Chapter 6 – Women and the CJ System 

q     Images of Women

q      woman as the pawn of biology

q      woman as passive and weak

q      woman as impulsive and nonanalytical

q      act illogically and therefore need the guidance from the more analytical man

q      woman as impressionable and in need of protection

q      they are “childlike” and gullible and therefore need more protection from men

q     the active woman as masculine ( whenever she breaks away from the traditional roles, it is deemed "unnatural" or even "masculine“)

q      criminal woman as purely evil (when a woman "falls from grace" she must really be evil, since she is so inherently pure to begin with)

q     Madonna-whore duality (either a virtuous person or the paragon of evil or the "seductress“)  

Women under Roman and Greek Law 

•         Rome - status of women and slaves incorporated into the family under the rule of Patria protestas 

•         This term implied not so much a family relationship, but rather a property relationship.

•         According to Roman law, unlike slaves, women could not be emancipated 

Biblical sources 

•         "The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man...Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man." (Corinthians )

•         "Let women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man" (Timothy) 


•         male dominance over women and children in the family extended to society in general

•         Lerner’s theatre analogy

–        script, stage setting, the props, etc. are controlled by men

•         American family law incorporated Blackstone's famous dictum that the husband and wife are as one and that one is the husband 

Women & Law 

•         In early American law the wife could not sue, execute a deed and engage in any other similar practices, without consent of her husband.

•         Women denied vote until 1921

•         In general laws that were designed to protect the interests of “persons” simply did not apply to women.

•         Supreme Court ruling in 1867:

•         "natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations in civil life..."

•         the "destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother"

•         Under Colonial law some crimes were, in effect, "women's crimes" and were severely punished.

•         "common scold"  -  a woman who berated her husband or was too vocal in public settings.

•         The most appropriate punishment for scolding was the "ducking stool" and "branks."

Mary Dyer 

•         Sympathized with the emerging Quaker movement (a religion strongly resisted by the puritans).

•         Supported Anne Hutchinson (visited her in jail). 

•         Dyer was convicted and banished in 1659.

•         Later returned and was hanged in Boston Commons

–        100 years later “patriots” met on the Commons to resist British rule  

Feminist movement (19th Century)  

•         Married Women's Property Acts

–        gave women certain property rights that had  been denied

•         The issue of domestic violence led to the passage of laws in some parts of the county, as it was for the first time considered a crime. 

History of Women’s Prisons  

•         Up until mid-19th century women were held in men’s prisons, although in separate sections

•         When Newgate Prison was closed in the 1820s, the men were all eventually transferred to Auburn prison, but the women were sent to Bellevue Penitentiary in New York City. 


•         Conditions were so horrible at Bellevue, that a women's annex was built at Mount Pleasant, New York, on the grounds of Sing Sing Prison, and opened in 1839

•         Prevailing view was that women offenders should he treated more harshly than their male counterparts as they had fallen further from “grace” 

Women at Sing Sing Prison 

•         Conditions of women’s quarters were horrible - filth, overcrowding, and a great deal of sexual abuse by the all-male guards.

•         Indiana State Prison prostitution service was set up for the male inmates using female prisoners

•         First prison for women was opened in 1873 in Indiana.  

National Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline 

•         Met for first time in 1879 in Cincinnati

–        called for separate women’s prisons which would stress rehabilitation

•         Eventually this became the American Correctional Association


•         First prison for women was opened in 1873 in Indiana.  

Women’s Prison Reform Movement 

•         Four factors led to this

–        increase in female crime after the war and an increase in women prisoners (mostly poor women charged with “public order” crimes)

–        the women's Civil War social service movement

–        Charity reform movements in general, many focusing on crime and stressing rehabilitation

–        Start of feminist movement that emphasized a separatist approach and a reinterpretation of the notion of the "fallen woman"  

Custodial v. Reformatory Prisons  

•         Custodial prisons for women – 3 types

–        those that were either within or attached to male prisons (most common until separate women’s prisons were opened)

–        prison farms in the South (Plantation prisons)

–        totally independent prisons.

The Reformatory 

•         Women sent to reformatories were convicted mostly of "public order" offenses.

