Incarceration of women in the United States

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This article discusses the incarceration of women in prisons within the United States.

According to a study reported in Sept. 2014 by the International Center for Prison Studies, nearly a third of all female prisoners worldwide are incarcerated in the United States.[1][2] The study also said there are more than 201,000 women prisoners in the US, or about 8.8 percent of the total American prison population, and that the US female prison population appears to be growing.[1][2]

History[edit]

Women prisoners at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman) post office in Sunflower County, Mississippi, c. 1930

In the United States, authorities began housing women in correctional facilities separate from men in the 1870s.[3] The first American female correctional facility with dedicated buildings and staff was the Mount Pleasant Female Prison in Ossining, New York; the facility had some operational dependence on nearby Sing Sing, a men's prison.[4]

As of 2007, in most of the Western world, the guards on female prisons are exclusively female.[5] Until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act, this was true in the United States.[6] Men usually worked in perimeter posts, such as gate posts, rather than having direct contact with female prisoners. Male employees previously had restricted positions. Both acts integrated the workforce, and after the acts passed male employees gained increasingly direct contact with female prisoners.[7] As of 2007, about 40% of prison guards in American women's prisons are men. In some facilities, most of the prison guards are men: Silja Talvi, author of Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, argued that in theory gender equality makes sense in all occupations, but in practice having male guards watch over female prisoners is problematic.[7]

Female prisoners at Parchman sewing, c. 1930

At the end of 2001, in the United States 93,031 women were incarcerated in federal and state prisons, making up 6.6% of the total incarcerated population. In 2010, Over 200,000 women are behind bars, most of them women of color. Hispanic women are incarcerated nearly twice the rate of white women, and black women are incarcerated at four times the rate of white women.[8] Within the US, the rate of female incarceration increased fivefold in a two decade span ending in 2001; the increase occurred because of increased prosecutions and convictions of offenses related to recreational drugs, increases in the severity of offenses, and a lack of community sanctions and treatment for women who violate drug laws.[9] Tough-on-crime legislation and legislation associated with the war on drugs have been connected to the increasing rate of the incarceration of women of color from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This rapid boom of female prisoners is something the primarily male-dominated prison system was not structurally prepared for and, as a result, female prisons often lack the resources to accommodate the specific social, mental, healthcare needs of these women.[10]

Differences between incarcerated women and men[edit]

Research has shown that women’s experiences in prison differ from those of men due to the fact that it is their relationship both inside and outside of prison that shape the culture in women’s prisons.[11] Although men make up the majority of prisoners in the United States the annual growth rate for women in 2004 was 7.5% compared to that of 5.7% for men.[12] Studies show that the way in which men and women cope while imprisoned differs in that women tend to form family structures in an effort to recreate the roles they would normally follow in society; however, men tend to isolate themselves from others and tend to be more aggressive towards the other inmates.[13][14] Child care is also another issue that women must worry about when they are incarcerated. According to Mumola, 64% of women were primary guardians for their children prior to being incarcerated compared to men at only 44%. (Mumola) It is likely that men like women experienced traumatic events in their childhood, but research has shown that women experience a higher rate of trauma.[12]

Because many states have only one female facility, in comparison to having numerous men’s facilities, women are forced to stay in that one specific facility.[15] Women do not have the option of transferring to another facility like men do and they “experience additional deprivations” as they do not have the option to transfer in cases of problematic issues with other inmates or work staff or in cases of desiring to be closer to home.[15] Women have fewer visits from their children, which is influenced by the fact that women facilities are limited and located mostly in rural areas far from women’s hometowns[15] When men are in prison, their female partners may take the kids to visit him.[15] However, due to the statistics on the many of women prisoners being the primary caregivers of children, usually another female family member will take care of her children.[15]

Those who take care of the children with an incarcerated mother where the mother is the primary caregiver, the financial costs of raising that incarcerated mother’s children limits the amount of resources people send to the mother in prison.[15] Raising a child, specifically in this instance, someone else’s child, is costly.[15] As stated in the source “Surviving incarceration: Two prison-based peer programs build communities of support for female offenders,” mothers in prison generally “worry about the welfare of their children, if their children are properly cared for, and if they will be able to maintain long-lasting bonds with their children in lieu of these barriers.”[15]

Death row[edit]

