Inside Female Prisons Research Paper

Pages: 6 (1921 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

¶ … Female Prisons

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the Office of Justice Programs (U.S. Department of Justice) as of December 2010 there were a total of 1,612,395 men and women incarcerated in federal and state prisons in the United States. Of that total, only a small percentage, 112,822, were female inmates. But what are the conditions under which women are incarcerated, and what are the situations and problems that female inmates deal with and that the system of justice imposes upon women? This paper covers those issues and others relating to women in prison in the United States.

Poor Prison Health Conditions for Women and Pregnant Women Shackled

The "grossly deficient health care and mental health conditions" for women imprisoned in Wisconsin's largest women's prison were challenged in 2009 by a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The state of Wisconsin tried to have the suit thrown out but after reviewing the facts in this litigation, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa denied that request. In his ruling, Judge Randa said "…there is a great deal of evidence demonstrating that there are systemic and gross deficiencies in staffing, facilities and procedures…" at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (ACLU, 2009).

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The plaintiffs in this class action suite asserted that prison officials violated the Eighth Amendment (which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment) when prison staff: a) consistently issued the "wrong medications" and the "wrong dosages of medications" to women inmates; b) caused "shocking delays" in the delivery of doctor-ordered medications; c) continued to administer medications that "should have been discontinued; and d) issued medications that caused "adverse interactions with other medications" (U.S. District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin).

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Meanwhile in May 2012 the a federal court in Illinois has issued preliminarily approval of a $4.1 million settlement to women held in the Cook County Jail in Chicago; these women asserted that they were "shackled while in labor, despite constitutional protections and a state law" against practices like that (ACLU, 2012, p. 1). The ACLU explains that while in 1999, Illinois was the first state to pass legislation prohibiting the policy of putting shackles on women during the labor they go through to give birth to their children, fifteen states have subsequently passed laws against this ugly practice.

The Illinois case involved Shawanna Nelson who was shackled while giving birth to her child in the Cook County Jail in Chicago. Recently in Tennessee a federal court ruled that Juana Villegas, a detainee without proper immigration credentials, was illegally shackled during labor "…and post-partum recovery," the ACLU explains on page 1. By keeping Villegas shackled, the woman's constitutional rights were violated. And because she was denied "…a breast pump when she was returned to jail," that caused a "painful and predictable infection in her breasts"; she was awarded $400,000 for the pain and suffering she went through (ACLU).

A Brief History of Why Women's Imprisonment was Cruel in Alabama

Author Tim Dodge looks into the history of female incarceration in Alabama and provides some background narrative, which in part helps explain why many women in prison today are not receiving the services, or the respect that they are constitutionally entitled to. Dodge reports that when women began first began being arrested and placed in prison for their offenses, they were treated "…in a custodial manner" because they were not believed to be "redeemable" (Dodge, 2008, p. 245). In fact women offenders were seen as "…monstrous beings and not female" because real women were believed to be "…morally superior to men and hence incapable of crime" (Dodge, 245). This is likely true not just in Alabama, but this condescending attitude about female offenders has in the past taken root elsewhere around the U.S.

Dodge goes on to say that the treatment of women in prisons was poor because officials believed that men were candidates for rehabilitation and hence were given jobs that supposedly were based on rehabilitation; women however suffered from "neglect" in prisons (244). Even though the men's "rehabilitation" amounted to "harsh discipline" -- and the male rehabilitation actually amounted to them being exploited by doing work like making license plates and washing laundry -- at least men were given something to do, Dodge explains on page 245. Moreover, men were also offered some educational opportunities while as a general rule women were not offered educational programs.

When the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women opened in Alabama in the 1930s, it was heralded as a humane way to incarcerate women; it was named after Julia Strudwick Tutwiler, an education reformer and social advocate for women's education, and the point of naming the prison after Tutwiler was that women would be treated in a fair and just manner. However, by 1954 a report on the Tutwiler Prison for Women found that women were put to work in a knitting mill sewing garments and raising vegetables on the prison's farm. The chairman of the Alabama Department of Corrections (J.F. Britton) reported that both those little prison industries "were handicapped by insufficient or obsolete equipment" and that the prisoners' clothes "were found in an almost intolerable condition… Most of them extremely ragged, ripped, worn out and/or torn up" (Dodge, 256).

Not only were the women at Tutwiler Prison put to work doing menial tasks while wearing torn and ragged clothing, they were discriminated against based on what opportunities male prisoners were given juxtaposed with what the women were offered. In the Alabama Prison Project Newsletter in January, 1985, the writers reported that among all female prison inmates in Alabama, there were four programs that offered vocational training (cosmetology, flower arranging, sewing and clerical work). But for the men, there were "seventeen" program opportunities for vocational training (Dodge, 258).

In 2008, the Alabama Commission on Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System reported that Tutwiler should be torn down and replaced with "a network of smaller facilities located around the state" (Dodge, 303). Also, the Commission recommended: a) alternatives to incarceration for women; b) "matching discharged inmates with appropriate social services" so they may more easily "reintegrate into society"; c) improved information systems to allow prisoners to be more informed of policies and the world outside; and d) the establishment of "gender-informed' case management programs" (Dodge, 303).

Older Female Prisoners -- Functional Impairment and Adverse Experiences

The number of older inmates in prisons around the country is "…increasing exponentially," according to a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society (Williams, et al., 2006, p. 702). In California there are 7,150 geriatric prisoners and 353 of those inmates are female. Geriatric prisoners are those over the age of 55, Williams explains, adding that these women are said to be "geriatric" because at age 55 women develop "…disability and Comorbid conditions earlier than person in the general U.S. population" (702). By the year 2030, it is estimated that there will be 33,000 geriatric prisoners in California, and an estimated "one-third" of the entire United States population will be geriatric.

Why will there be so many prisoners over 55? That is due to "longer sentences, mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and tighter parole policies," Williams continues (702). The authors of this article conducted research in California prisons where women were incarcerated; the authors used the organization Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) to administer the survey. Some 203 questionnaires were sent, but only 170 of the questionnaires were sent to the right address. Of those 170, a total of 101 were completed and sent back (that is a 59% rate of response). Some of the questions included, "What are your concerns about getting older in prison" and "How do prisoners regard older prisoners?" (Williams, 703). Other questions referenced age, ethnicity, education, length of sentence and whether the sentence was related to "domestic violence" (Williams, 703).

The survey also asked the women if they needed help with "…any five of the activities of daily living" (ADLs) (bathing, toileting, getting dressed, eating or getting in and out of bed). The women were also asked how well they could perform the five "prison activities of daily living" (PADLs). Twelve percent of the respondents were 70 years or older and the average age of the women was 62 years. Forty-six of the women had been in prison more than 15 years; 58% reported "impaired vision" and 52% reported "impaired hearing"; 28% had memory loss and 78% were taking "five or more medications" (Williams, 704).

The results of the survey showed that: a) 16% of the women needed assistance with "…one or more ADLs"; b) 69% reported having great difficulty with "…at least one PADL" (59% couldn't hear orders from staff; 57% had problems dropping to the floor when alarms went off; 35% had problems standing straight for "head count"; 31% had difficulty getting to the dining area for meals; and 14 of the 35 women that had a problem with a PADL were assigned to a top bunk and couldn't climb up very… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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