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Chapter 17

SOC102 Questioning Sociology Chapter 17

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University of Toronto St. George
Lorne Tepperman

Questioning Sociology Chapter 17 – Why are women going to prison? INTRODUCTION - Imprisoned women are referred to as ‘too few to count’ or ‘correctional afterthoughts’ - Women are the fastest-growing prison population - >500,000 women and girls are imprisoned either as pre-trial detainees (remand prisoners) or convicted/sentenced - The increased numbers of women in prison is a result of o Changes in the nature and severity of women’s crime o Opportunities to commit a broader range of drug-related, economic, and property offences o Social and structural factors (e.g., changing in policing and sentencing patterns) o Dissipation of the preferential or chivalrous treatment that women once enjoyed - Empirical evidence shows that women who commit crime o Tend not to commit serious crimes o Tend to have experienced social exclusion caused by poverty, racism, mental illness, physical and sexual violence NUMBER AND TYPES OF WOMEN IN PRISONS - Relatively few women commit crimes o Tend to be involved in property crimes (e.g., theft, shoplifting, fraud) o Small percentage of women are convicted of violent crimes o Tend to be over-represented in prostitution-related crimes - Women who use interpersonal violence are sent to prison (e.g., assaults, robbery, manslaughter, murder) o 67% of all federal sentenced women were serving time for a violent crime o 80% of federally sentenced Aboriginal women were serving time for a violent crime o 9% of federally sentenced women who had committed homicide as an act of self-defence were sex workers protecting themselves against assault or unwanted sexual relations by customers - Women are less likely than men to be repeat offenders, and if they do reoffend, then the crimes tend not to escalate in severity - Women are less likely than men to receive a prison sentence - Women are more likely than men to receive a community sentence of probation - Women convicted of interpersonal violence, prostitution, drug possession crimes are more likely than men to be sent to prison - Women represent a small proportion of all offenders and of those sentenced to imprisonment - Women in federal penitentiaries tend to be concentrated in Ontario and Prairies (e.g., larger proportion of women prisoners) - Racial overrepresentation  racialized individuals are disproportionately imprisoned  global phenomenon o Aboriginals in Canada  4% of population, but 18% of incarcerated adult population  Aboriginal women are more likely to be in maximum security prisons o Africans in America  13% of population, but 50% of female inmate population  Black women are 7 times more likely to be incarcerated than white women - Explaining the changes in the number of women in prison is complicated and nuanced - Form of imprisonment is determined by the length of sentence o Sentence is more than 2 years  federal prison o Sentence is less than 2 years  provincial prison - Remand prisoners  denied bail  held in prison while waiting for trial (e.g., while on remand)  not yet convicted o Most rapidly increasing population of Canadian women in prison o Feel pressured to plead guilty o Tend to live in harsh conditions with few programs o Can lose their jobs, homes, and/or custody of their children - Number of women sentenced to federal prison has increased o Due to the opening of five new federal prisons for women across the country  In the past, there was only one federal prison for women in Kingston, Ontario  Criticized for inability to appropriately and safely meet the needs of women prisoners  Criticized for the vast distances between women and their families o Due to the fact that women offenders and their lawyers consider federal prisons to be better resourced - Number of women sentenced to provincial prison has decreased - Some have suggested that the type of women sentenced to imprisonment has changed over the past 30 years o Difficult to verify empirically due to limited data and complicated methodological factors o Demographic characteristics of women that contribute to increased criminalization:  Economic instability  Political conservatism  Punitive crime control  Exclusionary social policies  Persistent decline of the social safety net - Many women prisoners are simultaneously involved with family courts and children’s aid societies o 70% of women prisoners have children - Many female offenders reported that substance abuse (e.g., drug, alcohol) played a major role in their offence - Many women prisoners are less educated (e.g., have not graduated from high school) o 80% of the general female population have completed beyond grade 9 o 50% of the women in prison have completed beyond grade 9 - Many women prisoners are unemployed or underemployed and lack basic job skills and/or employment experience - Many women prisoners have mental illness, childhood sexual abuse, and severe physical abuse - For many women prisoners, prison offers the first access to help for their problems PATHWAYS TO CRIME AND PRISON - Differences in motivational factors lead to women’s use of violence, involvement in drug and property crimes, and patterns of substance abuse - When women and men’s offences are similar, the context of offending and the offender’s relationship with the victim is different - Research about the pathways to prison for female offenders o Identified various ways in which women end up incarcerated o Based on an incarcerated sample o Show a number of different life course trajectories in which women become part of the prison population - Gender-specific adversities (e.g., abuse, mental illness, addictions, economic and social marginality, homelessness, violent relationships)  produce and sustain women’s criminality - Profound differences between the lives of men and women shape their different patterns of criminal offending - ECONOMIC MARGINALIZATION AND STREET LIFE o Aboriginal women experience higher rates of poverty and earn lower wages than men and non-Aboriginals o Aboriginal women are twice as likely than non-Aboriginal women to be unemployed, especially between 15 and 34 o When women are poor and/or unemployed, they are at higher risk of entering into street life and becoming involved in illegal markets to survive  Forced into trade sexual services  Return to abusive relationships or high-risk environments o When women are homeless or marginally housed, they are more likely to become victims of physical and/or sexual violence and find it more difficult to provide for their children and secure sufficient employment o Street life is a common pathway to female offending  Street life  drug use and addiction  more frequent law-breaking to support a drug habit  lack interest to work in low-paid or unskilled jobs  rely on welfare or social assistance (with children)  relationships with men who are also involved in crime o SIMPSON, YAHNER, DUGAN  found that women enga
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