The number of women on death row is significantly less than the number of men with women consisting of just 2% of the current death row population in the United States as of 2013.[16] Almost all the women on death row in the past two centuries committed a murder. The only exception is Ethel Rosenberg who was sentenced to death for espionage. Women on death row have a relatively low chance of actually being executed: there have only been 571 documented executions from 1632 to 2012.[17] Currently, about half of the women on death row are in the top five states for death row sentencing (California, Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Ohio). Although California is the top state for sentencing to death row, no woman has been executed since 1962.[17]

Mental health issues[edit]

Although both men and women suffer from mental issues at approximately the same rate, they don’t experience the same diseases. Typically women suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, whereas men are more likely to have issues regarding substance abuse and antisocial personalities.[18] Compared to men women are significantly more likely to seek professional help for their psychiatric problems, however only one-fourth of them follow through and receive treatment. Currently, there is scarce research on female psychological development and psychological health, as well as the effects of the diagnosis and treatment. This makes it difficult to treat women due to issues such as appropriate doses of drugs. In addition many women have multiple illnesses at once, such as substance abuse, trauma, and mental health issues, making it difficult to diagnosis mental health issues alone. Treatment programs seek to provide women with community services that will help them with food, clothing, health care, and educational needs.[18]

Psychological trauma[edit]

The mental stress women go through in prison has a toll on them after they are released.[19] The way they cope with life is different than a woman who has never set foot on a jail cell.[19] Johnson, Kristine A., and Shannon M. Lynch (Journal of Family Violence) discuss the mental traumas women have before they have been incarcerated (state prisons) and the possible causes for their incarceration.[19] On their article the rate women are being detained as the years pass is evaluated through a series of interviews and assessments.[19] Most prisoners suffer from CSA (childhood of sexual abuse).[19] The percentage at which women are being imprisoned is just as high as the amount women suffering from this trauma.[19] Lynch and the others suggest that there might be a link between the number of women being incarcerated and their trauma.[19] In 1999, the Bureau of Justice Affairs suggested that 44% of the women suffered from sexual abuse, 10% under 18.[19] In 2005, 100 females were interviewed, 90% of them suffered from IPV (Interpersonal Violence) which can be partner violence, sexual assault, or CSA.[19] Theses statistics are around the same range or higher as the year’s progress.[19]

Female offenders have a higher rate of IPV than men and women from a general public.[19] According to Lynch and her colleagues, the likelihood of a woman suffering from their traumas depends solely on the length they carry the memory and self-blame.[19] This article suggests that the cognitive distortion these women have is self-blame of their incidents.[19]

Substance abuse[edit]

According to the December 1999 publication Women Offenders of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1998 40% of women incarcerated in U.S. state prison systems reported that they used drugs while committing the crimes that they were convicted of, while 32% of men in U.S. state prisons used drugs at the times of committing their offenses. Of the women in U.S. state prisons in 1998, according to the publication, one third of them committed their crimes in order to obtain funds for buying drugs.[20] The 2004 publication Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoner of the Bureau of Justice Statistics stated that 60% of women in U.S. state prison systems had histories of dependence on drugs. The 1997 publication Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoner, 1997 that 1/5 of female state prisoners with histories of substance abuses and 1/8 of female federal prisoners with histories of substance abuse receive treatment for addiction.[20]

Sexual abuse[edit]

Specific female concerns include the threat of sexual vulnerability and victimization. Research documents numerous cases in which women are at a significantly higher risk than men for being sexually abused before and during prison. Sexual aggression and abuse by male prison staff is widespread. “In 2008 [according to recent Bureau of Justice Statistics], more than 216,600 people were sexually abused in prisons and jails…overall, that’s almost six hundred people a day- twenty-five an hour”.[21] The majority of women incarcerated experience abuse before prison and while incarcerated and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. A study published in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease found that in Correctional Institution for Women in Rhode Island 48.2% of the inmates met criteria for current PTSD and 20.0% for lifetime PTSD. The study noted that oftentimes female inmates suffered a history of sexual abuse or physical abuse in their childhood.[22] Sexual offenses against women prisoners can include rape, assault, and groping during pat frisks. Female correctional officials often violate women prisoners’ privacy by watching them undress, shower, and go to the bathroom. Research suggests that, “women with histories of abuse are more likely to accept sexual misconduct from prison staff because they are already conditioned to respond to coercion and threats by acquiescing to protect themselves from further violence”.[23] “In federal women’s correction facilities, 70% of guards are female,”[24] reinforcing female inmates’ powerlessness.

