment is not a suitable place for those with a mental illness. "Prisons are an inappropriate place for persons with mental disabilities because of the primacy of security as the objective of the prison authorities; the stress caused by such an environment and the lack of effective mental health services. (Federal/Provincial/Territorial Review of Services Affecting Canadians with Disabilities.)

There are also other studies which have found that the prison environment exacerbates mental health concerns. The following is a report on Canadian prisons:

With respect to women in particular, SIS, CAEFS and many others who work with women in prisons within Canada and internationally, believe that the prison environment as a whole, particularly the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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