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Diane Sawyer’s: “A Nation of Women Behind Bars”

Lockdown II: Episode Two

Diane Sawyer’s special on February 27th examined  the fastest growing group of the largest prison population in the world–Women. The United States has almost 2.3 million inmates and 200,000 of the inmates are women. Sawyer visited four women’s prisons in the United States; the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, the Corrections Center for Women in Washington state, the Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida, and the Prison for Women in Nashville Tennessee.

After watching the documentary, it was evident that the problems that plague the men’s prisons are the same for the women’s prisons. A large number of the women inmates have serious mental health problems and are being warehoused in prisons and jails instead of receiving effective mental health care. Many local communities do not provide mental health care and the majority of state psychiatric hospitals were closed to save funds in the 1980’s. There are too many elderly inmates that should be released after serving long years of incarceration. Studies have shown that elderly inmates released are at very little risk of being arrested again.

Sawyer interviewed various women inmates imprisoned for nonviolent crimes and for violent crimes. Almost 63% of women inmates were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. The show did not neglect the victims of the crimes since the details of the inmate’s crimes ranging from theft to murder were discussed during the interviews. Despite the differences in the crimes committed and the inmate’s different backgrounds, many of the women inmates had much in common. The interviews revealed abusive childhoods, drug addictions, and serious mental health issues.

One inmate was a suburban housewife who became addicted to drugs after suffering injuries in a car accident. She went from expensive pain killers to cheap heroin. She stole $30,000 worth of checks and was sentenced to thirteen years in state prison. The woman’s husband continued to visit her and their children are growing up without a mother.  As I watched the interview, I saw a drug addicted mother serving a prison sentence longer than inmates who have committed a violent crime. An alternative sentence consisting of an effective drug program in a treatment facility and a strict probationary period  would provided a more humane disposition for her, the family, and society.

The outside world observed briefly the prison life of women inmates. The inmates experienced the bad food, tiny claustrophobic cells, long periods of depression and boredom. The viewer watched the interaction between the women inmates and the correctional officers. There was the constant struggle of hide and seek of contraband between the inmates and correctional officers. The show pointed out that women inmates for the right price could obtain contraband ( i.e. drugs, cell phone, etc.) from some guards.  From the interviews, you compared compare the rehabilitative philosophy of the women’s warden in Maryland to the punishment attitude in Tennessee. Sadly, the viewers watched one woman inmate discharged back into the community with $60, no medications, no job, and a place to stay only for one night, Within weeks, she was another recidivism statistic.

In the end, the Sawyer show revealed broken women and a broken prison system.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com

 

6 Responses to Diane Sawyer’s: “A Nation of Women Behind Bars”

  1. PrisonPath March 2, 2015 at 4:45 pm #

    We need smarter sentencing.
    By Tess

  2. PrisonPath March 2, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    “Tess, I agree we need better thought out sentencing. We are often taking mothers away from their children and that is traumatic. We should also deal with the root causes that create so much addiction and mental illness and need for hustling in our society. ”
    By Janet

  3. PrisonPath March 3, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    I have been on a mission for over fifty years to help girls and women still sitting in the chairs I once occupied:

    Tribute to Laurel Rans, Association of Women Executives in Corrections, Volume 2 Number 4, pp 1, 3-5, March 2009
    http://www.awec.us/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/March09newsletter.pdf

    Trauma and Women Behind Bars in America:
    The Need for a Criminal Justice Makeover
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ginger-lernerwren/trauma-and-women-behind-b_b_5935484.html

    Rose said advocates must be aware that religion can be part of a victim’s negative experiences. She cited her own background, saying her father often took her to church with him the same day he committed incest with her or forced her to service another man.
    http://www.theledger.com/article/20141012/NEWS/141019792?p=5&tc=pg

    I contend that incest is a form of sex trafficking. The rest of the family keep their own children away from the rapist, but gives that person access to other people’s children by not telling the police about the pedophile and victim(s). I believe they should be arrested and placed on the sex offenders list along with the pedophile for the trauma and/or death of future victims.
    http://amestrib.com/news/advocates-discuss-improving-services-iowa-sex-trade-victims

    “It’s better to get the girl out of the situation and get the help she needs instead of arresting her and charging her for something she had to do against her will,” Phillips said. “They aren’t going to get any help sitting in jail or being fined and let go. They are just going to go back to it when they get out or released. At least if you turn them over to DHS they will have someone attempting to give them the counseling and love they need.”

    and

    (THIS IS THE SAME FOR INCEST VICTIMS) “In many cases, victims develop a traumatic bond with their trafficker, which happens when a person cannot fight or run, so they are forced to develop a relationship with their captor.”
    http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/analysis-in-iowa-human-trafficking-laws-lacking/article_0466b94d-f0ee-5c97-8921-5a307d65dc8a.html

    “The reality is we love them where they’re at, and they learn what love is because we give them that,” she said. “At the end of the day, that’s the No. 1 thing we can do to change that definition, by showing them what love means.”
    http://www.theledger.com/article/20141012/NEWS/141019792?p=5&tc=pg
    By Bonnie

  4. Ed Barajas March 3, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    “The United States has almost 2.3 million inmates and 200,000 of the inmates are women.”

    This represents about 9% of the total even though women make up about 51% of the population. This means men represent 91% of those behind bars. even though they constitute 49% of the general population. Percentages such as these are used to illustrate racism in the criminal justice system because they constitute a higher percentage of the prison population ion proportion to their representation in the general population.

    So…Do these comparisons indicate sexism towards men?

  5. PrisonPath July 24, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

    Why do people find this so surprising? According to the federal government the number of women becoming incarcerated is increasing, while the number of men is dropping. Even more surprising is the silence from the women, all we ever hear about are the issues faced by men while incarcerated, the inhumane treatment, the lack of food, proper medical care, programming opportunities and the horrific conditions. Well women are subjected to the same if not worse conditions when it comes to medical and programming needs, lack of adequate medical care. In fact there are more programming options available to men than females in correctional facilities, plus women have issues strictly related to them some of which men never have to experience. We need to advocate for this silent population. We need to raise public awareness, we need to become the voices for these incarcerated women. It is no easier when they are released. The severe lack of reentry programs for returning citizens is deplorable and we had a modernized society should be ashamed that we are not doing more. It is our responsibility as a community to provide these returning citizens with a solid foundation upon which they can build a successful future in the community.
    By:Kathy

  6. PrisonPath July 24, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

    Kathy M. Well said!!!
    By:Katreace

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