Incarceration is a conventional way of managing criminal behavior, and both private and public prisons offer their services to the government. However, the conditions in private and public prisons vary greatly, and male and female inmates are treated differently. This paper will discuss the conflict between private and public prisons using Marc Mauer’s philosophy on mass incarceration. Furthermore, it will examine how gender stereotypes affect the way inmates are treated.
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Public and Private Prisons
Mass incarceration of criminal offenders leads to the need for more prisons. Mauer (2006) notes that 1970 were characterized by “get tough” movement that resulted in more people being incarcerated than ever before. The “War on Drugs” resulted in the mass incarceration of drug users and dealers, with African American males being overrepresented (Mauer, 2006). Naturally, mass imprisonment led to notable changes in the criminal justice system.
One of the most significant changes in the justice system is the privatization of prisons. In the early years of privatization, it helped compensate for the correctional expenses that rose exponentially due to the increase in incarceration (Barak et al., 2010). However, unlike public prisons, private prisons depend on their facilities being filled with inmates. Thus, it is in the interest of private prisons to continue the trend of mass incarceration. Research shows that opening a new private facility can affect the length of a criminal sentence (Dippel & Poyker, 2019). Nevertheless, prisoner safety and correctional officers’ remuneration are not a priority for private prisons. Due to cost-cutting, conditions in private prisons are worse than in public ones (Beckett, 2018). Therefore, the privatization of prisons leads to an increasing number of inmates who are kept in suboptimal conditions.
Effect of Gender Stereotypes on Inmates
Gender stereotypes are still prevalent in modern society, and they can affect how inmates are treated by prison staff and, sometimes, other prisoners. The typical gender stereotypes claim that women are too sensitive and emotional and cannot handle a highly competitive environment, whereas men are opposite (Barak et al., 2010). These stereotypes lead to the concentration of power in economic, political, and social spheres in men’s hands (Barak et al., 2010). Thus, the claim that women are too sensitive for rigorous fields of law, politics, or economics allows people in power to support and normalize the power relationship between genders.
The criminal justice system echoes the situation in society as a whole. In the United States, the number of female prisoners is increasing faster than that of male inmates (Gideon, 2012). Once in jail, female prisoners are treated differently than male prisoners, especially by guards. Historical stereotypes allow male guards to hold more power over women, and, professionally, they have a lot of control over all the inmates. This power dynamic can lead to sexual abuse of female inmates by guards who view the act of violence as an exertion of their power. Kupers (2017) notes that in prison, “male/female binary division is absolute” (p. 440) and feminine qualities both in men and women are viewed as a weakness. Very feminine women are at a greater risk of being abused by the guards, and men who are considered somewhat feminine are at risk. Kupers (2017) states that male prisoners who lack masculine traits are likely to become victims of physical and sexual abuse. Overall, it is evident that gender stereotypes still present in society affect how different inmates are treated in prison.
In conclusion, mass incarceration led to many changes in the criminal justice system. Private prisons depend on a high number of prisoners but do not provide them with good living conditions. Furthermore, typical gender stereotypes also affect the way inmates are treated in prison. With feminine qualities and characteristics considered weak, both male and female prisoners are at risk of physical and sexual abuse if they possess those characteristics.
Barak, G., Leighton, P., & Flavin, J. (2010). Class, race, gender, and crime: The social realities of justice in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
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Beckett, K. (2018). The politics, promise, and peril of criminal justice reform in the context of mass incarceration. Annual Review of Criminology, 1, 235-259.
Dippel, C., & Poyker, M. (2019). Do private prisons affect criminal sentencing? (No. w25715). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Gideon, L. (2012). Special needs offenders in correctional institutions. Sage.
Kupers, T. (2017). Gender and domination in prison. Western New England Law Review, 39(3), 427-447.
Mauer, M. (2006). Race to incarcerate. New Press.