There have been numerous legal cases challenging these abusive conditions of confinement. In 2003, President Bush signed the “Prison Rape Elimination Act into law, legally addressing prisoner rape; calling for a study of prison rape and developing guidelines for states on how to address the problem.”[25] However, its primary focus was on prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in male prisons, and it failed to mention the sexual abuse in female facilities. In 2005, “the Office of the Inspector General and the DOJ released a report documenting widespread sexual abuse by prison employees nationwide, noting that only 37% had faced some kind of legal action. Of those, ¾ walked away with no more than probation. It took all of this evidence for the BOP to finally criminalize sexual contact as a felony in 2006, so that guards can actually face up to five years in prison”.[26] However, “when authorities confirmed that corrections staff had sexually abused inmates in their care, only 42% of those officers had their cases referred to prosecution; only 23% were arrested, and only 3% charged, indicted, or convicted. Fifteen per cent were actually allowed to keep their jobs”.[21]

Despite such legislative progress, women are fully dependent on the guards for basic necessities and privileges, and in many states, guards have access to inmates’ personal history files which can empower them to threaten prisoners’ children if the women retaliate.[27] Female inmates who retaliate also face the loss of good time for early parole in addition to prolonged periods of disciplinary segregation, and detrimental write-ups, which further deters acts of resistance.[21] The fear incited by such threats as well as the concern that no one will believe them or that no one really cares can successfully silence women. Experience of sexual abuse in prison can greatly impede women’s capacity to reintegrate into society upon release.

Healthcare[edit]

Incarcerated women suffer disproportionately from HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases within prisons, reproductive issues, and chronic diseases.[10] Most inmates are women of color from low socioeconomic backgrounds and therefore suffer from both chronic diseases that are common in minorities (such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension) and health problems that may result from living in poverty (such as malnutrition, etc.).

The structure and system of the US prison system does not adequately accommodate for these healthcare needs. Since women are not given the proper health care once inside prisons their health tends to keep deteriorating as time progresses without the inmates being able to do much about it.[28] Policies regarding health treatment at prison institutions often limit the availability of care. For example, at many institutions women must wait in lines in strenuous conditions until designated times for most medical treatments and medications. Medical treatment oftentimes needs to be requested and approved by correctional officers with little or no medical training.[10] Due to the geographic isolation of prisons and the comparatively low wages offered, there is a lack of qualified and experienced healthcare professionals willing to work in prison which reduces the quality of care offered.Overcrowding and poor environmental facilities exacerbate the problem. Studies show that “women’s [prison] facilities are typically even more substandard and stressful from an environmental point of view than men’s facilities”. Other barriers include the lack of research being conducted specific to the needs of incarcerated women, the cultural and language barriers that women face when trying to communicate their health issues.[10]

There are two main reasons which may account for the incompetent provisions regarding the health of women imprisoned in the prison-industrial complex, which are the view of women's prisons being a profiting industry and the change from a welfare state to a crime control state.[28] The view of prisons as a profiting industry for private companies is one of the main causes explaining why the health care system of women in prisons is not fully adequate.[28] Women must choose between their freedom and their health since bodies in the prison-industrial complex are seen as slave labor this way extra staff would not have to be paid for, and if they refuse to do work it is seen as bad behavior.[28] Women prisoners are the ones who complete the tasks necessary to keep the prisons operating so many are forced to keep working on tasks even if their health is not in good shape.[28] For example, in California women who are categorized as disabled outside of prison are forced to work once inside prison since their disabled status is rejected.[28] Many of the basic tools to keep good hygiene such as toothbrushes, shampoo, or soap are not given for free to women anymore but are sold in the commissaries by companies who paid the government the most amount to win over the contracts.[28] Many women are unable to afford these products at such inflated prices causing there to be poor conditions inside prisons, which can be harmful to those who are seriously ill, such as those who have HIV.[28] They are unable to avoid simple infections that can be avoided with good hygiene which ends up having detrimental effects upon them.[28] Also, prisons try not to waste so much money on the prisoners which has caused many prisons such as those in California to provide unhealthy meals for the prisoners.[28] Meals that have high levels of fat, sugar, and salts have negative effects upon the health of women.[28] Those with illnesses such as diabetes have to forgo a meal since the meals would cause them to worsen.[28] Fresh fruit or vegetables are rarely provided or when provided are in small proportions which ends up hurting the health of many since they do not get a well-balanced meal.[28] Another reason which may account for the poor health conditions of women in prisons is the notion of the switch from a welfare state to a crime control state.[28] Many women are neglected proper treatment; when they have complaints they are not taken seriously.[28] When women are diagnosed with something they sometimes are not informed, which allows prisons to not have to provide medical attention to them, and sometimes when women do have surgical procedures they won’t even be informed of what was performed or the reason why.[28] This causes them to not have knowledge about their own health or the treatment options available to them.[28] Those women who have addictions are sometimes not given drugs to help them in painful situations such is the case of Trina Brown, a prisoner in Central California's Women's Facility.[28] She was neglected pain relievers even when she was in excruciating pain on the basis that she just wanted the medication to feed her former addiction.[28] The healthcare provided, or lack of it, to incarcerated women can even be seen as a punishment for these women creating a punitive nature in the healthcare system of these prisons.[28] Since the prisons do not have to respond to the treatment of these women they save money which maximizes their profits.[28] The maximizing of profits in the prison industrial complex ends up have grave consequences upon the health of many women incarcerated in prisons as well as the change of a welfare state to a crime control state.[28] These medical abuses in the end prohibit women to have control over their own bodies and allows the state to have full control over them.[28]

