Although incarceration and violence are mostly associated with males, the current statistics show that the situation has changed. The number of females who have been sentenced to imprisonment or is on probation has grown considerably. The wars on drugs, substance abuse, mental illness, and abuse of physical, emotional, or sexual character are the main reasons that make women get into prison. One can regard the growth of female prisoners as the reverse of the coin that accompanied the growth of females’ rights in all spheres. However, gender differentiation between prisoners is not only the issue of moral or stereotypic views. This problem deserves particular attention because of females’ gender-specific needs on all levels, which make their experiences in the criminal justice system even more devastating than those of men. Moreover, female incarceration has a huge negative effect on social welfare as their significance for the family is crucial. Hence, women in the criminal justice system form a specific population that faces intolerable challenges and need special treatment predetermined by their physical and emotional peculiarities. The aim of this paper is to focus on the main factors that point out that protection of health and safety of females in prison should facilitate their reentry into the community that was common for them previously.
The number of women who get into prison grew considerably during the last century. It has become twice more than the number of males and “800 percent more” in contrast to the statistics of the end of the 20th century. Non-violent offenses and crimes related to drugs were marked out by Ajinkya (2012) as the most common ones. Moreover, women of color are referred to these statistics much more often than white females. Their number exceeds the latter in three times. Racial minorities with underprivileged background form the group that risks getting into prison. Regarding the statistics of the reasons that proceed with crimes, the PRA (2005) distinguished between several regularities. Firstly, about half of the incarcerated women suffered from drugs or alcohol abuse at the period when offense or crime was committed.
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Approximately 44% of females who were incarcerated reported sexual assaults during their lives. Women in prison were mostly brought up in single-parent families and lived in poor conditions. Such life obviously had a strong impact on their personality development and a high level of aggressiveness. According to the same research, full-time employment also had a positive impact on crimes prevention. However, all of the incarcerated women. regardless of the color of their skin, get under the great risk of sexual abuse and medical neglect. Women of different age are often marked out by “the disturbing history of…abuse” in the emotional, sexual, and physical spheres. Such violence is widely spread and in 70 % of occurrences is predetermined by monitoring of women in bathrooms, showers, and all other places by male guards. However, if rape, sexual assault, or extortion are considered as brutal crimes out of prison, the same actions during body searches are very often ignored. The ability to condemn prison workers for such behavior is not likely to be crowned with success. Stopping the visits of children, which can be impelled by the prison authorities, is also the violation of female prisoners’ rights that has a strong negative influence on their emotional state. Therefore, one can see that the psychological and physiological peculiarities of different genders are always the central issues in all cases that deal with this population sample. Humiliation and dehumanizing treatment of women in prisons are more influential for them than for men. Drug addictions, spouse abuse, loss of children are the events that make women need counseling and support. In many cases, rehabilitation that is necessary and can be even more cost-effective for society is not provided. Furthermore, the liaison with children and emotional sufferings of both parties are also neglected. Another inhuman and even unconstitutional treatment happens to pregnant females, who are “shackled during labor or delivery”. Such practices put under risk the health of a woman and a child. Additionally, basic reproductive health services are not provided to incarcerated females. For instance, prison limits the ability to get pregnancy testing, abortion services, prenatal care, screening, and many others that are normally accessible for any woman out of prison. Another issue regarding female imprisonment that should make the government pay special attention to justice is related to conviction background. Many of women’s crimes are connected with their attempts to defend themselves or their children from abuse.
Finally, the post-incarceration period cannot be regarded as favorable for the mental state of women who have been emotionally depressed as it was. After the release, women cannot re-enter society effectively because of the numerous barriers they and their children meet. As for women of color who come to poverty and inability to be involved in housing, they need employment or other assistance programs that could provide benefits. In many states, there exist “statutory bans on people with certain convictions” (Ajinkya, 2012). Such bans forbid their working in such industries as nursing, child care, and health care. It is a positive result of the policies implemented by the government that leads to the decline of the crime rate in the country from year to year. However, incarceration rates for nonviolent offenses, especially dealing with drugs, are still out of control, particularly when it concerns women of color. More attention should be paid to these issues as it has a crucial impact on the overall welfare of society. The relations within the family if the mother is incarcerated should be characterized as strained. It is not only because women who are in prison are practically deprived of the right to take part in their children’s upbringing, but also because the majority of children is sent to the foster care according to the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (PRA, 2005). The large-scale abandonment of children, the role of women in the society, the health of prisoners, and their treatment are the timeliest questions generated by the current discussion of women’s position in the criminal justice system.
