Do female prisoners have different needs to male prisoners and should they therefore be treated differently
Do female prisoners have different needs to male prisoners and should they therefore be treated differently?
Over the past dozen years, the female inmate population is said to have grown at a faster rate than males, and women are now incarcerated at a higher rate for drug-related crimes than are men. This has been occurring in many countries including in the United Kingdom. With this increasing number of women inmates, one can only assume that prisons are being modified also in accordance to women prisoners and their needs. But this is not so the case in some prisons.
In spite of this increased population and increased need, the criminal justice system continues to neglect the special needs of female prisoners - delivering second-hand services and offering inadequate or inappropriate training, treatment and educational programs. There are still many questions that are being asked. Do female prisoners really have different needs to male prisoners and should they therefore be treated differently? This paper will therefore examine the condition of most female inmates and the reasons why they are considered different from males and should therefore be treated differently.
The Situation of Women Prisoners
Historical accounts show that the first separate facilities for women which appeared in the early 1800s were quite different from the established prisons at that time for men. While the first institutions for women were often described as "homes," the contemporaneous prisons for men were more often likened to "factories."
As women's prisons were built, architectural differences were apparent. For instance, cottages were built in place of the large tiers found in male facilities, and small kitchens were installed in the women's cottages instead of central dining facilities. In many ways, the female facilities were patterned after juvenile reformatories, which were also built to house populations considered less dangerous and more reformable than adult male populations (1986).
But as the years go by, many of us have noticed that women prisons are no different at all from the prisons for men. And this similarity is not only seen on the buildings and facilities but also when it comes to treatment to female prisoners.
Women inmates in most prisons are subject to a "shocking array" of sexual and physical abuse, according to a report released in 1999 by Amnesty International. Such abuse which women inmates are subjected to includes rape and other sexual violations by male prisoners and even prison guards, the use of shackles during childbirth, and inadequate medical care. Incidences wherein the women prisoners are being raped not only by the inmates but by the guards as well are very common already and has been documented in many reports. This is so sad but is very true in many prison cells.
In addition to sexual abuse, the report by Amnesty International documents the use of shackles and other physical restraints on women inmates, regardless of whether they have a history of violence or escape attempts, when they are transported to and from hospitals and during their hospital stays for medical treatment and even childbirth ( 1999). These situations alone documented by the report shows that women inmates are not being given fair treatment in prisons. In fact, they are abused to lengths that no women would ever dream of.
Women are also being imposed rigid restrictions against socializing or touching. The rigid restrictions against socializing or touching are almost dehumanizing, anyone can relate to this, not only prisoners. To be isolated from human touch and socializing with others is perhaps a very lonely experience and no one should be subjected to this. The poor treatment of female inmates indeed goes even farther than we all thought.
Despite the fact that violence is far less common or severe in some women's prisons, security regulations require guards to strip and search each prisoner sometimes as often as five times a day. Being stripped naked under someone else’s gaze is very embarrassing. No woman would like to be examined naked even under a physician’s gaze, how much more under a prison guard’s gaze which might sometimes be lewd or dehumanizing. In addition to the invasive physical treatment of stripping women, prison officials often strip the women emotionally.
One initiative intended to help improve women during their incarceration was the implementation of job training programs. But even in this case, the criminal justice system delivered a second-hand solution. Most of the programs available to female inmates train them for jobs in male-dominated fields such as plumbing, construction or auto repair. Even the inmates realize that the odds of getting a job in these fields are not very good.
One more thing is that not only are the women disadvantaged by their gender in such fields, but by the time many of these inmates get out of prison, they'll likely be in their 40s or 50s - an age that makes it difficult to find work in any field. The result of such inappropriate job training programs is false hope - the promise of a high-paying job and a future that never materializes for female prisoners.
All these incidences make one wonder if women inmates should be given special or at least different consideration from male inmates. Would it be too much if women are given a different treatment from males? Technically, it would just be fair, as most women and men are not the same – psychologically, biologically and physically.
It is timely to re-evaluate the psychological and social aspects of the imprisonment of women (Howells, 2002). The increasing prevalence, internationally, of women in prison and the perceived failure of governments and correctional systems to deliver the reforms and changes in the management of women prisoners that seem to be required require that the problems of female imprisonment are considered anew.
The next paragraphs would therefore examine the various differences between male and female inmates to further understand that indeed there is a need for different treatment of female inmates as they are also physically, biologically and psychologically different from their male counterparts, among many other things.
Biologically, females aren’t built the same as males. Most female prisoners are physically weak compared to males, which actually applies to general population as well. Females are therefore more physically vulnerable especially in prisons which subject their prisoners to abuse.