Reproductive health[edit]

In 1994 the National Institute of Corrections said that American prison systems did not adequately provide gynecological services. During that year half of the state prison systems surveyed by the institute provided female-specific health care services, including mammograms and pap smears. Amnesty International said that, in the systems offering those services, many women encountered long waiting lists.[29] The results of study conducted in a Rhode Island prison indicated high levels of reproductive health risks (STDs, unplanned pregnancies, etc.), from which researchers concluded that providing reproductive health services to incarcerated women would be beneficial to the women, the community, and the criminal justice system.[30]

Within the American prison system, HIV became more prevalent among women than among men. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, from 1991 to 1998 the number of women prisoners with HIV increased by 69%, while the equivalent figure among male prisoners decreased by 22% during the same time period. The New York State Department of Health stated in 1999 that women entering New York state prisons had twice as high of an HIV rate as men entering New York state prisons. At the end of the year 2000 women in U.S. state prison systems had a 60% higher likelihood of carrying HIV than men in American state prison systems.[23] According to HIV in Prison by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2004 2.4% (1 in 42) of women in American prisons had HIV, while 1.7% (1 in 59) of men had HIV.[20]

Pregnancy and prenatal care in U.S. prisons[edit]

Pregnancy among inmates is a unique challenge. According to a 2008 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on female prisoners, 4% of state and 3% of federal inmates said they were pregnant at the time they began their incarceration.[31] However, it is difficult to accurately assess the recurrence due to a lack of reporting requirements and irregular pregnancy testing at admission.[32] The needs of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth often conflict with the demands of the prison system.

In the United States, the prison system was designed to accommodate male inmates.[32][33] The rising rate of female incarceration poses challenges on a variety of levels, including health care.[32] It is estimated that 9% of women in prisons give birth while completing their sentence.[34] In spite of a Supreme Court ruling Estelle v. Gamble, 1976, which declared entitlement to basic health care for all people who are incarcerated, provision of adequate prenatal care in U.S. prisons has been inconsistent at best.[35]

Prenatal care[edit]

Women who are in jail or prison often have very high-risk pregnancies due to a higher prevalence of risk factors, which can negatively influence both pregnancy and delivery. Among these are the mother’s own medical history and exposure to sexually transmitted infections, her level of education, mental health, substance use/abuse patterns, poor nutrition, inadequate prenatal care, socioeconomic status, and environmental factors, such as violence and toxins.[36]

Prenatal care in prisons is erratic.[32][36] The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, the American Public Health Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Bar Association have all outlined minimal standards for pregnancy-related health care in correctional settings, and 34 states have established policies for provision of adequate prenatal care.[32][37] However, the services can vary widely,[32] and there is not a reliable reporting measure to ensure services are delivered.

Prenatal care for incarcerated women is a shared responsibility between medical staff in the prison and community providers, but specific delineation of care is determined locally, depending on available resources and expertise.[32] Women must often be transported for prenatal care and delivery, which can cause stress for the mother. In addition, some states continue to use shackles for security during transportation, labor, delivery, and postpartum care. The use of shackles is highly controversial, reported as both dangerous and inhumane.

Shackles[edit]

Shackles are typically used for inmates, who demonstrate risk of elopement, harm to self, or harm to others. Historically, they have also been used with women attending prenatal care appointments, as well as during labor and delivery. When used during transit, the use of shackles on the ankles and wrists puts a mother at risk of falling, in which case she would be unable to reach out to soften the fall. In turn, this could put both the mother and the fetus at risk of injury. Shackles can also interfere with labor and delivery, prohibiting positions and range of motion for the mother, doctors, and nurses.[38][39] Following delivery, shackles interfere with a mother’s ability to hold and nurse her infant child. In addition, women feel ashamed and discriminated against when they are shackled in a community hospital.[38] Eighteen states in the U.S. currently have laws either prohibiting or restricting shackling pregnant prisoners, and only ten states prohibit use of shackles by law.[38] As a result, it is still common practice in some places.

