When most people think of a prisoner or an inmate they often

When most people think of a prisoner or an inmate, they often times envision this big, muscular guy, with tattoos and scars all up and down his skin, shackled and in black and white stripes.

This is usually the perception of a prisoner that is portrayed in movies and television shows. It is rarely thought of that the woman standing across the room – short, boney, not a tattoo, piercing, or scar in sight – could also be the one shackled and in the black and white stripes. Yes, she could be another one of the thousands of female inmates locked up behind bars every single year. She, in fact, could have committed the same crime as the big, muscular guy you envisioned to be a prisoner- or even worse… she could have committed a crime more extreme, more serious, and by far worse than that guy many perceive to resemble the prisoner they saw on TV.

For most of our history, when people think of prison and jail, they usually link it to males.

Females are often the “correctional afterthoughts” (Chesney-Lind, 1998). They are an overlooked population within our corrections system, yet, they can actually be as much of a

potential danger or even more of a potential danger than male inmates at times. It is critical that the corrections system, along with the rest of society, take notice to this particular population of inmates, and realize that they need unique attention. The programs that work for males will not necessarily work for females.

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The problems and issues that female inmates deal with are not always the same as male inmates. This research paper will address the topic of female prisoners in the correctional system by examining the history of females in prison, the female prisoner as an inmate, specialized programs for female inmates, and integration of these inmates back into society. Hopefully, after one is finished looking at these areas, it will be realized that this population needs to be approached differently, and they cannot continue to be overlooked.

History of Women in Prison

When examining the research, a person would notice that there really is not much history on the female corrections system. It was not until the past recent decades that the number of female inmates started to increase substantially, enough to get the attention not only of the corrections system but also the attention of researchers. To get an understanding of the history of females in the United States corrections system, researchers turned to documentation and history of female offenders in England.

During the late nineteenth century, there were two prime systems of imprisonment in England: local prisons and the convicted prison system (Turner & Johnston, 2015). The local prisons “held prisoners sentenced to periods of up to two years” and the convicted prison system “held those sentenced to penal servitude for which the minimum term was between three and five years” (Turner & Johnston, 2015). The severity of the offense generally determined where

the prisoner was sent and how long their sentence was. At the time, convicted prisons existed for both men and women (Turner & Johnston, 2015). During this time, even though convicted prisons for women existed, women were by far still the minority of offenders prosecuted (Turner & Johnston, 2015).

According to Turner & Johnston, “There were concerns about women committing offenses like poisoning, baby farming, and infanticide” (2015). However, during this time (the nineteenth century), women generally were found to be guilty of less serious offenses (Turner & Johnston, 2015). The behavior of women was looked at as ‘deviant’ if it fell against the “Victorian construction of femininity and womanhood” (Turner & Johnston, 2015). Turner and Johnston stated, “Women were wives and mothers, they were to be pure, submissive, and modest, caring for their families and children and managing the home. Women who broke the law were judged against these values as well as against the law” (2015).

Back in the United States, over time, the population of female offenders began to grow.

More and more women began being placed in correctional facilities. However, “By the mid-70’s, only about half of the states and territories had separate prisons for women, and many jurisdictions housed women inmates in male facilities or in women’s facilities in other states” (Chesney-Lind, 1998). Nearly a decade later, something obviously dramatic happened, because the number of women in U.S. prisons jumped. According to Chesney-Lind,”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″ (1998).

Women constituted seven percent of the population in adult jails in the mid-80′ s (Chesney-Lind, 1998). Today, they constitute over 13 percent of the jail population (Allen, Latessa, & Ponder, 2016). Numerous things have contributed to the growth in female inmate

populations; including the War on Drugs, the increase in opportunity to commit crime, and more severe sentencing by judges (Allen, et. al., 2016). A lot has changed between the nineteenth century and today concerning female inmates.

Female Prisoners

” Women are entering the criminal justice system at higher rates and younger ages than ever before” (Gunter, 2006). For that reason, it is becoming easier to see what particular crimes are being committed at higher rates/lower rates for female offenders. It is also becoming easier to see the proportions of individuals of particular races, ages, and various statuses entering the system. According to Allen, Latessa, & Ponder:

The typical female prisoner is black, non-Hispanic, and age 35 to 39; has never been married; has some high school education; and was not employed at the time of arrest. She has likely been sentenced for a nonviolent crime and is a recidivist. (2016)

Women also tend to come from low-income backgrounds (Gunter, 2006). These characteristics just addressed, describe what one would generally discover if they were to look at the female inmate population.

