Incarceration of women

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This article discusses the incarceration of women in correctional facilities. According to a study reported in September 2014 by the International Center for Prison Studies,[1][2] as of August 2014, across the world, 625,000 women and children are being held in penal institutions with the female prison population growing on all five continents.[1][2]


Early facilities were considered inhumane with little regard for health and safety. Men and women were housed in a large room where the strong preyed on the weak.[3] As of 2007, in most of the Western world, the guards in female prisons are exclusively female.[4] As of that year there are males who work as guards in women's prisons in the United States.[5] However, some states have laws requiring female officers as well as a female superintendent. While most states have only one or two institutions for women, some facilities are considered "unisex" and house both male and female inmates in separate areas.[6]

As of 1980 to 2015, the incarceration rates of women have seen a dramatic increase.[7] According to scholars who have analyzed these trends, this rise is not due to the rise of crimes committed by women, but rather the changing of the criminal justice system in sentencing the crimes already committed. This change in the criminal justice system is prevalent in the correction of minor offences, such as burglary, which are mostly committed by women.[8]

From the 1980s to 2016, the number of women in correctional facilities in the United States grew by almost eight times what it previously was. Overall, in the United States, the increase of women incarcerated was more than 700%, expanding from 26,378 in 1980 to 215,332 in 2014.[9] The offenses that have caused women to be incarcerated are mostly considered to be minor infractions. The two biggest offences are crimes against property and drug offenses.[10] In their research report, Marc Mauer, Cathy Potler, and Richard Wolf claimed that the War on drugs is a key factor in the increase of women’s prison populations over the recent years (1991-1999).[11]

Before the 1980s, there was a lack of female representation in criminology around the world, making research in this area very difficult. This low level of representation was due to the fact that gender was not a large topic of debate. When studies would come up regarding the subject of criminology, most theories regarding crime were largely male modeled due to the significant portion of crime attributed to males. However, due to the feminist movement in the 1960s, demand for information concerning female incarceration arose. Due to this growing demand that gained speed in the 1980s, research in crimes committed by women has surged.[12]


New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand there are three correctional facilities specially for women. These include: Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility (ARWCF), Arohata Women's Prison, and Christchurch Women's Prison. At these facilities, women are offered various prisoner assistance programs while they are serving their sentences in prison. These consist of baby unit spaces for new mothers, mental and physical disability assistance, feeding and bonding facilities, cultural hobbies, and special food accommodations for dietary restrictions. While many of these activities are permission based and evaluated with a case-by-case approach, these prisons have started offering these options to women who are incarcerated in the recent years.[13]

In New Zealand, the total number of convicted women increased by 111% between 1996 and 2005.[14] In 1963, women made up 7.7% of those convicted in New Zealand’s court system, with most causes of arrest being offenses against property and some offenses being crime against persons and/or assault. Then, in 1972, women’s incarceration rates increased to 11% in lower court systems. Again, with mostly the same two leading convictions.[12] As of 1996, prosecuted females on average had fewer previous convictions than prosecuted males in most first world countries such as New Zealand.[15] The number of women incarcerated in New Zealand peaked in 2010 and has decreased since.[8] As of 2014, the female conviction percentage is up to 23%. Crimes against property make up a higher percentage of the total 23% female conviction ratio, at 33%. According to a 1991 study published by the Department of Justice, Greg Newbold notes that in comparison to women, men were twice as likely to commit a more serious crime.[12]

Although the number of males far outweighs the number of females in the correctional facilities of New Zealand, the rate of increase of women incarcerated is growing at a pace significantly higher than that of males . Overall, the incarceration rate of women has been growing all over the world, not just in New Zealand. The most recent advocated hypothesis regarding why the rise is occurring is that women’s crime rates are not increasing, rather the criminal justice system is changing. This change has led to an increase in attention to minor offences, which women are statistically more likely to commit.[8] Gill McIvor, Professor of Criminology at the University of Stirling, supports this hypothesis with research published in 2010 which confirms that the rise of female incarceration rates in New Zealand is not due to the increasing severity of crimes committed by women. As well as this, McIvor also makes the claim that New Zealand women are overrepresented in less serious types of crimes such as theft and fraud and underrepresented in more serious types of crime such as crimes of violence.[16]

According to statistics from 2014, there has been a slight increase of women prisoners in each of these facilities. Although the Department of Corrections notes that women in New Zealand only make up 7.4% of the total incarceration population, the increases in population are connected to four main crime categories specifically. These include illicit drug offenses, theft and related offenses, fraud and related offenses, and robbery, extortion and related offenses. Three of these four categories saw an increase of 60%, however, the lowest category (illicit drug offenses) saw the smallest increase at 40%.[17]


