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Prisons: Prisons for Women


Women in prison are typically young, poor, from minority communities, and have experienced significant problems in their life prior to imprisonment. More simply, women in prison have been triply marginalized by race, class, and gender (Bloom).

Throughout history, women have been sent to prison for offenses that differ dramatically from those of male prisoners. While the increasingly harsh treatment of the drug offender leads to the incarceration of thousands of women and men into the contemporary prison, women have been sent to prison in rates far surpassing those of men. Women are usually incarcerated for nonviolent property and drug offenses and are very often serving their first prison term. Women also "do their time" in ways different from men: The "play family" and other personalized relationships structure prison culture for women; racial and ethnic differences are less pronounced; and children remain an important part of women's lives, even while imprisoned.

While scholarship in the 1990s provided more detailed description of women's prisons and those confined to them, significant gaps in our knowledge about women's prisons remain. There is insufficient information about programs and policies that address the gender-specific needs of women in prison (Bloom and Covington) and little criminological theory that explains why women come to prisons (Chesney-Lind). McQuiade and Ehrenreich have also argued that we know virtually nothing about the characteristics of women prisoners across racial and ethnic groupings.

From the beginning, prisons in the United States were designed to punish men, with little consideration for women and their specific needs. Although the numbers of women in U.S. prisons continue to grow, programs and policies responsive to the needs of women prisoners has not kept pace. This lack of policy and research attention only continues the tradition of neglect and inattention that characterizes the history of prisons for women.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPrisons: Prisons for Women - History, The Contemporary Prison, Co-corrections, Prison Subcultures, Population Increases, The Composition Of Women's Prisons