•         Became the most dominant plan for women

•         relied on "domestic routines"

•         upon release, women were placed in "suitable" private homes as housekeepers

•         Followed the "cottage plan"

–        housing facilities would be like average family home

–        teach women to become “homemakers.”  

Examples of Public order offenses resulting in prison sentences for women 

•         "lewd and lascivious carriage," "stubbornness," "idle and disorderly conduct,", "serial premarital pregnancies," "keeping bad company," "adultery," and even "venereal disease.“

•         One woman was sent to Albion Reformatory for five years on the charge of having had "unlawful sexual intercourse with young men and remaining at hotels with young men all night."

•         Another women was raped by her father (who made her pregnant) and was subsequently sentenced for "running around" with men while she was seven months pregnant

Racial Differences 

•         Separate but Equal Prevailed as “reforms” were aimed at white female offenders

•         Black women subjected to penal servitude

–        served as a replacement for the old slave plantations.

–        often leased out to local businesses such as farms, mines, and railroads to work on various kinds of "chain gangs."

–        Black women constituted more than 80% of all female prisoners in the South (see table 6.1) 

Controlling Women's Bodies and Sexuality 

•         "social purity" movement

–        behaviors of many immigrants shocked the moral sensibilities of the upper classes.

•         Result: the selective enforcement of various "morals offenses"

•         Typical statements of leading “reformers”

–        "Do you want immoral women to walk our streets, pollute society, endanger your households, menace the morals of your sons and daughters?” 

–        “Do you think the women here described are fit to become mothers of American citizens?  Shall foreign powers generate criminals and dump them on our shores?"   

Women in the CJ System Today 

q     Increases in the no. of women somewhere in the cj system during the past ten years

q       total: + 81% vs. + 45% among men

q       on probation: up 76% vs. 37% for men

q       in jail: up 89% vs. 49% for men

q       in prison: up 108% vs. 77% for men

q       on parole: up 105% vs. 31% for men 


•         About one-half of the women in prison are black

–        Eight times more likely than white women to be incarcerated. 

–        2/3 of the women on probation are white. 

–        2/3 of women in prison are minorities.

•         Chances of going to prison

–        11 of every 1,000 women will be in prison at some point in their lives. 

–        15 out of every 1,000 Hispanic women

–        36 of every 1,000 black women

–        5 of every 1,000 white women

•         incarceration rate for black women is almost 8x higher than for whites 

Incarceration rate for women  

•         1925 – 1975: ranged from 6 to 8 per 100,000

–        17 in 1985

–        45 in 1994

–        62 in 2003

•         numerical increase of 1,043% during past 30 years

–        During this time, the incarceration rate of women increased by 675 percent, compared to an increase of 316 percent for men.

•         The majority of women are in prisons more than 100 miles from their children, which helps account for infrequent visits. 

Drugs as the culprit 

•         1994 – 2003: drug arrests for women + 35% vs. 20% for men.

•         Drug offenders accounted for the largest source of the total growth among female inmates (36%) compared to male inmates (18%).

•         2004, almost one-third (31.5%) of all women prisoners were convicted of drug offenses

–        in federal prisons, this figure is 65%

–        in 1979 only 10% of women in state prison were drug offenders 

Profile of Women in Prison 

•         Grew up in single-parent home

•         Almost ½ had parent in prison

•         Over half sexually abused

•         About 70-80% have kids

–        More than 2 million kids have a parent in prison

•         Most did not work full-time - poverty wages

–        Many never had a checking account nor drivers’ license

•         60% regularly used drugs the prior to their latest offense

•         Offense backgrounds:

–        For 35%, this is their first felony conviction

–        Half as likely (17%) as men to be sentenced for a violent crime

–        Almost 40% convicted of drugs

–        36% convicted of a property crime 

Some Stories to share 

•         10-year-old girl whose mother is in prison and is dying.

–        The girl wrote to the sentencing judge “I don’t want my mommy to die in that place by herself.  I want her to come home first so we can hug her and take lots of pictures together.  Will you please let her come home before God takes her to His home? Please?”

•         drug charges for women reflect their secondary status in the big world of illegal drug dealing

–        The story of Crissy illustrates this