Opinion: Women Should Be Sentenced Differently Than Men
The incarceration of women has been a highly debated issue in terms of its effectiveness in reforming the lives of the female prisoners. There is a dilemma in the appropriateness of prisons, and the prison system in general, for women because they are considered more vulnerable to abuse and maltreatment. Many agree that prisons were created with the men in mind, as the environment thrives on hard labor and extreme physical conditions. While the volume of incarcerated women has been increasing through the years, the crimes they commit are usually not of a violent nature.
Moreover, the collateral adverse effects are countless due to the biological nature and societal arrangement of matriarchy. Because many women are mothers, and most especially because they are likely to be pregnant during the imprisonment period, to have just given birth, or to be taking care of children of minor age, the disruption in the family life, as well as the ill effects to the children’s upbringing, are irreversible and damaging.
Additionally, the physical attributes, mental tendencies and emotional nature of women are thought to be less dangerous as compared to their male counterparts (Johnson, Rettig, Scott, and Garrison, 2002, p. 127). These traits make women less hazardous to the social order. Considering these powerful contentions, the writer of this paper believes that sentencing women to imprisonment is not the most suitable solution to convict them of their crimes.
My Personal Take on the Issue
I firmly believe that women do not belong in prisons, nor should they be under the prison system to any degree. Firstly, the prison cells in its structure and environmental conditions are not healthy for women to be housed in. Since the early days that the prison establishments were built, it was designed to suit the needs of the male population. Females were thrown into this male-designed facility without any consideration of their different physical, biological and emotional needs. The prison system, with its rigid routines and physically demanding activities, is not compatible with the complex needs of female convicts (Van Den Bergh, Gatherer, Fraser & Moller, 2010). This can be seriously viewed as a deprivation of their basic human rights.
Reasons Behind the Necessary Difference
Insufficient Female Healthcare
Female healthcare needs are not addressed appropriately in prison establishments. Women usually experience mental health illnesses while in incarceration, with rates reaching up to 90 percent. Women are also susceptible to harming themselves and, in worst case scenarios, committing suicide while in jail. Female convicts in England and Wales are reportedly 14 times likely to hurt themselves than their male counterparts.
They also have more reproductive health issues than men, such as menstruation, menopause, breastfeeding, and pregnancy. It is distressing to discover that until now, these concerns are not given much attention in prison cells. Access was not available to appropriate shower facilities and a free supply of hygiene items and sanitary pads.
Pregnant convicts are not assured of sufficient nutritional needs that an expectant mother must have, and breastfeeding is openly frowned upon due to the distraction it causes to the clockwork of prison activities. (Van Den Bergh, Gatherer, Fraser & Moller, 2010). Issues concerning reproductive health can be quite fatal for women convicts if not attended with the proper medical care, and they can definitely be emotionally disturbing as well.
Disruption of Families and Motherhood
The next compelling reason behind the inappropriateness of incarceration for women conviction boils down to the society’s expectations of a female person’s duty and obligation to her husband and family. Many cultures believe that women are mothers and they are primarily responsible for giving birth to a new life and for rearing and taking care of this new life from infancy to childhood until the offspring reaches adulthood. Women are relegated to take care of the family, and if mothers are put behind bars, it is more likely that no one will take care of the children.
Not only is imprisonment derailing the lives of women convicts, but it is also disrupting the normal family life of children (United Nations Human Rights, 2014). A short stint behind bars will cause irreparable damage to the mental fortitude and emotional condition of the children. Children might be forced to be in foster care thus their normal life will be unsettled (Auman-Bauer, 2016). Often, this results in weakened relationships between husbands and wives, with the husband having the tendency to shun and reject his wife. And this will ultimately lead to broken families and wayward children.
Women Are Often Not Dangerous Criminals
Lastly, women convicts are known to be less dangerous than men. Female convicts were usually placed in jail due to crimes they were forced to commit for economic reasons. These actions are non-violent in nature. Sometimes, these crimes were done so that they protect themselves as they are or will be victims of violence, abuse, or maltreatment. Often, women are convicted even if they were involved in situations that they did not initiate. They face jail time because they are unable to have competent lawyers to defend them due to poverty.
Some women are imprisoned because of moral indecencies or they were runaways avoiding arranged marriage, abuse, rape, or prostitution. Through these circumstances revolving their incarceration, one can realize that they are not fully capable of harming or hurting someone intentionally (United Nations Human Rights, 2014). Difficult and unfortunate situations have compelled them to resort to actions that are considered as law violations. Thus, they are not dangerous individuals that can threaten the peace and order or the well-being of the community. These assertions make the author of this paper assert that incarceration is not suitable for women convicts as punishment for their crimes.
Prison Is Not a Suitable Solution
This paper claims that imprisonment is not a suitable punishment for women convicts. First, prison cells and the prison system were not established and developed with women in mind. They will not live a humane life inside a prison cell. Second, the adverse effects on a woman and her family are utterly damaging to the family unit, especially to the welfare of the children. It disrupts the children’s upbringing and places them at risk of foster care which usually leads the youth to be wayward and rebellious.
The woman will also have a difficult time recovering from the lost time in jail, and will endure the stigma of being incarcerated with her husband having the tendency to deny her of the chance to rebuild their family and relationship. And lastly, women are not serious threats and do not foster grave danger to the community. Therefore, society does not need to be shielded from them through imprisonment. These are the realizations that made the author believe that women do not belong in jails. I believe that women should be sentenced differently than men and that incarceration is not suitable for women.
- Auman-Bauer, K. (2016). Studying the effects of incarceration on women and their families. Phys.org. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2016-10-effects-incarceration-women-families.html
- Johnson, W., Rettig, R., Scott, G. & Garrison, S. (2002). The Criminal Justice Student Writer’s Manual, 6ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Print.
- United Nations Human Rights. (2014). Women and Detention. OHCHR.org. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Women/WRGS/OnePagers/Women_and_Detention.pdf
- Van Der Bergh, B.J., Gatherer, A. Fraser, A. & Moller, L. (2010). Imprisonment and women’s health: concerns about gender sensitivity, human rights and public health. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2011;89:689-694. doi: 10.2471/BLT.10.082842. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/89/9/10-082842/en/