Care after childbirth[edit]

The structure of U.S. justice systems makes development of maternal attachment nearly impossible. After the births of their child, many women are returned to the jail or prison, and their infant immediately enters foster or kinship care.[40][41] However, within many state policies, relatives are given less financial support, which can leave foster care to be more viable than kinship placement.[42] “For 50% of all incarcerated mothers, this separation becomes a lifelong sentence of permanent separation between mothers and their children”.[43]

Some prisons have nurseries for the mother and child. Women are only eligible to participate in a prison nursery if they are convicted of non-violent crimes and do not have a history of child abuse or neglect. Prison nurseries vary widely, but they provide an opportunity to breastfeed during a sensitive stage in development. They also provide time for a maternal attachment to be formed. Rates of recidivism are less for women who participated in prison nursery programs.[44]

An improvement from the alternative, prison nurseries still leave many gaps in care. “Reports from mothers with children in prison nurseries indicate that their babies’ close proximity allows prison staff to coerce and manipulate a mother by threatening to deny her access to her baby”.[45] Some advocacy groups argue for alternative sentencing, such as family-based treatment centers, where mothers convicted of non-violent crimes can learn parenting skills while receiving services and support to foster positive child development and build a foundation to re-enter society following her term with decreased risk for future incarceration.[46]

Abortion[edit]

Even though incarceration does implicate the loss of freedom, in some cases is also implicates the loss of choice over abortion or the choice over sterilization.[47] In some cases women have to undergo forced sterilization since they are not asked, which then prohibits them from having children later on in life.[47] Other women in prison are sometimes not even given the choice to have an abortion even when they want one.[47] Even though there are women who can afford to pay for their own abortion they still may not be allowed to undergo it because of being under incarceration.[47] There are some cases where abortions may be allowed but some women may not be able to afford it and the state will not pay for their abortions.[47] These situations force many women to have children even when they do not want the baby as they will end up having to give it up or having relatives take care of the baby since they will still be in prison.[47]

Prison policies[edit]

Provide Access to Abortions Funds Therapeutic or Medically Necessary Abortions Funds Abortions Only to Save Life Abortion Counseling Policy Only States with no Official Written Policy
California District of Columbia Alabama Idaho Alabama
Connecticut Massachusetts Arkansas Ohio Alaska
Georgia Minnesota Colorado Florida
Hawaii Nevada Delaware Indiana
New Jersey New Mexico Florida Kentucky
New York Tennessee Illinois Michigan
Oregon West Virginia Iowa Mississippi
Vermont Kentucky Missouri
Washington Michigan Montana
Mississippi Nebraska
Missouri New Hampshire
Nebraska North Carolina
New Hampshire North Dakota
Oklahoma Pennsylvania
Rhode Island South Dakota
South Carolina Wyoming
Texas
Utah
Wisconsin

[47]

State restrictions[edit]

Bans on Medical Funding Bans on Public Facilities Mandatory Waiting Periods In person Counseling Requirements
Alabama Arizona Alabama Indiana
Arkansas Iowa Arkansas Louisiana
Colorado Kansas Idaho Mississippi
Delaware Kentucky Indiana Utah
District of Columbia Louisiana Kansas Wisconsin
Florida Missouri Kentucky
Georgia North Dakota Louisiana
Idaho Pennsylvania Michigan
Indiana Minnesota
Iowa Mississippi
Kansas Nebraska
Kentucky North Dakota
Louisiana Ohio
Maryland Pennsylvania
Maine South Dakota
Michigan Utah
Mississippi Virginia
Missouri West Virginia
Nebraska Wisconsin
Nevada
New Hampshire
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

[47]

Effects on motherhood and family structure[edit]

Christina Crain Unit, a state prison for women in Gatesville, Texas
Mountain View Unit, a state prison for women in Gatesville