Even though humans are all basically the same in terms of biological aspects, they have different features which make them different from one another. Physically, the men are stronger, faster, taller, heavier, and has more lean muscle mass than women. Women are built smaller than men, with softer and more sensitive body parts, and are weaker in tasks requiring strength. There are other very obvious physical differences, and it could be that the physical differences between men and women are the main basis for traditional gender roles and social behavior to differ in many ways.
Most comparative descriptions of male and female inmates cover constellations of behavior and personality traits. For instance, the following describes women inmates in 1862: It is a harder task to manage female prisoners than male. . . . They are more impulsive, more individual, more unreasonable and excitable than men; will not act in concert, and cannot be disciplined in masses. Each wants personal and peculiar treatment, so that the duties fall much more heavily on the matrons than on the warders; matrons having thus to deal with units, not aggregates, and having to adapt themselves to each individual case, instead of simply obeying certain fixed laws and making others obey them, as in the prison for males (1986).
In this one quote a variety of personality traits have been described, including greater emotionality marked by impulsiveness and excitability, unreasonableness, and the need for individual attention. Usually these composite descriptions are ambiguous in terms of whether differences are regarded as biologically caused or as produced by different socialization patterns.
Any given personality trait may be caused by one or a combination of factors. In one study it is found that female prisoners than male had higher psychoticism scores than male prisoners high score on this scale would describe a person with the following characteristics: (1) solitary, not caring for people; (2) cruel, inhumane; (3) troublesome, not fitting in; (4) lack of feeling, insensitive; (5) sensation-seeking; (6) hostile to others, aggressive; (7) liking for odd, unusual things; (8) disregard for danger; and (9) tending to make fools of other people (1986).
Another study reported MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) test scores of male and female prisoners matched for age, race, IQ, and education. The author of this study found that male inmates' scores indicated they were more prone to voice physical complaints, were more pessimistic in their outlook on life, and more inclined toward irritability and emotional immaturity. Women, on the other hand, were significantly more inclined toward withdrawal from social intercourse and displayed more paranoid reactions.
The author found that the higher female scores on the measurement of paranoid reactions were primarily due to the subscale that measured feelings of sensitivity, subjectivity, and being different and not easily understood by others. Another study measured MMPI pattern changes in female prisoners and found that women inmates, in contrast to male inmates, became more alike over time in depression, hysteria, and masculinity (1986).
Differences in the Needs
Male and female inmates also have differences when it comes to needs. A number of studies have been done on differences in the management of prisons for men and prisons for women, concentrating on the different needs and problems that women have. One such difference is that a great number of incarcerated women are mothers.
The economic, personal, and emotional problems for the inmate mother, i.e., being separated from her child, feeling isolated from the child's growth, being unable to act upon financial or school problems, and experiencing anxiety about reuniting with the child, can also reverberate into problems for the prison.
Another example of a difference in needs between male and female inmates is the greater demand for medical services and counseling services in prisons for women. Women are more frequent users of medical services outside prison, and this pattern of use persists and may become even more extreme inside prison walls. One explanation for women's more frequent visits to doctors is a difference in the socialization of men and women (1986).
While men are expected to "suffer silently," as that is usually what men in society are portrayed, women enjoy greater freedom to voice physical complaints and are also less apt to suppress them. It may also be that women are more prone to suffer from physical maladies that require medical care, such as gynecological problems.
In prison, these general forces may be at work along with exacerbating factors peculiar to the prison environment, such as loneliness, a need for attention, boredom, a pattern of drug use and lack of medical care before incarceration, all of which combine to produce disproportionate requests for medical care by women inmates (1986).
Several types of behavioral differences between men and women in prison have also been explored by researchers. Findings indicate that there are different patterns of homosexual activity in male and female prisons. While male homosexual activity has been characterized as aggressive, predatory, and often violent; female homosexuality has been described as endemic but consensual. There is a type of relationship among female inmates described in the literature as "make-believe" or "pseudo" families. It seems that these family relationships accompany homosexual dyads or exist separately from dyads in female institutions (1986).
One may use the reasoning implicit in these deprivation arguments to explain male homosexuality also; i.e., males are deprived of a means of asserting their masculinity in the absence of women and must find other targets to "prove" they are men. In other words, the heterosexual relationship provides women with emotional attachments and affection while it provides men with an affirmation of masculinity. In prison, deprived of the opposite sex, men and women find means to fulfill these needs through homosexual relationships.
Several theorists have subscribed to the idea that criminal women are more "masculine" than law-abiding women. A modern version of this theory is that women's liberation is positively associated with a rise of violent crime among women. One study charted masculine and feminine activities of incarcerated women in a prison classroom. The masculinity/femininity scores assigned to each woman were used as variables in a study of the relationship between masculinity/femininity, leadership, and homosexual activity.
The author found no relationship between masculinity and leadership, but did find that homosexually active women scored higher on masculinity. Unfortunately, there were many problems with this study, such as scores based on stereotyped behavior that was subjectively labeled masculine or feminine, and inmates labeled homosexual based on hearsay testimony from five informants ( 1986).
