Gina Fedock and Stephanie S. Covington
As the number of women under correctional supervision continues to increase in the United States, attention to gender within correctional programming is crucial as women offenders present with different concerns than their male counterparts. Gender differences exist in a range of criminal justice factors, including pathways to involvement in the criminal justice system, frequencies in types of offenses, treatment needs, and facilitating factors for treatment engagement and positive outcomes. Thus, this chapter highlights the importance of gender in terms of correctional program design and delivery. Gender-responsive programming for women involved in the criminal justice system is guided mainly by the feminist pathways theory of women’s criminality, as well as additional theories. This framework considers the interconnected roles of trauma and victimization histories, substance abuse, economic and social marginalization, and the gendered effects of criminal justice policies and practices. For gender-responsive programming, elements that should be considered in women’s treatment and services in correctional settings include: program environment or culture or both, staff competence, theoretical foundations, treatment modalities, reentry issues, and collaboration. In addition, principles of trauma-informed care are crucial elements needed in systems and services for women involved in the criminal justice system. These two frameworks of gender-responsive programming and trauma-informed care offer specific principles that can be applied across correctional settings for women to shape policies, programming design, program delivery, and daily practices. Likewise, these frameworks encourage community-based responses to women’s involvement in criminal behaviors. Gender is a crucial element for correctional programming in multiple ways.
In the contemporary era of “tough on crime” policies and the globalized drug war, the number of women in the criminal justice system has increased across several countries. Women’s involvement in the system is not limited to imprisonment, however, and many criminalized women (those involved in the justice system with the assigned status of defendants, offenders, etc.) participate in community-based programs after serving sentences in prisons or jails or as an alternative to incarceration. Criminalized women encounter multiple interlocking forms of oppression based on sexuality, race and ethnicity, class, disability, immigration status, punishment status, and (importantly) gender. Gendered ideas and norms shape the way women are treated not only by the carceral state but also by community-based, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
NGOs have played an increasingly prominent role in the provision of social services since the 1970s. Organizations working with criminalized people in more affluent, English-speaking nations commonly address job readiness, psychological and substance issues, parenting, sexuality, romantic relationships, and spirituality, among other important areas. Some NGOs work with criminalized people as a condition of their criminal sentences. Criminalized women’s self-reported needs are great, yet resources are often scarce, inadequate, and unwelcoming, particularly for women of color. Responding to a dearth of services available to women, feminists formed NGOs focused on this population beginning in the 1970s; women are also served at NGOs that work with men. “Reducing offending” and “empowerment” are frequently stated goals at NGOs that work with women, but these goals can be interpreted widely depending on the views of NGO leadership and staff about gender.
NGOs can approach women’s gender in a variety of ways. For instance, they can resist or affirm the dominant views used by the carceral state that criminalize and stigmatize women. Their approaches matter because of the implications for equality of opportunities that follow. Two major philosophies can motivate the outreach that NGOs do with criminalized women. Gender sameness disregards gender differences and stresses that it is necessary to treat women “like men” to reverse the disadvantages and marginalization that women encounter. Gender difference emphasizes the importance of treating men or women based on their purportedly unique characteristics and social experiences. Much critical feminist research on NGOs that work with criminalized women has studied programs formed around ideas of gender difference.
Critical researchers have examined gender in organizational work with women outside of prisons, in community-based prisons run by NGOs, and in more traditional prisons. Researchers have examined practices at programs, the philosophies underpinning them, and their implications. This body of work shows that NGOs can perpetuate gendered exclusions and may expand the power of the carceral state. In their prescriptions for responding to the status quo, critical researchers make arguments along a spectrum from advocating more moderate social change, such as by creating more effective programs, to more radical social change, such as by ending community-based programs that perpetuate carceral control.
Lynne Haney and Lili Dao
In many respects, gender has been missing from the enormous literature on the form and focus of state systems of punishment. This is true in both the historical accounts on shifts in penal practices and the scholarship on the contemporary emergence of mass incarceration. Gender is absent as a category of analysis and as an explanatory variable in these scholarly debates. At the same time, while there is a large literature on women in the criminal justice and penal systems, it rarely addresses broader questions of how and why the penal system has grown in size, deepened in scope, and broadened in reach over the last few decades.
There have been three major approaches to the study of gender and punishment. The first inserted women into accounts of the criminal justice and penal systems, which had historically concentrated on male offenders. Some of this early work used a historical lens to analyze shifts in women’s confinement practices, particularly the evolution of the reformatory in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Influenced by debates in feminist legal theory about sameness and difference, one major line of inquiry sought to determine whether women were treated more leniently than men, particularly with regard to sentencing. A second approach, gaining momentum in the 2000s, shifted the focus from gender differences in outcomes to the gendered dynamics of penal control. More qualitative in nature, this scholarship conceptualized gender as a process that was both transformed and harnessed in penal institutions. Drawing on a broader movement in gender studies, this work focused less on women per se than on how gender was socially constituted. The third and final approach takes seriously the call of critical legal scholars of race and gender to examine the intersections of disadvantage. While academic analyses of intersectionality came to the fore in the 1990s, this perspective made few inroads into penology and criminology until relatively recently. Recent work on the intersection of racialization, masculinity and punishment, and the sexual politics of the prison point to promising new directions that transcend common understandings of criminalization and punishment.
Sarah R. Bostrom and Melinda Tasca
The re-entry experiences of women are an important area of inquiry given the continued rise in female imprisonment. Since most inmates will be released, reintegration is a chief policy concern. Like men, re-entering women tend to be disproportionately of color, poor, undereducated, and parents of minor children. What sets women apart from men, however, is the accumulation and frequency of the adversities they encounter. To be sure, co-occurring histories of trauma, mental health, and substance abuse—commonly referred to as the “triple threat”—along with physical health concerns and poverty, distinctly shape female re-entry. Women with children face additional burdens due to their status as mothers. In particular, women’s responsibilities for children before incarceration, contact with children during confinement, and expected parental roles after release are quite different than those of fathers. Pressures to assume mothering roles and challenges with parent-child reunification can further complicate re-entry. Women require social support to successfully transition from prison to home. Social support helps women meet competing demands related to housing, employment, transportation, childcare, and community supervision. This assistance typically comes from informal networks that are invaluable to re-entry success. At the same time, women’s relationships are often highly complicated and can be sources of stress. While prosocial relationships are protective, unhealthy ties can contribute to re-entry failure. With respect to formal social support, gender-responsive interventions that target the unique stressors of formerly incarcerated women offer the most promise for effecting post-release change. Yet, such programs are not widely available or accessible to this population. Finally, it is important to take stock of primary sources used in the study of female re-entry to identify ways to advance research and policy in this area.