Women in prison

I’m just at the beginning of reading 13 Women: Parables from Prison, based on interviews with, as the title suggests, 13 women in the US prison system, which I picked up here. I’m too close to the beginning to offer any real thoughts about the book, but this post giving a personal reaction to the situation, over at Think Girl seems as good a reason as any to mention it:

Being the daughter of a correction officer of a women’s prison, I’ve heard plenty of stories how officers blatantly disrespect and mistreat women prisoners. Bitches and hoes are just two of the numerous derogatory words that these women are called. I’ve never been incarcerated but, I’m quite sure that if I was I would feel tremendously low. If almost on a daily basis I was spoken to in a pejorative manner, I know for sure that I would feel even worse.

Sure, these women are criminals but, they are still human.

Both the book and the post are about the situation in the US, where the majority of women in prison were locked up for non-violent offences. Needless to say, the situation in the UK is not so different as all that, as this Q&A at The Guardian shows:

How do women fare in prison?

Not well at all. Labour peer Baroness Corston’s review of the way women offenders are handled by the criminal justice system, published today, was triggered by the deaths of six women at Styal prison, Cheshire, between August 2002 and 2003. Last year, three women took their own lives in prisons, following four in 2005 and 13 in 2004. To date in 2007 there have been two apparent self-inflicted deaths of women prisoners. In addition, the Prison Reform Trust said 40% of women prisoners have attempted suicide at some time. Campaigners say many would be better off receiving treatment and support to stop them reoffending.

Why so many problems?

Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, said many women in prison are highly vulnerable and prison does them little good. The Prison Service says most have experienced domestic violence or have been victims of childhood abuse, 80% have diagnosable mental health problems. Drugs are also a big problem: Mandy Ogunmokun, a drugs worker at HMP Holloway in London, said about 70% of the women who come there are drug addicts. In 2004, 36% of sentenced women had committed drugs offences.

In addition, the majority of women who are jailed are mothers and a third have a child under five. Separation from family and isolation can be stressful and make a long sentence feel even longer. To make matters worse, the small number of women’s prisons means they are far more likely to be held a long way from their families.

Also check out the charity Women in Prison for more info.

Photo by Tierecke, shared under a Creative Commons license

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