What Should be Done About the Conditions in Women’s Prisons? Final Letter

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? 

Works Cited



Final Blog Post

Media covered:

  1. From Privledge to Prison- Book
  2. Stanford Prison Experiment- Website/Slideshow
  3. U.N.:Tasers are a form of torture- Article
  4. How Prisons Can Help Inmates Lead Meaningful Lives- TED Talk
  5. Sustainability In Prisons Project- Website
  6. Resistance Behind Bars- Book
  7. We Got to Get Outta This Place- TED Talk
  8. Discussion with prison guard at Highland Correctional Center- Experimental
  9. Worst Female Prisons in the World- Documentary
  10. Women in Prison -Photo Essay
  11. Pregnant In Prison– Essay
  12. Women in Prison episode 1&2- TV series
  13. Cellblock 6: Female Lockup- Documentary

One thing I noticed about the pattern is that I started with a personal story in the form of a book and ended with personal stories in the form of the final documentary. In between there was a mixture of personal stories, generalizations, and statistics. I started with one book I found interesting and followed it from there, focusing a lot on the wrongdoings of the prison system and the mistreatment of women in prison. There was some implications or mention of fixing the prison system and changing it for the better in everything I read or watched.

I started with a book which covers the changes Amy went through and the effects of her life decisions. There was one situation with a pregnant women being tased which effected me emotionally and made me think of the Stanford prison experiment and the force used in prisons. This led to one of the questions I asked the prison guard about the force they use there. I learned that there are tasers in the prison, but they have not been used yet. This also led to the flip side of the topic, in which it is argued that prisons can add to prisoners lives and improve them. This led me to the sustainability in prisons project and gave me the idea about reforming the prison system. This also led to questions for the prison guard about the GED programs and programs against recidivism, which led to the TED talk by piper kerman. I found the documentary about the correctional center in Baltimore just looking for something to watch, and found it especially interesting because it takes place close to where I lived before I moved to Alaska. The photo essay was just something I found while searching the internet for things relevant to my project, and just as Nora Ephron argues in her essay about the Boston photographs, I found the pictures to be a lot more impactful emotionally than the narrative and words in the things I covered before. During that same search of things to add to my project I came across the Pregnant in Prison essay. The topic of pregnant women in prison is one thing that was a recurring theme throughout my project. I think that and the specific medical attention women need is one interesting thing to think about throughout the project. My mom found the other documentary I watched on TV one day when she was flipping through channels and recorded it for me, knowing it was relevant to my project. One interesting connection between the first TED talk and the documentary my mom found and the one about Baltimore is that the documentaries placed high emphasis on the changes and programs in the prisons that are put in place to improve the inmates lives and prevent recidivism.

  • One thing I didn’t even consider before the project was the idea of hope, that it is possible to change the system and the behavior of those incarcerated and that there are many programs available to those willing to change. Programs range from rehab to GED classes to anger management classes and group therapy. In the documentary about Baltimore, there was one program that was a rehab halfway house for prostitutes, but the success of this program relies on the willingness of those involved. The Highland Correctional Center is very active in give back programs, not inherently focusing on improving those incarcerated but focusing more on improving the community. Every Christmas they make clothing such as hats and gloves and raise money for families or villages in need. In the past they have raised over $14000.00 for donations.
  • What I found shocking and heartbreaking at the same time was the statistics that USA has 25% of the worlds population, and those rates continue to climb. The population at the Highland Correctional Center has doubled in the past 15 years. One reason for this is because when inmates get out they leave to the same unhealthy environment and people who caused them to get incarcerated in the first place, causing the revolving door.
  • I also was surprised at the fact that a lot of prisons and jails focus more on controlling and containing prisoners in contrast to the rehab and improvement I believe should happen.
  • Another thing not specific to my project but more about my thinking is that I found the statistics to not effect me in the same way documentaries and photos did. I believe they are more personal and more impactful and I found that really compelling.

I am going to create a slideshow for the final project. I believe because my project follows a very chronological pattern and flows directly from one media to another. This will translate well into a slide show, where I can put slides summarizing the media, my thoughts, and how those thoughts led to the next.