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May 21, 2006

Major report on women in prison

As detailed in this AP article, a new report from the Women's Prison Association provides a "comprehensive state-by-state breakdown of the huge increase in incarceration of women over the past 30 years."  As the article explains, this new "report concurred with previous analyses attributing much of the nationwide increase in women's imprisonment to the war on drugs."

The WPA's report is entitled "Hard Hit: The Growth in the Imprisonment of Women 1977-2004" and it can be accessed at this linkThe Foreword to the report provides an overview and key findings:

Over the past three decades, as the United States has experienced explosive prison growth, women have been hard hit.  Although women have the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing segment of the prison population, scant attention has been paid to their involvement in the criminal justice system.  Indeed, even most official sources of criminal justice data do not distinguish between men and women in their analyses, leaving it only to speculation on whether there are any distinctions between the two groups that make a difference.

HARD HIT: The Growth in the Imprisonment of Women, 1977 - 2004 is the first study of its kind, analyzing the striking growth in the numbers of women in prison, state-by-state over nearly three decades.  The report provides context to the alarming growth trends and reviews what is understood about the phenomena by researchers who study women in the criminal justice system....

Key Findings:

  • Across the board, the growth has been dramatic....
  • Tremendous state and regional variances exist....
  • At the beginning of this century, interesting shifts occur....
  • Women, families, and communities are devastated by imprisonment.

May 21, 2006 at 07:23 AM | Permalink

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'Although women have the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing segment of the prison population, scant attention has been paid to their involvement in the criminal justice system.' Well, yes and no. I think it would be fairer to say that scant attention has been paid to what (comparatively little) literature exists devoted largely to women in the criminal justice system. While lacking expertise in this area, and without a thorough scanning of the literature, the bibliography I assembled on 'criminal law, punishment and prisons,' includes the following entries:

Calhoun, Avery J. and Heather D. Coleman. ‘Female Inmates' Perspectives on Sexual Abuse by Correctional Personnel: An Exploratory Study,’ Women & Criminal Justice 13, No.2/3 (2002): 101-124. [As one sees here, there is a journal, edited by Donna C. Hale, 'devoted specifically to interdisciplinary and international scholarly research and criminal justice practice dealing with all areas of women and criminal justice. It provides both scholars and practitioners with a single forum devoted to this critical specialty area in the fields of both criminal justice and women's studies.']

Daly, Kathleen. (1996). Gender, Crime and Punishment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hartwell, Stephanie. ‘Female Mentally Ill Offenders and Their Community Reintegration Needs: An Initial Examination,’ International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 42, No. 1-2 (2001): 211-233.

O'Brien, Patricia. (2001). Making it in the 'Free World': Women in Transition From Prison. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Owen, Barbara A. (1998). In the Mix: Struggle and Survival in a Women's Prison. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Price, Barbara Raffel and Natalie J. Sokolof. (2003, 3rd ed.). The Criminal Justice System and Women: Offenders, Prisoners, Victims, and Workers. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rathbone, Cristina. (2005). Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars. New York: Random House.

Indeed, I think the more telling point is that 'most official sources of criminal justice data do not distinguish between men and women in their analyses, leaving it only to speculation on whether there are any distinctions between the two groups that make a difference.'

That said, the WPA's report is a welcome addition to the literature and perhaps portends a closer examination of gender issues and criminal justice.

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