One major effect of prison includes the assault on relationships between prisoners and their children. 2.4 million American children have a parent behind bars today. Seven million, or 1 in 10 children, have a parent under criminal justice supervision—in jail or prison, on probation, or on parole.[48] Many of the women incarcerated are single mothers who are subsequently characterized as inadequate, incompetent, and unable to provide for their children during and after imprisonment. At the same time, “separation from and concern about the well-being of their children are among the most damaging aspects of prison for women, and the problem is exacerbated by a lack of contact”.[49] According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “54% of mothers in state prisons as of 2000 had had no personal visits with their children since their admission”.[50] Obstacles that inhibit contact between mothers and their children include geographical distance, lack of transportation, lack of privacy, inability to cover travel expenses and the inappropriate environments of correctional facilities. Mothers in prison are unable to fulfill the role of mother. Incarcerated mothers are restricted in their decision-making power and their ability to create a sense of home and family within the institution is limited.[51] Most children experience multiple risks across contextual levels for there is great importance in family environments. Children of incarcerated mothers are consistent with their high risk status and their intellectual outcomes are compromised.[52] Statistics indicate “that a majority of parents in state and federal prisons are held over 100 miles from their prior residence; in federal prison 43% of parents are held 500 miles away from their last home, and over half of female prisoners have never had a visit from their children and very few mothers speak with their children by phone while incarcerated”.[20]

Recent legislation has further impeded incarcerated parents’, mothers in particular, ability to sustain custody of their children. The Adoption and Safe Families Act, enacted in 1997, “authorizes the termination of parental rights once a child has been in foster care for 15 or more months of a 22-month period. Incarcerated women serve an average of 18 months in prison. Therefore, the average female prisoner whose children are placed in foster care could lose the right to reunite with her children upon release”.[53] These stipulations expedite the termination of parental rights due to the narrow time frame. A 2003 study found that, “termination proceedings involving incarcerated parents increased from approximately 260 in 1997, the year of ASFA’s enactment, to 909 in 2002”.[54]

By examining post-incarcerated mothers, it is statistically and clinically proven that there is a positive effect of a healthy mother-child relationship and depression symptoms. There is also a positive effect of healthy peer and partner relationships on raising self-esteem for mothers who were previously incarcerated. This suggests that healthy relationships are essential to recovery from trauma and emotional well-being.[55]

In general, unlike male inmates’ whose children might remain in the custody of their wives, girlfriends, and mothers, women prisoners experience a high chance of losing their children to the State. According to a 2000 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, "1/3 of incarcerated mothers lived alone with their children and over 2/3 of women prisoners have children under the age of 18; among them only 28% said that their children were living with the father while 90% of male prisoners with minor children said their children were living with their mothers."[54]

The incarceration of parents affect family structures.[56] Mothers in prison were more likely to report that they were the primary caregivers of their children.[56] The mothers in prison reported that their children were left in the care of the child’s grandmothers (42%) or other relatives (23%).[56] In addition, most fathers in prison reportedly noted that their children were in the care of the mother.[56] Thus, as the number of mothers being incarcerated rises, the number of family structures that are being disrupted equally rises.[56] The impact of parent incarceration on their children differs on factors such as the level of involvement that parent had in their children’s lives.[56] However, parents, either present or absent, impact the lives of their children and families altogether.[56]

There are limited employment opportunities after incarceration.[56] Reduced opportunities for parents means reduced opportunities for their children who cannot access those resources denied to their parents, such as food stamps or employment.[56] In addition, for communities where the majority of the population are targets for incarceration and where there are high incarceration rates, those economies are affected.[56] In addition to poor economies, limited employment opportunities, and high incarceration rates in those communities, there is the creation of a “criminogenic environment" which affects the children growing up in those areas.[56]

Women in the US criminal justice system are marginalized by race and class. Single mothers with low income go into the “underground economies” because of their inability to find a job that is stable and provides a good earning.[57] Many mothers end up trapped on drugs, prostitution and theft.[57] In most cases women who are incarcerated who commit acts of violence are for self-defense against abusive partners.[57] The women focus on the community of violence, police brutality and struggle to keep the family intact in the face of arrest and harassment.[57]

