Historically, males have represented the vast majority of the prison population in the US. Hence, until the second half of the 20th century, the correctional system used a gender-neutral approach, which largely disregarded women’s specific needs and problems. Recent research suggests that implementing gender-informed programs can significantly impact the quality of life of the female inmates and the effectiveness of corrections. However, while some facilities have been working towards implementing the new approach, the policies at most prisons and jails remain unchanged. Moreover, the researchers have found significant flaws in the new programs, which can reduce the efficiency of the corrections. This paper aims to explore gender-specific issues in corrections and determine how updating the current policies would benefit the system.
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Women often receive less attention from the legislators when it comes to developing the corrections programs because they represent the minority of the prisoners. Rudell et al. (2020) note that the U.S. General Accounting Office admitted the problem for the first time in 1980. While there were some attempts to address the issue in the late 20th century, it has not received much public attention until recently. Numerous studies in the 2000s confirmed that the correctional programs for women based on similar programs for males lack efficiency (Gobeil et al., 2016). In 2018, the US Department of Justice officially acknowledged the shortcomings of the gender-neutral approach in corrections (Rudell et al., 2020). Therefore, the growing number of publications on the topic has finally drawn the attention of the policymakers to the gender issues in the US correctional system. However, because the system has mostly remained unchanged for decades, implementing new policies might prove to be a long and challenging process.
Some of the problems female inmates experience are gender-specific, and the gender-neutral correction programs tend to ignore those. The issues related to pregnancy and mothering are among the most obvious factors (Rudell et al., 2020). Other problems are not unique to one of the genders, but men and women experience those to a different extent or with different consequences. For instance, women more often become the victims of sexual or physical abuse, leading to serious mental illnesses (Prost et al., 2020). Moreover, the research shows that many factors, such as drug use, mental health issues, and poverty, can have a different impact on women (Buist & Lenning, 2016). Therefore, the experiences of male and female inmates prior to incarceration are often non-identical. This factor is hard to ignore, considering that the motivation to commit a crime often stems from prior experiences. Thus, the correction plans designed for men might be inefficient for women, and the legislators should develop the policies which address the gender-specific challenges.
While many researchers have been questioning the viability of the gender-neutral approach in corrections for a while, little research exists on the efficiency of the gender-informed approach. Notably, less than two decades have passed since the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) issued the guidelines which followed the latest research (Boppre, 2019). Therefore, it might prove difficult to evaluate the impact of the new regulations yet. However, Gobeil et al. (2016) have summarized the existing research on the topic and have established that the gender-informed approach has been largely successful in reducing recidivism and enhancing social reintegration among female convicts. New programs have shown to be especially beneficial for women who experienced sexual or physical abuse (Gobeil et al., 2016). These observations reinforce the importance of analyzing the inmates’ prior experiences to improve the effectiveness of the corrections. Overall, while further research on the gender-informed approach is required, so far, it has proven to be an effective tool for the US correctional system.
The scholars point out that gender issues in corrections require a more complex, intersectional approach, as incarceration rates differ significantly among social groups. Women of color and LGBTQIA+, in particular, have a disproportionately high representation among the convicts (Boppre, 2019). For example, roughly 16% of transgender women report having spent time in prison or jail (Buist & Lenning, 2016). Boppre (2019) states that NIC recommendations do not include specific guidelines addressing the disparities. Correctional institutions could benefit from increasing employee diversity, providing cultural competence training for the staff, and developing programs specifically for marginalized social groups (Boppre, 2019). These measures would help reduce disparities, alleviate discrimination, and increase the efficiency of the social reintegration efforts. Since gender is not the only factor which defines the convicts’ background, correctional agencies should use an intersectional approach to ensure that the marginalized groups can equally benefit from their programs.
Gender issues have been one of the long-standing concerns of the US correctional system. The research in the past decades has proven the benefits of gender-informed policies which reflect the women’s specific needs and problems. While the NIC has approved the new guidelines based on the scholars’ recommendations, the researchers believe that the current legislation does not represent the interests of the marginalized groups. Overall, to implement a gender-informed approach efficiently, one should consider a multitude of factors, including race, sexuality, and financial status of the convicts.
Boppre, B. (2019). Improving correctional strategies for women at the margins: Recommendations for an intersectionally-responsive approach. Corrections, 4(3), 195-221. Web.
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Buist, C. L., & Lenning, E. (2016). Gender issues in corrections. In C. M. Hilinski-Rosick & J. P. Walsh (Eds.), Issues in Corrections: Research, Policy, and Future Prospects (pp. 57-82). Rowman & Littlefield.
Gobeil, R., Blanchette, K, & Stewart, L. (2016). A meta-analytic review of correctional interventions for women offenders: Gender-neutral versus gender-informed approaches. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 43(3), 301-322. Web.
Prost, S. G., Panisch, L. S., & Bedard, L. E. (2020). Quality of life in jail: Gender, correlates, and drivers in a carceral space. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 64(10–11), 1156–1177. Web.
Rudell, R, Mays, G. L., & Winfree Jr., L. T. (2020). Contemporary corrections: A critical thinking approach. Routledge.