In general, statistical information in regards to the rate of incarceration for women in China has been found difficult to compare that to other countries around the world. However, some scholars argued in 2003 that approximately one-fifth of the total number of women in the United States would be equivalent to that of the total population of women incarcerated in China.[18]

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, as of August 2014, the Chinese women prison population is the second largest in the world (after the United States) with 84,600 female prisoners in total or 5.1% of the overall Chinese prison population.[1][2]

Within the last decade, the rate of incarceration for women in China has increased by 46%. Women make up only 6% of the total population of individuals in prison within the country. While it is difficult to correctly evaluate the statistic regarding the total number of women incarcerated due to the underreporting of these cases, China is on track to imprison more women than the United States. [19]

Hong Kong[edit]

Circa 2017, according to the World Prisons Brief, women make up about 20.8% of Hong Kong's inmate population. Of any sovereign state or dependency, minus very small countries/microstates, Hong Kong, as of circa 2017, has the highest percentage of women in correctional supervision. In August 2017 the Hong Kong Correctional Services had 1,486 incarcerated women, and it had a total of 1,764 women under correctional supervision if the 279 on remand were included. [20]

Great Britain[edit]

In Great Britain, in 1996 a new policy was passed, and women no longer have to be restrained while giving birth when serving their sentence.[21] The British services for human rights and the United Nations standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners say that no one should be subjected to degrading punishment. Some prisoners refuse to go to child care events or funerals because of the humiliation the restraints show. Women in Britain fought for their right to not be restrained while giving birth to their child, however they must be restrained while being escorted to and from the hospital. More women than men try to escape the prison system in Britain. Of those women who escape almost half escape while receiving medical attention at a hospital.


Russia is in third position: 59,000 of its prisoners are women or about 7.8 percent of the total Russian prison population.[1][2]

United States[edit]

In the United States, authorities began housing women in correctional facilities separate from men in the 1870s.[22] 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.[23] In the 1930s, 34 women's prisons were built, by 1990 there were 71 women's prisons in the country, but only five years later there were 150 (Chesney-Lind, 1998:66).[24]

Unlike prisons designed for men in the United States, state prisons for women evolved in three waves, as described in historical detail in Partial Justice: Women in State Prisons by Nicole Hahn Rafter. First, women prisoners were imprisoned alongside men in "general population," where they were subject to sexual attacks and daily forms of degradation. Then, in a partial attempt to address these issues, women prisoners were removed from general population and housed separately, but then subject to neglect wherein they did not receive the same resources as men in prisons. In a third stage of development, women in prison were then housed completely separately in fortress-like prisons, where the goal of punishment was to indoctrinate women into traditional feminine roles.[25]

According to the International Center for Prison Studies, as of August 2014, nearly a third of all female prisoners worldwide are incarcerated in the United States.[1][2] There are more than 201,000 women prisoners in the US, or about 8.8 percent of the total American prison population.[1][2]

Rape in prison[edit]

Rape in female prisons has been commonplace for a long period of time in both the US and the UK. In England and Wales, a report showed that female prisoners are being coerced into sex with staff members in return for various favours, such as alcohol and cigarettes.[26] Rape may even be more common than reports show, given that it is difficult to know the full truth about what goes on behind the walls of a prison, along with the fact that inmates often have no legal remedy to seek justice for abuse and rape.[26]

In the United States, the Alabama prison scandal at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women revealed gross sexual misconduct by male staff members against female inmates, including rape.[27] Trying to report these abuses would be punishable by humiliation and solitary confinement while punishments for the sexual offenders were rare and small.[28]

Drug offenders[edit]