One can draw a parallel between the experience of women inside and outside of prison in order to emphasize that the above-mentioned problems have a very strong impact on female individuals. In her work, Richie (2003), who focused on the females’ lives out of jail, pointed out their high level of vulnerability to violence in any of its manifestations. Victims of domestic or other kinds of violence require special treatment on psychological and physiological levels. Taking into account particularly emotional abuse, it is necessary to regard serious psychological consequences for females. For instance, battered women always require psychiatric treatment as they are “five times more likely to attempt suicide”. Therefore, limitation of access to sharp objects that could be hazardous for prisoners’ health cannot be regarded as an effective means to save human lives because the mental problem lies deeper and can manifest right after leaving the prison. Furthermore, violent treatment within the walls of the prison can aggravate the problem. With regard to the statistics and great difference in the number of white and non-white women in jail, the issues of discrimination should be re-considered by the criminal justice system of the U.S. In addition, the connection with social benefits and level of life should be analyzed to search for the reasons of such statistics and decrease the level of assault among this population group. Although, sexual assaults, threats, or other kinds of abuse are often the reasons for further self-defense or other kinds of convictions for women, the attempts to criminalize domestic abuse have not become effective. Nevertheless, it can decrease the number of women who can kill in self-defense, it does not influence the number of women who become victims. In such a way, it is possible to conclude that the above-mentioned system is aimed “to protect the abuser more than the victim”.
Furthermore, the criminalization of domestic violence brought negative consequences for immigrants. The cases of domestic abuse report among such people lead to female job loss and further deportation to the native country. Another perspective for the problem solution is aimed to prevent the crisis in families. However, crisis-prevention and other governmental problems are very limited. The services and social programs for women should pay more attention to the connection between violence, illegal activities, and cultural discrimination. Therefore, the weaknesses of the emotional sphere predetermine many peculiar needs of females.
Prevention of the problems is better than further dealing with the consequences. Therefore, the primary efforts of the government have to be focused on the best ways to prevent crimes rate growth. Taking into consideration these aims, it necessary to analyze the weakest sides of the policies that shape the level of female lives and push them to commit crimes. Drug and alcohol abuse has to be under strict control, especially among those who live in poverty. The level of sexual assault has to be regulated by a special organization that can provide easily available mental treatment for those who have suffered from it, especially for women of color and those who live in poor social conditions. Moreover, considering the great impact of the family on further child’s development as well as on adult life, it is necessary to encourage people to bring up children in full families and provide help to find a full-time job for women of any race and age. Considering the social impact of women’s imprisonment, one should pay attention to the Women’s Justice Taskforce of 2010 as the reforms that can “maximize the benefits” of recommendations for female prisoners. Addressing the most cost-effective ways to deal with female offenders, one should refer to some necessary work that would provide usefulness and profits for society. Preference of the probation with public work is not appropriate for those who have committed serious crimes but is quite tolerable punishment for other minor offenders. With regard to the custody issues that are quite important, the government can think of the “alternatives…which support a move away from intergenerational offending”. The next recommendation is based on more fair treatment of women as it offers more strict division between “perpetrators of the petty crimes” and those who have committed more serious and violent crimes. Ultimately, it is crucial to make the punishment just, appropriate, and support rehabilitation.
The position of females in the criminal justice system is quite complicated and brings sufferings not only to prisoners themselves but to their families, as female incarceration is in many cases takes the mother away from the family. In order to improve the situation, it is necessary to regard not only the consequences of female imprisonment but primarily the underlying reasons. Among such, the initial strengths have to be directed at the programs that would support unemployed women, encourage citizens to bring up their children in full families, decrease domestic violence by means of social workers’ consultations, various mental treatments, substance abuse control, and other ways to keep the population psychologically healthy. The traumatic events that precede incarceration have to be considered in order to avoid recidivism. At the same time, the improvements for females who already got into prison have to be focused on decrease of the violence level that can be committed by guards or cellmates, psychological treatment, improvement of the medical support, and milder attitude towards the pregnant. Women’s Justice Taskforce of 2010 deserves particular attention as it can mitigate the sufferings of women. Finally, the post-incarceration programs have to be reconsidered and become more effective in providing support with work and mental state.