What Should be Done About the Conditions in Women’s Prisons?
To Whom It May Concern,
I followed one strict topic of the treatment of women in prison throughout the entire project. My sources followed a very structured chronological pattern and one led directly to another. The entire project followed a problem solution pattern. The most important change in my thinking throughout this project was the realization that there is hope for reform and improvement as well as hope for slowing the rate of recidivism. Prior to the project I did not even have that thought in my mind that there is a possibility for positive change. Also, I had the insight that many prisons focus more on controlling as opposed to rehabilitation and improvement of those individuals incarcerated and the eventual improvement of the community and society as a whole.
The first book that had a major impact on me happened to be the first book I started my project with, From Privilege to Prison by Amy Wickes-Passmore. The book covers the personal changes the author goes through and the situations and injustices faced during her time in prison. One situation that happened early on in the book during her time in the county jail impacted me profoundly. A pregnant woman was in pain and needed serious medical attention, which she was asking for. Instead of helping her, the guards came in and tased her, and subsequently dragged her away. After reading about that situation, there was a major emotional affect on me as I had the desire to get out of bed and protest for better conditions in women’s prison. However instead of protesting I moved on to my next source, an article about the use of tasers in prison. This story also led me to ask the prison guard at the Highland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River if they use tasers. I found out that they have them and are allowed to use them, however the situation has not arisen yet in which they would be determined necessary to use. The situation with the pregnant women was always in the back of my mind throughout the project and definitely impacted my opinion that there should be better treatment of women in prison. While it is true that these people are criminals and they committed acts that would generally be considered immoral, they are still people and deserve humane treatment. It seems obvious to me throughout the project that the inhumane treatment of those women incarcerated is the problem component of this project.
Another source that outlines the problem and had a major emotional impact on me was the book by Victoria Law which recounts personal stories of women in prison along with powerful statistics. One chapter covers the topic of sexual abuse. There are institutions that ignore and dismiss sexual abuse by its employees, with Michigan having no laws criminalizing sexual activity between its prisoners and staff. Also, women in any prison system are subject to informal retaliation by other staff members, and for prisoners who report sexual misconduct in the Ohio Reformatory for Women, staff make their lives a “living hell”. In Alaska, as told to me by the prison guard, the law protects the inmates with Alaska Statute 11.41.425 being sexual assault in the 3rd degree, a class C felony and 11.41.427 being sexual assault in the 4th degree, a class A misdemeanor. The law covers all sexual contact and no act between prisoners and staff is considered “consensual.” The power that a prison official holds makes it impossible for prisoners to truly give consent. For me, it is clear that there are changes that need to be made to make women feel safer and not have them abused and taken advantage of, as so often is the case. Regardless of the crime committed I strongly believe that everyone deserves to feel safe and deserves to be in an environment where they can grow to their full potential. This belief was a direct result of my research and time doing this project.
On the other hand, there are an abundance of programs out there to benefit the individual incarcerated and reduce the rate of recidivism. This is a reflection of the solution part of this project. Some of the programs include the Sustainability in Prisons Project, a statewide effort working with the goal of prison reform which includes all twelve prisons in Washington. Their vision is,”not only to save tax dollars and natural resources, but also to help offenders rebuild their lives for the benefit of all.” Programs and classes in Alaska include the classes the prison guard told me which are available at the HWCC for parenting, vocational programs, culinary, horticulture, college classes at the inmate’s expense, anger management, and GED. I was unaware initially that there was such an abundance of programs before starting this project, and it seems obvious to me that these programs are part of the solution to fix the problem of the treatment of women in prison. The issue here is not that these programs don’t exist, the issue is instead the apprehension of the majority of the population to assist those in prison. However, I strongly believe that the more these programs are used the larger the benefit. I found out throughout the project and by asking the prison guard, reducing the rate of recidivism will improve the community as a whole. Paying taxes for those who committed crimes is one common complaint by the majority. However, by taking advantage of these programs and improving the lives of prisoners and reducing the chances of them ending up back in prison, the prison system would become less of a burden for taxpayers because there would be less inmates to house.
In conclusion, my thinking has changed a lot throughout this project. While before the project I would have considered myself a compassionate person, the people who make mistakes and ended up in prison wouldn’t be those I would be sympathetic for. However, after doing this project and understanding the circumstances women in prison I would consider myself sympathetic for those incarcerated. The biggest thing I am taking away from this project is the idea that there is hope for those in prison in terms of reform which will lead to an eventual reduction of recidivism and improvement to society overall. Also, another big thing I am taking away from this project is that there is a problem with the prison system but due to the majority not being sympathetic to those in prison, it is harder than it needs to be to make those improvements.
What Should be Done About the Conditions in Women’s Prisons?