The Challenges of Female Incarceration

By Briana J. – Research Intern

The rate of female incarceration has greatly increased over the past 30 years. This has resulted in women becoming the fastest growing group of incarcerated individuals within the prison system. Most of these imprisoned women are serving sentences for non-violent drug and property offenses (EJI). Despite this uptick of imprisoned women, there has not been an adequate reallocation of resources to properly address the needs of incarcerated women.

An important point to understand is that most facilities within prisons are primarily built for male prisoners. There has not been an active change within these facilities to address the specific needs of incarcerated women. Like many other prisoners around the world, incarcerated women in the United States face deprivations and trauma during their incarceration. Many incarcerated women face problems surrounding separation from children and family, inadequate mental health care, and insufficient substance abuse treatment during their imprisonment. The prison system is not made to deal with these personal traumas of incarcerated women.

The women entering the prison system must face a new set of challenges that further exacerbates their personal traumas. For example, incarcerated women are more prone to sexual abuse during their incarceration. According to the Human Rights Watch, there are issues surrounding sexual abuse evident in many United States prisons. Most of the time there is no available support for the victims of sexual abuse. Consequently, the abusers of these women are often not held accountable, and no repercussions are given to those who commit these horrific crimes towards these women in prison. Furthermore, women within the prison system have received disproportionate disciplinary punishments in comparison to incarcerated men, despite male prisons having a higher percentage of violent offenders. These imprisoned women are punished more harshly for petty infractions compared to more severe infractions carried out by male prisoners.

In the criminal justice system, there is a lack of gender-specific treatment that addresses the unique gendered and culturally specific challenges of female offenders. By incorporating more gender-specific services that adequately address the issues surrounding female incarceration, more women can be prepared to deal with their issues outside and within the prison system.