Between 2010 and 2011, the rate for imprisonment with female drug offenders was at 5.7%, a drop from 6% in 2010.[29] The treatment in which female drug offenders receive has also been closely analyzed in the U.S. In the U.S., compared with male prisoners, women offenders have been more likely to report instances of childhood trauma, abuse, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, interpersonal violence, adolescent conduct disorder, homelessness, as well as chronic physical and mental health problems, and because of such problems, women are more likely to commit criminal activity or have a severity to addiction.[30] One of the problems female offenders are facing is that they need more special substance abuse treatment for their gender, but the treatment they receive are mostly male oriented programs such as Therapeutic Community (TC) models.[30] As substance abuse treatment is not fairly granted in prisons across the U.S., recidivism is likely to go up with in 2011, the most serious offense for 59.4% of women incarcerated in federal prisons being drug violations.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Nearly A Third Of All Female Prisoners Worldwide Are Incarcerated In The United States (Infographic) (2014-09-23), Forbes
  2. ^ a b c d e f International Centre for Prison Studies
  3. ^ Pollock, Joycelyn M. (2002). Women, Prison, & Crime. CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning. p. 23.
  4. ^ Talvi, Silja (2007). Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System. Emeryville: Seal Press. pp. +women+prisoners+are+guarded%22&hl=en&ei=f9LzTfHfBsahtwe0hpSLBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22In%20the%20rest%20of%20the%20Western%20world%2C%20women%20prisoners%20are%20guarded%22&f=false 56.
  5. ^ Talvi, Silja (2007). Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System. Emeryville: Seal Press. pp. 57.
  6. ^ Pollock, Joycelyn M. (2002). Women, Prison, & Crime. CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning. p. 9.
  7. ^ "Incarcerated Women and Girls" (PDF). The Sentencing Project. November 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Jeffries, Samantha and Greg Newbold (April 2016). "Analysing Trends in the Imprisonment of Women in Australia and New Zealand". Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law. 23 (2): 184–206 – via EBSCOhost.
  9. ^ Carson, E.A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  10. ^ "Incarcerated Women and Girls" (PDF). The Sentencing Project. November 2015.
  11. ^ Mauer, Marc, Cathy Potler, and Richard Wolf (1999). Gender and justice: Women, drugs and sentencing policy. Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project.
  12. ^ a b c Newbold, Greg (June 2016). Crime, Law and Justice in New Zealand.
  13. ^ "Corrections Department NZ - In the community". 2018-03-01. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  14. ^ Norris, Adele N (October 2017). "Are We Really Colour-blind? The Normalisation of Mass Female Incarceration". Race and Justice: 2–4.
  15. ^ Triggs, S. From crime to sentence: Trends in criminal justice, 1986 to 1996. Wellington: Ministry of Justice. pp. 42–43.
  16. ^ McIvor, Gill. Women and crime: The rise of female imprisonment in western jurisdictions. In M. Herzog-Evans (Ed.), Transnational criminology manual (volume 2). Nijmegen: Wolf Publishing. pp. 553–570.
  17. ^ SNZ. "NZ.Stat". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  18. ^ Hartney, Christopher (November 2006). "US Rates of Incarceration: A Global Perspective" (PDF). Research from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
  19. ^ Hatton, Celia (2015-06-25). "Why is China's female prison population growing?". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  20. ^ "Women on the inside". Varsity. Chinese University of Hong Kong. 2017-11-02. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  21. ^ Moynihan, Carolyn. "Mothers in Shackles". Mercatornet. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  22. ^ Banks, Cyndi. Women in Prison: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO, 2003. p.1. Retrieved from Google Books on March 10, 2011. ISBN 1-57607-929-5, ISBN 978-1-57607-929-4.
  23. ^ Banks, Cyndi. Women in Prison: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO, 2003. p.5. Retrieved from Google Books on March 10, 2011. ISBN 1-57607-929-5, ISBN 978-1-57607-929-4.
  24. ^ Pollock, Joycelyn M. (2002). Women, Prison, & Crime. CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning. pp. 68–69.
  25. ^ Rafter, Nicole Hahn (1985). Partial Justice: Women in State Prisons, 1800-1935. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 0930350634.
  26. ^ a b Vidal, Ava. "Women prisoners: Sex in prison is commonplace, the male inmates just hide it more than girls". Telegraph. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  27. ^ Chuck, Elizabeth. "'Frequent and severe' sexual violence alleged at women's prison in Alabama". US news. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  28. ^ Stebner, Beth. "Women in Alabama prison suffered 'frequent and severe sexual violence by guards and were PUNISHED when they tried to report crimes'". Daily Mail. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  29. ^ "Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings" (PDF). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2012. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  30. ^ a b Messina, Nena; Grella, Christine E.; Cartier, Jerry; Torres, Stephanie (16 December 2009). "A Randomized Experimental Study of Gender-Responsive Substance Abuse Treatment for Women in Prison". J Subst Abuse Treat. 38: 97–107. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2009.09.004. PMC 2815183. PMID 20015605.
  31. ^ Carson, Ann; Sabol, William J. (December 2012). "Prisoners in 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 26 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]


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