Unfair Treatment

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Is There Unfair Treatment for Women in Prison?

LaSonja Johnson

Kaplan University

CM223: Effective Writing II for Criminal Justice Majors
Professor Vineski
September 1, 2009

Women are thought to be gentler sex and the softer side of our humanity. But some women do commit crimes, and when they do, we want to know why. What drove them to commit those crimes? Was it an abusive husband? Was it drugs? Was it envy… fear… lust? With all questions still unanswered more and women are being imprisoned for more issues. The “typical” female inmate is minority, aged 25 to 29, unmarried but has one to children, a likely victim of sexual abuse as a child, a victim of physical abuse, has a current alcohol and drug problem, has multiple arrests, first arrested around 15, a high school dropout, on welfare, has low skills, and has held mainly low-wage jobs.

Women in prison face gender issues within our criminal justice system everyday. Dealing with legal aspect of there lives, for some, is non-existence. In most states there is no legal aid program. Given that there are very few experienced and accomplished jailhouse lawyers, it is difficult for a women prisoner to pursue legal remedies in their own cases or in relation to legal issues that arise in the course of imprisonment. Access to the legal community outside is further hampered by the restrictions on phone calls. All calls are restricted to a pre-approved phone list. And for legal visits they have to be pre-arranged and any documents the lawyer has can only be brought in with prior clearance.

The incarceration of women leaves a whole in the family because child care and the custody of the child need to be handled. Women are usually the ones primarily responsible for their children. There are not any facilities to aid or support women in their legal struggles to maintain the integrity of their family structure or to ensure their children’s rights to a safe, healthy environment. Even for those whose children are fortunate enough to live with a family member, trying to obtain aid to families with dependent children is difficult from inside. If other issues arise, such as abuse, getting legal aid is virtually impossible. Besides a lack of legal aid, there is no financial aid available for children to travel to visit their mothers. Most women never see their children.

Women inmates depend on guards for the minimal comforts of prison life and, in some cases, their very survival. Guards provide food and safety, help insure the women inmates receive proper medical attention and guarantee timely visits and packages from relatives. Guards have unlimited access to women inmates and their living environment, including where they sleep and where they bath. With such an imbalance to of power, the likelihood of sexual abuse increases. Sexual abuse in prison can range from forcible rape to the trading sex for certain privileges. In the United States, sexual abuse by guards in women’s prisons is so notorious and widespread that it has been described as “an institutionalized component of punishment behind prison walls.” Women in prisons across the United States are subjected to diverse and systematic forms of sexual abuse: vaginal and anal rape; forced oral sex and forced digital penetration; quid pro quo coercion of sex for drugs, favors, or protection; abusive pat searches and strip searches; observation by male guards while naked or toileting; groping; verbal harassment; and sexual threats. Women who survives a sexual assault and then have to navigate the health care system to receive adequate counseling and reproductive medical attention is daunting enough for those who walk freely on the outside, for women in prison, the hurdles can seem insurmountable. Unfortunately, sexual assault is a fact of like for many incarcerated women.

Guards and prisoners openly joke about prisoner “girlfriends” and guard “boyfriends.” Women prisoners become...
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