Beyond Scared Straight: The Reality By Alyssa Pitchford

There is a common misconception when it comes to treatment in prisons. Most will say that whether you're a man or a woman prison is torturous and gruelling experience. However for women, their prison experience includes all the horrors men encounter and so much more. Female inmates are often treated with neglect and overall abuse, therefore there must be a change in order to honor all human life regardless of judicial status. Between 1980 and 2014 the rate of female incarceration rose by 700% so more and more females are being subjected to harsh and unfair treatment within prison walls. There is a huge disparity in the treatment of women compared to men and it begins with basic human needs. Women are often denied the necessary female hygiene products needed for daily life. This leads to female inmates physically sitting in their own filth creating an unsanitary environment. They are also frequently denied prison regulation jumpsuits and forced to wear the clothes they arrived in for weeks at a time. This is only the beginning of the issues women in prison face on a daily basis. In state prisons 75% of women had or currently has substance abuse problems and 68% had past physical or sexual abuse. What makes this fact more disturbing is that 70% of prison personnel are males and women are often subjected to groping during pat downs, being watched while changing, taking a shower, and using the bathroom. This does nothing more but damage the female inmates psyche and mental health. When women attempt to report sexual abuse correctional officers often retaliate with physical abuse and threats that range from time in solitary confinement to the loss of family and friends visiting rights. So there is often no justice served to correctional officers that engage in sexual abuse or misconduct which gives female inmates a sense of hopelessness. Female inmates often suffer from severe anxiety and depression. The American Psychological Association states that, “73 percent of women in state prisons and 75 percent in jails have mental health problems…” these mental health problems commonly seen in inmates are exacerbated by the physical and sexual abuse they encounter regularly. Pregnant inmates are often shackled during childbirth, while being uncomfortable and unnecessary it also leads to health problems. Shackling during birth can lead to hemorrhage and a decrease in fetal heartbeat, which could end in the death of the mother and child. So is shackling really worth it? Women are also given a lot less opportunity to better themselves and rehabilitate. Stephanie Covington, PhD, co-director of the Center for Gender and Justice, states that “...women are offered fewer programs than men, and the services provide little recognition of the traumatic paths that led them into the criminal justice system.” A great example for this statement is the fact that 27 male prisons in the East offer a parenting course while only 2 female prisons offer the same course. Women are commonly only offered audio recordings while male prisons offer both video and audio recordings. These women are grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters who should be able to reach out to their family just as men are able to. Inequality of opportunity is also an issue that can be seen locally in Arizona; male inmates are offered a creative writing course where they have the opportunity to have pieces published. The female presence is very absent from this program and I know it would do the female inmate population a lot of good if they were involved in similar programs. Another issue at hand is the fact that most correctional officer are only trained to deal with male inmates. Therefore, females are often subjected to excessive force that is not needed. In order to begin to fix the issue of poor treatment of female inmates, the issue must be addressed and made known among the general public. Recognition of the issue is the first step, only after being educated on the controversy can we begin to help. We can potentially offer female inmates a rehabilitating, sanitary, and fair prison experience that they deserve. However, the government in turn would have to offer more programs, physically safety, personal hygiene products, and overall opportunity.


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