I picked up Resistance Behind Bars by Victoria Law over spring break, which highlights the issues facing women in prison as well as challenges the patriarchal ideology that women are passive and docile and that women do not organize in order to challenge readers to reconsider how they view women fighting for change. The book is the result of eight years of research and is organized into 11 main parts, covering everything from sexual abuse to education to medical conditions. However, what I found especially powerful wasn’t something that had an entire chapter dedicated to it, it was something that was a recurring theme throughout the chapters.
What spoke to me the most and what I found the most powerful was not inherently the injustices women face while incarcerated, it was the tactics used in order to keep prisoners obedient and quiet about the injustices. Women who speak out about sexual abuse find their complaints often ignored as well as finding grievances denied. In more extreme cases and very frequently, when inappropriate sexual relationships between prisoners and guards take place, the inmates involved are targeted and harassed by staff members. In one case there was a relationship between corrections officer Phillip Lewis and prisoner Lynch, who reported having a sexual relationship with authorities. She was targeted by staff members and was also told by a residential unit officer that, “Bitches like you get found in ditches.” A prisoner at the Ohio Reformatory for Women stated that staff make the lives of prisoners who report sexual misconduct a, “living hell.” This type of harassment is common and is one of the powerful motivators to keep a girl quiet about the many injustices that are found behind prison walls.
Another tactic used to keep prisoners controlled and silent is involved with prisoners organizing. Women sharing information and networking “undermines the operations of a system that seeks to foster an atmosphere of alienation and isolation”, therefore they are a threat to the system’s complete control over its prisoners and subsequently they risk repercussions. One prisoner at the Central California Women’s Facility who helped others with legal work were fired from her position as a law library clerk. Also at the CCFW, women who demanded medical attention for their fellow prisoners were faced with a team of guards who assembled in order to trash their cells. Essentially, anything that threatens the complete control and intimidation is met with many motivations to keep prisoners silent. One of the questions I gave to the guard at the women’s prison my mom knows asked about if the harassment and threat of room searches and threats of lack of privileges also took place in Alaska and I am very interested in hearing his response. There is also the high possibility of me being able to meet with a prisoner at the women’s prison here who is serving a life term sentence which I am looking forward to.
Education in prison is a very complex and intricate topic, because it is extremely beneficial to the prisoners but harmful for the system of the prisons. A 2003 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 42% of women in state prisons had neither a high school diploma or a GED, with only 36% of women had graduated high school. While there are many obstacles, such as prison environments and prison security measures hindering learning, the costs involved with providing education to prisoners, and the resistance from those in charge. Many women in prison have not had the chance to get an education to to drug addictions, abusive relationships and they find themselves changed for life due to the newfound opportunities. Educational programs are credited by some with helping them develop the skills necessary to successfully stay out of prison as well as helping their self esteem and self image. I would argue that those at high risk for recidivism should have their educational pursuits supported as to hopefully prevent them becoming incarcerated again. Prisoners who appeared to be able to defend themselves intellectually found themselves less likely to become a target of prison injustices. Because of this, there is frequently resistance from those in charge about providing educational opportunities for prisoners. This is because educated prisoners challenge the complete control those in prison systems currently have.
In terms of Alaska, the prison’s population grown continues to grow and has a projected 11% increase in its state prison population by 2018. That same growth across the country is expected to rise only 3%. The recidivism rate in Alaska is staggering, with two out of three former prisoners returning to prison within the first three years of their release, mostly within the first six months. Over the last decade, Alaska has experienced a 66% growth rate in recidivism. Also, an estimated 80% of people under the Alaska’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) jurisdiction suffer from an alcohol and or drug addiction. It is obvious that something must be done to decrease the recidivism rate and help past inmates re enter society productively and live lives that are safe and beneficial to the economy.The choice Alaska faces now is to invest in proven cost-effective approaches today or to invest in a new costly prison tomorrow, at least $250 million, with poor public safety outcomes. The state can’t afford to continue on with its past criminal justice practices which were costly and produced such a high recidivism rate. As shown in the table, it is very costly to house prisoners and it is unrealistic with Alaska’s budget and bad for Alaska’s economic future. I am hoping to meet with an inmate and the prison guard to learn more of the personal view on the situation in Alaska and develop a stronger personal opinion of the situation.