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Opinion: Women Should Be Sentenced Differently Than Men

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This opinion piece reviews why women should not be housed in prisons.

This opinion piece reviews why women should not be housed in prisons.

Should Female Offenders Be Incarcerated?

The incarceration of women has been a highly debated issue in terms of its effectiveness in reforming the lives of female prisoners. There is a dilemma over 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 men in mind, as the environment thrives on complex labor and extreme physical conditions. While the number of incarcerated women has been increasing through the years, the crimes they commit are usually not violent.

Moreover, the collateral adverse effects are countless due to the biological nature and societal arrangement of matriarchy. Many women are mothers and are likely to be pregnant during the imprisonment period, have just given birth, or be taking care of children of minor age.

Because of this, the disruption to the family’s life and the ill effects on the children’s upbringing are irreversible and damaging.

Additionally, women's physical attributes, mental tendencies, and emotional nature are thought to be less dangerous than 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 article believes that sentencing women to imprisonment are not the most suitable solution to convict them of their crimes.

My Take on the Issue

I firmly believe that women do not belong in prisons, nor should they be in the prison system to any degree. Firstly, prison cells' structure and environmental conditions are not healthy for women. Since the early days when the prison establishments were built, they were designed to suit the needs of the male population. Females were thrown into this male-designed facility without considering their 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 fundamental human rights.

Reasons Behind the Necessary Difference

Below, I detail a few of the significant reasons why the prison system is incompatible with or suitable for female offenders.

Insufficient Female Healthcare

Female healthcare needs are not addressed appropriately in prison establishments. Women usually experience mental health illnesses while incarcerated, with rates reaching up to 90 percent. Women are also susceptible to harming themselves and, in worst-case scenarios, committing suicide in jail.

Female convicts in England and Wales are reportedly 14 times more 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 unavailable to appropriate shower facilities and a free supply of hygiene items and sanitary pads.

Pregnant convicts are not assured of the 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 fatal for women convicts if not attended with the proper medical care, and they can be emotionally disturbing as well.

Disruption of Families and Motherhood

The next compelling reason behind the inappropriateness of incarceration for women convicts boils down to society’s expectations of a female person’s duty and obligation to her husband and family.

Many cultures believe that women are mothers and 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 taking 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 everyday family life of children (United Nations Human Rights, 2014). A short stint behind bars will cause irreparable damage to the children's mental fortitude and emotional condition. Children might be forced to be in foster care; thus, their everyday 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. Sometimes, these crimes were done to protect themselves as they are or will be victims of violence, abuse, or maltreatment.

Women are often convicted even if they were involved in situations they did not initiate. They face jail time because they cannot get competent lawyers to defend them due to poverty.

Some women are imprisoned because of moral indecencies or were runaways avoiding arranged marriage, abuse, rape, or prostitution. Through these circumstances around their incarceration, one can realize that they are not fully capable of intentionally harming or hurting someone (United Nations Human Rights, 2014).

Difficult and unfortunate situations have compelled them to resort to actions that are considered law violations. Thus, they are not dangerous individuals that can threaten the peace and order or the community's well-being. These assertions make the author of this article assert that incarceration is not suitable for women convicts as punishment for their crimes.

Prison Is Not a Suitable Solution

This article 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 difficulty recovering from the lost time in jail and will endure the stigma of being incarcerated with her husband, having the tendency to deny her 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 realizations made the author believe that women do not belong in jails. I think that women should be sentenced differently than men and that incarceration is unsuitable for women.

References

  • 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/

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.