Women in Prison Major Legal Research Paper

Pages: 23 (7415 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 13  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Women are also in a total state of dependency upon their female guards for all of their needs, which can again exacerbate the feelings of victimhood.

A lack of program support

Although most prisons afford vocational training and psychological support for women to enter into the job market as productive citizens, few women prisoners take advantage of such opportunities. The reason, one study suggests, may be inadequate program design, given that most approaches to training focus on males and are the program paradigm is merely transferred to female prisons with the same approach. The employment rate of formerly incarcerated women is similar to the level of their pre-incarceration period, suggesting a failure of appropriate vocational training and social support for women inmates (Lalonde & Cho 2005). Also, as the population of incarcerated women has grown, it has become more and more difficult for prisons to address women's unique vocational needs because of budget cuts. Some criminologists have suggested that programs do not sufficiently prepare uneducated women for careers with bright promotional possibilities like those of men, given that traditional, well-paid manual labor has been viewed as a male sphere although women could benefit from learning about welding, electrical work, or even technical skills.

The difficulties women face in prison are often forgotten because women's prisons are often more attractive than all-male prisons in a superficial fashion. However, this should not be viewed as prejudice in favor of female prisoners. "Despite the less-threatening appearance of women's prisons, the conditions for women prisoners are usually worse than those for male prisoners. For example, women prisoners have more restricted access to legal libraries, medical and dental care, and vocational and educational opportunities. What few possessions they have are often confiscated or destroyed and they are subject to arbitrary body searches at any time" (Zaitzow 2004). Women do have an advantage in the sense that they tend to serve less time than their male counterparts for equivalent offenses. Of "the about 84,000 women who "were confined in prisons in 1998, in 1996 the average sentence and time served for women were shorter than for males with equivalent offenses" (Greenfield & Snell 2000:7). But this reduces pressure upon the system to create women-specific programs to enhance their job marketability after release and can lead to recidivism.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse is a significant problem in the lives of many women prisoners. There is a strong correlation between drug abuse and incarceration amongst female convicts. A study found that of 54 female inmates who identified themselves as ex-addicts, the "majority began using drugs prior to their involvement in crime and most were convicted of drug-related crimes" (Chen 2009). Drug use is higher than alcohol use overall in women than in male prisoners: "Women offenders in State prisons reported higher usage and 40% of women inmates compared to 32% of male inmates had been under the influence of drugs when the crime occurred. By contrast, every measure of alcohol use was higher for male inmates than for female inmates" (Greenfield & Snell 2000:8).

Psychology of criminality

In contrast to the retributive philosophy of justice which dominated the 19th century, the need for understanding the origins of criminality -- both psychological and sociological -- have come to the forefront of the discipline in the 20th century. Child-rearing is a common issue of debate amongst criminologists. A study of one hundred twenty-eight inmates and 337 non-inmates found that authoritarian (strict, discipline-oriented) and permissive (hands-off and noninvolved) parenting were far more characteristic of the upbringings of inmates and non-inmates, versus the loving, firm discipline of a fair but authoritative household.

However, this association could be attributed to correlation as well as causation. It could be that persons from socioeconomically advantaged groups tend to use authoritative methods, versus other methods of child-rearing or that the stressors or poverty (needing to work long hours, food scarcity, unstable living conditions) create such patterns of ineffective parenting, and that 'bad parenting' itself is not the cause, but financial scarcity and an unequal distribution of income in society. "Research also shows that women in prison have experienced unusually high rates of extremely abusive 'discipline' from parents, involvement in drugs, and prostitution, whether they were imprisoned for these crimes or not" (Zaitzow 2004). Personal and social disadvantages, exacerbated by drug abuse are often targeted as the primary motivators for women to engage in criminal activity, much more so than innate aggression or even monetary rewards.