Bureau of Justice reported that about 200,000 children under 18 had incarcerated mothers and that 1.5 million children had a parent behind bars.[57] Children face disruption and deleterious where they feel separated from the world such as their friends, school and community.(1) It can bring integration into their new world without their mother.[58] 6.7 percent of African American children have incarcerated parents, a rate that is seven-and-a-half times greater than that of white children. Hispanic children experience parental incarceration at nearly three times the rate that white children do (Glaze and MAruchak 2008)[57] Children feel the mother absences and experience disruption more than the absences of their incarcerated father. “64.2 percent of mothers in prison report they were living with their children before they went to prison,only 46.5 percent of incarcerated fathers did so.” [58] “Men are more likely to rely on their children’s mothers to care for the children during their incarceration than women can on the children father. 88 percent of fathers in prison report that their children are being cared for by their child’s mother while only 37 percent of inmate mothers say their child is being cared for by the child’s father” (PG.4 Disrupted childhoods: Children of women in prison.)[58] Children in most cases stay with relatives such as grandparents and 10 percent in foster care, group homes or social service agencies.[57] The Children often feel stigma for having a parent in prison where they may feel the need to keep it a secret where they are not able to adjust.[58] Most of the time these children are at risk of following their parents footsteps where they might become criminals by learning the behavior such as antisocial and criminal behavior. Caregivers and teachers see the child of inmates fighting more and becoming aggressive leading them to have a higher risk of conviction.[58]

Most prisons do not have public transport, restrictive policies governing visits and phone calls. Prisons have policies such as the removal of infants born to women in prison, speedy termination of child custody for incarcerated women, restrictive welfare policies that make it difficult for families to be reunited, and women repeated periods in custody.[57] Activists are trying to make a change and pass reforms that are going to help children and mothers deal with these consequences that are affecting them. One guideline that would help is a family connections policy framework to support and strengthen the relationship between incarcerated women and their children.[57] If women are able to see their children, it gives them motivation to try to get their lives back on track.[57]

There is 6.7 percent of African American children whose parents are incarcerated, a rate that is seven and half times greater than that for white children, and Hispanic children experience parental incarceration at nearly three times the rate that white children do.[57] Children feel the mother absences and experience disruption than their father. “Men are more likely to rely on their children mothers to care for the children during their incarceration than women can on the children father. 88 percent of father in prison report that their children are being cared for by their child mother while only 37 percent of inmate mothers say their child is being cared for by the child’s father”.[58] Children in most cases stay with relatives such as grandparents and 10 percent in foster care, group home or social service agency.[57] The Children often feel stigma for having a parent in prison where they may feel the need to keep it a secret where they are not able to adjust.[58] Most of the time these children are in a risk to follow the footsteps of their parents were they might become criminals by learning the behavior. Caregivers and teachers see the child of criminals fighting more and becoming aggressive leading them to have a higher risk of conviction.[58]

Prisons prevent contact between the mothers and their children in many ways. The locations of the prisons might not have a public transport, restrictive policies governing visits and phone calls, the removal of infants born to women in prison, speedy termination of child custody for incarcerated women, restrictive welfare policies that make it difficult for families to be reunited, and women repeated periods in custody.[57] Some activist are trying to make a change and pass reforms that are going to help children and mothers to not deal with this consequences that are effecting them. One guideline that would help is a family connections policy framework to support and strengthen the relationship between incarcerated women and their children.[57] If women are able to see their children, it gives them motivation to try to get their lives back on track.[57]

Demographics of incarcerated parents and their children[edit]

The most common age range for incarcerated parents is from age 25 to 35, followed by age 35 to 44 and age 24 and younger.[56] In mid 2007, 809,800 prisoners in the U.S. prison system were parents to children 18 years of age or younger.[56] Of those 809,800 prisoners, 744,200 fathers were in prison and 65,600 mothers in prison.[56] In comparison to 1991, this data shows the number of women in prison has more than doubled and the number of fathers incarcerated has increased by seventy-seven percent.[56] According to studies by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1,706,600 children had at least one incarcerated parent in 2007.[56]

Children of incarcerated parents[edit]

The most common age range for children with at least one incarcerated parent is from 0–9 years old, followed by children from 10 to 17 years old.[56] In terms of racial demographics of children with incarcerated parents, Latino children are three times more likely to have a parent in prison in comparison to white children.[56] Black children are about eight times more likely to have a parent in prison in comparison to white children.[56] Nearly half of the children with an incarcerated father are Black children.[56] This is data that has been published in scholarly and peer-reviewed articles, but as the article "Children of Color and Parental Incarceration: Implications for Research, Theory, and Practice" states, “these data among racial minorities must be carefully interpreted because higher numbers may be a reflection of larger societal issues (such as relative degree of involvement in crime, disparate law enforcement practices, sentencing parole policies and practices and biased decision making... rather than a problem among certain groups."[56]

Barriers to reentry[edit]

Of women in U.S. state prisons, 44% do not have a high school diploma or equivalent (GED).[20] As they reenter their communities, former inmates confront sparse job opportunities, limited options for stable and affordable housing, denials of public assistance, as well as the challenge of reestablishing relationships with family and friends.[59] However, relationships, in particular among family, provide an extremely beneficial support system for prisoners returning home upon their release. Difficulties with employment, housing, and ostracism can decrease successful transitions and lead to a cycle in and out of prison.[citation needed]