As stated previously, in history, women were generally found guilty of lesser crimes – generally ‘deviant’ crimes that did not fit the structure of society’s view on women. However, as time has gone on, that has changed. When documented in 2006, nearly half of all women in prison were serving sentences for nonviolent offenses (Chesney-Lind, 2016). Women commit way less violent crimes than men (Allen, Latessa, & Ponder, 2016). Only about twelve percent of female inmates were in jail for violent offenses (Allen, et. al., 2016). Of those women who are

arrested for a violent crime, approximately “85% are charged with assault, more than three­ quarters of those are charged with simple assault and nearly one-quarter with aggravated assault” (Willison, 2016). On a positive note, the rates of homicide committed by females has slowly been decreasing (Willison, 2016). When considering non-violent crimes, females are “arrested three times more frequently for drug offenses than for crimes of violence” (Allen, et. al., 2016). Drug offenses constitute the single largest source of growth in population of female offenders (Gunter, 2006). As briefly stated earlier, the War on Drugs has become a huge part of that source. Drug offenders, according to Allen, et. al., exceed fifty percent of the prison population.

The health of female inmates has become a huge topic when talking about female offenders. Gunter stated, “23.6% of women in state prisons suffer from a mental illness” (2006). The most common diagnoses for these female inmates include substance abuse, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Gunter, 2006). Alcohol abuse is often seen in male prisoners. On the other hand, drug abuse is more commonly seen in women – who use a greater number and variety of substances (Gunter, 2006). Theseforms of mental illnesses and deficiencies can be the result of many things.

As children, two-thirds of incarcerated females ran away from home at some point (Lord, 1995). Incarcerated women, reportedly, are more likely to have had at least one family member that was or currently is incarcerated (Gunter, 2006). “These women often reported growing up in families in which drugs and alcohol were abused. Incarcerated women reported being physically and sexually assaulted more frequently and more chronically than incarcerated men” (Gunter, 2006). These are all contributing factors to the mental health of incarcerated women.

Women tend to serve shorter sentences. They also tend to be housed in smaller units (Gunter, 2006). For these reasons (and probably a few others), “women tend to attempt to

recreate a small number of close relationships, as opposed to men, who tend to form large groups that act together” (Gunter, 2006). In other words, it is more common to see women confiding in each other in prison. They are likely to make friendships and share details of their life compared to male inmates. They have lost their support system, so they build a new one inside the walls of the correctional facility.

Physical health is another concern within the walls of female institutions. The costs of medical care in prisons have risen dramatically with the introduction of the AIDS crisis (Lord, 1995). Studies have shown that “women come into prison with more medical needs than do men” (Lord, 1995). They are sicker and tend to have more recent and serious injuries. Many have little previous health care and know little about their own bodies (Lord, 1995). Women that have been abusing drugs, that have later been incarcerated, have been documented to show increased risks for cardiac failure, seizures, hypertension, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, skin problems, dental problems, digestive disorders, and extreme weight loss (Allen, Latessa & Ponder, 2016). These physical health problems are not surprising when considering the fact that a large number of the women incarcerated are low-income, sometimes single parents or are very young and cannot afford the health care they need.

Pregnancy is one other major health concern when females are incarcerated. According to Allen et. al., “One in four adult females entering prison either were pregnant or had given birth to an infant within the last 12 months” (2016). Inmates that come into the system pregnant need special diets, lighter work assignments, and supportive programs (Allen et. al., 2016). Many prisons have begun to provide family services, such as classes in development and parenting and parental functioning. Specialized programs are needed for these circumstances when pregnant females enter the correctional system.

Specialized Programming

Programming for inmates is a huge part of the process of rehabilitating the individuals and reintegrating them back into society. A lot of programs that are offered for incarcerated males are also programs that are implemented in female institutions as well. GED classes, as well as basic education and even college classes, are common educational programs that one can see in both female and male institutions (Allen, Latessa, & Ponder, 2016). Educational programs are important opportunities to provide for offenders. They offer the chance at an education that could help that offender get back on their feet when they return to society. Through the education gained, it can help that offender get a job and hopefully move them out of the situationthey were in to begin with. Vocational programs are another form of programs that are offered for female inmates, as well as males (Allen, et. al., 2016).

Looking at all the different female correctional facilities across the country, many different programs are available from facility to facility. Sometimes specializing in certain areas that seem to be of need for a particular facility’ s population. Some unique programs that are actually offered for female inmates in the state of Ohio are ‘Mom and Kids Day’ and ‘ Achieving Baby Care Success’ (ABCS) (Allen, et. al., 2016). The program ‘Momand Kids Day’ offers the opportunity for loved ones to spend the day at the institution with the incarcerated female that is part of their family. It allows interaction and bondingtime for women with their family, specifically their children (Allen, et. al., 2016). ‘ ABCS’ is a program that allows “incarcerated pregnant inmates to maintain custody of their infants after they are born” (Allen, et. al., 2016).

Female inmates that are involved in this program get hands-on parenting instruction. It allows the parent to address the problems that resulted in their incarceration, while at the same time

maintaining custody of their child (Allen, et. al., 2016). Many believe that it is critical to have programs for mothers and children when the mothers are in prison (Lord, 1995).

