Do Women Have it Better than Men in Prison?
A recent study conducted by Ohio and New Mexico researchers found
that women in prison have better social supports and participate
in more social clubs and groups, allowing female inmates to better
adjust to the conditions of incarceration. While females had no
fewer rule violations than males, females nevertheless sent more
calls to and received more calls from children outside the institution,
received and sent more mail, had more visits, and participated
in more social clubs and organizations, such as parenting programs,
arts & crafts, or recreational programs.
Interestingly, the only time there were discernible gender-differences
in rule violations arose when males were married and females were
unmarried. Married males broke fewer rules than unmarried females,
even though there was no difference between married females and
unmarried females. The authors speculated that social support
is far better for male inmates than it is for female inmates because
it is generally only female spouses and not male spouses that
actually visit their incarcerated spouses.
While both common sense and scientific research demonstrate that
women are generally more relationship-oriented than men to begin
with (and experience less reinforcement from misbehaviour, violence,
and "machismo"), emerging research also shows that prisons
for women are markedly less strict, disciplinary, and coercive.
Although some researchers, such as Frances Heidensohn (1986),
argue that female prison environments are only superficially or
"cosmetically" softened as compared to male prison environments,
female prison environments are nonetheless more conducive to social
interaction, even if females require more of this social interaction.
However this should not make carceral environments appear in any
way independent of the behaviour of their inmates. It is possible
that prison environments are less coercive to women because they
simply do not need to be as coercive.
The authors suggest that future policy should be directed at
increasing inmate ties with family while in prison, alleviating
some of the pains of imprisonment, decreasing the likelihood that
inmates will turn to prison subcultures to fill their needs, and
improve their chances at successful reintegration. In all cases,
married male inmates adjust better to prison life, thus the researchers
propose that correctional staff encourage inmates to keep marital
relationships strong while in prison, even if this an already
Jiang, Shanhe and L. Thomas Winfree Jr. 2005. "Social Support,
Gender, and Inmate Adjustment to Prison Life: Insights from a
National Sample." The Prison Journal, 86(1).