Feminist criminologists have called the system of control in women's prisons a kind of 'pastel fascism' which replicates such systems of oppressive parental control in the name of punishment and reform. "Control-oriented rules and regulations, poor diet, neglectful health care, degradation, lack of vocational training and recreational facilities, exploitation, abuse, and unsanitary conditions typify the conditions in many prisons and jails that house women" (Zaitzow 2004). The very notion of the female prisoner confounds conventional notions of femininity. "Much of the treatment and control of women in prison is premised upon the individualization of the women's problems. The women are typically characterized as having in some way 'failed' in their adult responsibilities" (Zaitzow 2004).

Rehabilitation of female prisoners is often seen as synonymous with re-feminization, including finding a male breadwinner to take care of the woman and her children. Mothers are highly idealized within the culture yet "women under supervision by justice system agencies were mothers of an estimated 1.3 million minor children" (Greenfield & Snell 2000:1). Women may be threatened with having their children taken away or being unable to see their children if they are not compliant: women who give birth in prison tend to have their children removed from them after a year or so (depending on the country and the state) so the child is not punished along with the incarcerated mother (Sudbury 2004).

Women's imprisonment may be viewed as making them 'unfit' even though desperation to support their children may have driven them to illicit activity in the first place such as the case of women who turn to prostitution or Barbara Parsons who was "molested by her grandfather when she was 4, Parsons shot and killed her abusive husband when he revealed that he had molested her granddaughter" and "convicted of manslaughter due to emotional duress" (Lamb 2008). Parsons' psychological distress as a result of her victimization clearly played a role in her actions yet despite her questionable status as a threat to society, she was still given a harsh punishment.

It is often is vulnerability to male advances that is often at the core of female incarceration, given the degree to which women are often forced into crime through the pressures of men who they feel they 'need' to survive, rightly or wrongly. Once again, there is evidence that women are judged more harshly by the system than males: "They are written up for twice as many infractions as men, but usually the infractions are less serious than those committed in men's prisons" (Zaitzow 2004). Although women's prisons often have slightly more amenities than male prisons, women are held to a higher standard of behavior -- simply because they are women and should 'know better.'

Female psychology

It has often been observed that women, in contrast to men, tend to turn their anger against themselves rather than outward at society. This difference between the genders may be due to biology, socialization, or a mixture of different factors. Female prisoners conflate social stereotypes of femininity, given their demonstrated propensity to commit asocial acts in defiance of what it means to be a 'good girl.' Yet, consistent with the female gender as a whole, women prisoners also have notably higher rates of self-directed violence, including suicide, regardless of their crimes. "Existing studies have identified the presence of psychopathology and childhood abuse as important risk factors for suicidal behavior among female inmates. Female inmates demonstrate high rates of mood disorders and substance use disorders (Jordan, Schlenger, Fairbank, & Caddell, 1996), as well as antisocial and borderline personality disorders, all of which are associated with heightened suicide risk (Bostwick & Pankratz, 2000; Holley et al., 1995; Hufford, 2001). Additionally, female inmates report high rates of childhood abuse" (Chapman 2005). Even women who are victimizers, therefore, have often found themselves previously in the role of victim. Unemployment and low socio-economic status increase the likelihood of suicide and are also associated with higher rates of criminal behavior. (Ironically, women are even more likely to be the victims in crimes perpetuated by women: Three out of four victims of violent female offenders were women" (Greenfield & Snell 2000:1).

While correlation does not always imply causality, the linking of such factors calls for a holistic treatment of mental disorders of inmates. Poor coping skills and limited cognitive resources to deal with stress are linked both with violence and suicidal behavior. Programs which offer females alternative methods of dealing with their problems may be fruitful in helping women to pursue more positive life courses. Cognitive or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy [END OF PREVIEW]

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Women in Prison Major Legal.  (2013, September 22).  Retrieved February 17, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/women-prison-major-legal/5617328

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"Women in Prison Major Legal."  Essaytown.com.  September 22, 2013.  Accessed February 17, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/women-prison-major-legal/5617328.