Being that males and females are different, their programing really needs to be directed at their specific needs. A male and female may commit the same crime, be found guilty, and sentenced to the same amount of time incarcerated. However, when they are placed in facilities specific to them- male and female – they will handle the experience differently. And because of that, they have to be treated differently with different programs, treatments, and reintegration strategies.

Integration Back into the Community

For many women, getting off the street- even though one is getting off the street because they are being arrested – is a critical way of getting out of the situation the offender is in; the situation that may be contributing to the problem(s) (Lord, 1995). However, once an inmate has done their time or shown that they are ready to be released from the facility, then it is time to reintegrate themselves back into the community. This is not always the easiest step for most offenders. The correctional system needs to be a part of the support to the offender to help them transition back into society more easily.

Women are more likely than men to be a custodial parent of children under that age of 18 at the time of their arrest. This can lead to a major source of stress for females when behind bars (Gunter, 2006). According to Lord, “The most difficult consequence of imprisonment for women is to endure the pain of separation from their children” (1995). When looking at the rate of women offenders that have been incarceratedand have children under the age of 18 when they

are arrested, the correctional system has to make it important to note that reintegrating the offender back into society is beneficial to the mother and the child. However, leading that offender on the right path is crucial in this circumstance, because if recidivism does occur, it not only takes a toll on the offender, but it takes an even larger toll on the child(s) that has gone through losing their parent twice (or even multiple times)ifthey recidivate.

Many argue that women that are in prison would be able to be better treated in the community (Chesney-Lind, 1998). When reintegrating female offenders back into society, that needs to be kept in mind. The community is a good support system for female offenders. Most female offenders pose little danger to public safety once placed back into society (Allen, Latessa, & Ponder, 2016). Programs such as risk reduction programs “speak to the underlying problems that have led to criminal behavior and incarceration” (Allen, et. al., 2016). Providing offenders that are reintegrating themselves back into the community with the opportunity to stop a problem before it begins are the types of programs that are needed.

Currently there are over 946,000 women on probation and 98,000 on parole (Allen, et. al., 2016). Probation and parole are probably some of the better options when it comes to the reintegration or treatment of an offender. It provides the opportunity of placing these women back with their families, specifically children that need their support; emotionally, physically, and financially. It also provides them with the opportunity to prove themselves as more productive citizens of society. Along with those two reasons, it also cuts costs for the criminal justice system. The money that is saved by not housing these female offenders can then be redirected into the programs helping to treat and rehabilitate them.


The purpose of this paper was to address the topic of female prisoners in the corrections system by examining the history of women in prison, the female prisoner as an inmate, specialized programs for female inmates, and integration of these inmates back into society. In doing just this, the prisoner that was addressed at the very beginning of this paper – the big, muscular one, with tattoos everywhere, the one that is portrayed on television- was made into just that… a television character. Inmates come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and gender. Gender often being the main factor forgotten.

Females were once arrested if they were being ‘deviant’ by not fitting society’s structural view of a woman. They were judged on whether they fit the values of what a woman should be – modest, submissive, and pure (Turner & Johnston, 2015). Today females are arrested not by society’ s values of how a woman should act, rather by how a human should act; such as not murdering others, not stealing, not abusing others, etc. As time has gone on, the female inmate population has dramatically increased. Females are mainly arrested for non-violent crimes, such as drug crimes. Drug offenses constitute the single largest source of growth in population of female offenders (Gunter, 2006). The War on Drugs has been a huge contributor to these offenses.

However, even though females are being held to the same standards as males when it comes to the law, they have to be dealt with in different ways. Mental health rates for women in prison are seemingly high – 23.6% of females in prison suffer mental illness (Gunter, 2006). It is very common to see mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, and substance abuse among women inmates (Gunter, 2006). Treatment plans for women dealing with mental health issues are an important part in the rehabilitation of female prisoners. Female prisoners are more likely

than men to have children under the age of 18 during their time of arrest also (Gunter, 2006). Providing programs that allow bonding time and contact between a female inmate and her children is important especially for the child. Unlike men, women have the chance of being pregnant when entering the correctional system. Programs such as ‘ABCS’ allow pregnant (or those who just delivered a child) to interact with their child on a daily basis and obtain parenting instruction (Allen, Latessa, & Ponder, 2016).

Females present less of a threat to society than males (or it may seem so anyway).

Providing ways for these inmates to be treated and rehabilitated so that they have the opportunity to get back into society, be with their families, and prove themselves as productive members of society is one of the most important tasks the correctional system has to undertake. With the increase of female inmates the corrections system needs to stop overlooking the particular population, and rather address that they have special needs. They cannot be given preferential treatment, when compared to males, but they have to be handled differently. By examining these areas concerning female inmates, it confronts the idea that this unique population of prisoners will be recognized , not forgotten.

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When most people think of a prisoner or an inmate they often. (2019, Nov 26). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/when-most-people-think-of-a-prisoner-or-an-inmate-they-often-best-essay/

When most people think of a prisoner or an inmate they often
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