Some concerns that are faced by policymakers and correction officials about women reentering into the community after prison are motherhood and the struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Scholars have found that women face negative perceptions such as being seen as inadequate and unable to provide a stable, loving home for their children when they are transitioning back from prison into motherhood. This separation of children from their mothers is harmful to both the child and mother and this is the main reason for stress inside of women prisons. For many women getting out of prison, the only aspect of life they consider to be motivating and hopeful is resuming motherhood and connecting with their children again. Without their children, many see no reason to stay away from drugs or prostitution. Women in these circumstances are understood to have a better life if they are offered proper nutritional and medical care so they could lead a more stable lifestyle. [60]

The struggle of addiction whether it be alcohol or drug abuse along with mental health issues are considered the three major factors that influence the success of women’s transition back into the community. Women tend to take out their anger on themselves and in a self-mutilating or abusive way. Mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are seen to be more common among women than men. A study from 1990 found that 19 percent of women who suffer from depression, 31 percent of women who suffer from phobic disorders, and 7 percent of women that suffer from panic disorder also struggled with alcohol abuse. Women who have been released from prison face the struggle against addiction and could end up losing their children because of it. [61]

In order for women to successfully transition back into society, they must begin this preparation process at the beginning of their sentence. Although this is recommended, inmates tend to not have any preparation before being placed back into the community. All of the released women have tasks they must complete in order to reestablish a place in society and in order to stay out of trouble. These are things such as, follow parole regulations, provide health care for themselves and/or their families, become financially stable, obtain employment, and find a safe place to live, all while possibly battling addiction. Without support from the community, women under these circumstances tend to fall back into drugs or criminal activity. [62]

Women prison organizations[edit]

Their traumas follow them to adulthood making them mentally unstable. There are programs that have been established to help women after they are released from prison.[19] The Women’s Mentoring Program (established by VACRO) consists of showing “companionship, advice and emotional support” through mentors, individuals who are devoted in changing the offenders life.[63] Research has shown that women who often remain in this organization after release are those that do not face mental illness, or drug addiction, or homelessness after released.[63]

System organizations that are used to help women’s reentry into the community consist of mental health, alcohol and drug programs, programs to help survivors and sexual violence, family services, food shelters, financial help programs, employment services, child care services, and community service clubs. A continuity-of-care approach is taken when forming these programs for women. This is the providing of treatment, recovery, and support services throughout the entire process of reentry for women.

Programs:

• Helping Women Recover- Program designed for treating substance abuse. This focuses on issues such as self-esteem, parenting, relationships, and spirituality. The program addresses these issues using discussion, activities, and exercises.

• Beyond Trauma: A Healing Journey for Women- This is 11 sessions long and teaches women what trauma is, and how it affects their thoughts and feelings as well as their behavior and relationships. The work is done on coping skills using exercises and videos.

• The Sanctuary Model- This program addresses the issues of mental health, trauma, and substance abuse. This focuses on safety and grieving to build individual empowerment.

• Seeking Safety- Program for women that have substance dependence and also PTSD. This focuses on five key elements: safety, treatment of PTSD and substance abuse, ideals, behavioral and interpersonal therapies, and therapist processes.

• The Addiction and Trauma Recovery Integration Model (ATRIUM) – psycho-educational 12 week long program. This is designed to intervene on levels of the body, mind and spirit.

• The Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM)- psycho-educational group that includes survival empowerment, self-soothing, and problem solving. This last 33 sessions over nine months.


These programs help women to not feel depressed or overwhelmed by the community once they are allowed to reenter them. There are two agencies that help these women as well, more well known as a settlement house.

• Our Place- This is located in Washington D.C. and focuses mainly on family reunification. This helps women reunite with family, and find housing and employment. This program helps women find the help needed whether it be mental help or substance abuse treatment.

• The Refugee Model- The Catholic Church works to assist the parolees and support their transitioning. This helps to make the women feel like someone is looking after them and encouraging them as they work to reenter the community. System organizations that are used to help women’s reentry into the community consist of mental health, alcohol and drug programs, programs to help survivors and sexual violence, family services, food shelters, financial help programs, employment services, child care services, and community service clubs. A continuity-of-care approach is taken when forming these programs for women. This is the providing of treatment, recovery, and support services throughout the entire process of reentry for women. [64]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Additional reading[edit]