In addition to being seen as more masculine, women in prison are also commonly characterized as having the least desirable of what are thought to be female traits (untrustworthiness, flightiness, jealous, deceitfulness, and so on). The perception that females share some qualities of the mentally ill, such as irrationality, compulsiveness, and neuroticism is an assumption that these qualities exist to an even greater degree among women who are in prison. If this is true, perhaps no one can also blame these women. It is no simple matter to be spending your days in prison. Some women would definitely lose their minds.
Differences in Social Organization
Researchers have found differences in the social patterns of male and female inmates in two self-governing "communities" established as part of an experiment in a prison. They described the men's unit as adversarial, with a greater degree of social distance between male inmates and staff members and between male inmates themselves. There developed much closer attachments between group members and staff in the women's groups ( 1986).
During meetings in the female unit there were many exchanges regarding feelings and attitudes towards both staff and other inmates; while in meetings which took place in the men's unit, the topics discussed dealt almost exclusively with cottage conflicts, rules, and tension. Female inmates seemed oriented toward a greater sense of community than the men, but in the male unit there existed a political consciousness that was absent among the women. The authors called the two sex-related styles "communitarian" and "political," but cautioned that these different styles could have arisen through factors other than sex differences (Pollock, 1986).
Differences in Acting Out Behavior
The literature on gender differences tells us that males are more aggressive than females. The evidence that the difference in the aggressiveness between males and females is biologically caused includes the following elements: (1) males are more aggressive than females in all human societies; (2) sex differences are found early in life before socialization; (3) similar sex differences are found in subhuman primates; and (4) aggression can be manipulated by increasing or decreasing sex hormones (1986).
Arrest statistics certainly indicate that women do not engage in assaultive behavior (or at least are not arrested for such behavior) his frequently as men. However, in correctional institutions, what evidence we have seems to support the view that females engage in all sorts of acting out behavior, including assaultiveness, more frequently than incarcerated males.
There is a great deal of evidence in the literature to suggest that women engage in various types of acting out behavior more frequently than men. In one study, matched samples of thirty male and thirty female hospitalized mental patients were selected and paired for age, intelligence, classification, and length of institutionalization. An analysis was made of aggressive behavior using the following categories: aggression to person, aggression to property, aggression to self, causing a noisy disturbance, and aggression related to psychiatric symptoms. The authors found that the women had higher rates for all these categories of behavior (1986).
It seems to be a widely held belief that women use behavior as a means of self-expression rather than to achieve rational goals. Studies have indicated, for instance, that boys commit delinquent acts to gain status while girls often commit delinquent acts as a direct expression of hostility or in response to other needs. The outbursts of female prisoners are similarly characterized as "irrational, uncontrolled, diffuse and not goal oriented ( 1986).
In relation to these outbursts in women in prison and the increasing reports that women in prison are acting like they are mentally ill, psychological needs for women are also reflected. While there is relatively little research specifically related to psychopathology among female inmates, there is a consensus that mental health problems are more common among female prisoners than their male counterparts ( 2002).
Differences in Values and Attitudes
One other subject dealt with in prison literature is that of differences in the values and attitudes of men and women in prison. One study has suggested that women inmates are more likely to be conformist and males are more likely to be antiauthoritarian (rebellious); this hypothesis was tested and confirmed using an incomplete sentences test administered to sixty three inmates. Other studies, however, have found that female prisoners exhibit significantly more negative attitudes towards the criminal justice system (1986).
In speculating about why such differences in attitudes occur, one might again consider the fact that women who are studied in prison are generally a smaller percentage of the female criminal population than men in prison (since fewer women are in prison), or that women actually do receive worse treatment from the system justifying resentment (e.g., lawyers expecting sexual favors). Women who are being studied in prison do not reflect the general population. Perhaps their behaviors in prison are also affected by whatever they have experienced inside the prison.
Alternatively, it might be that such attitudes exist because of gender-related personality traits such as a propensity for avoidance of blame. This does not have much support in the literature since a study of the tendency to blame others found that both sexes placed the blame for their actions on others, only that males found blame with peers while females found blame with their families ( 1986).
Generalization and Conclusion
Based on the literature gathered, one can definitely see that males and females differ in many aspects. With these differences come also the differences in needs. From this wide range of identified needs, there is a need for prison officials to consider giving special or different treatment to female inmates.
Although female prisoners also have many areas of risk and needs which are in common with male offenders, some distinctive areas of need exist specifically for women. Herein lies the very reason why the two should be given different treatments while inside prison. Of course, this does not mean that women inmates will be pampered, the point is only a difference in treatment which will be appropriate for the needs of women. To answer the question which is the main topic of this paper - female prisoners are indeed different from male prisoners in many aspects and also have different needs, therefore they should be treated differently.
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