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Les femmes dans le monde du travail dans les Amériques

 | 
Gérard Gómez
, 
Donna Kesselman

Les travailleuses, les survivantes

A case of multiple discrimination1 against women at work: American Prisons

Claude Guillaumaud-Pujol

Résumé

Among the most precarious and underpaid jobs now typical of women work is the at once largely unnoticed and tragic situation of women inmate workers. This is exemplified by women in American prisons where they suffer greatly from discrimination on multiple grounds such as gender, race, age, faith and sexual orientation. This combines with ethnic and racial disparities. Economic discrimination should be added to the list but this is common ground with male prisoners as the present American judicial system exacerbates the “working poor” phenomenon. Even notions meant to improve the status of minorities like “gender equality” are distorted in prison to the detriment of women inmates. In an era of economic crisis and mass incarceration women prisoners who experience discrimination on multiple grounds have become “bargain labor”.

Parmi les emplois les plus précaires et sous-payés, on trouve ceux réservés aux femmes, en particulier les femmes en prison, dont la situation tragique est largement oubliée. Nous étudierons le cas des prisonnières américaines qui cumulent des critères de discrimination en fonction du genre, de leur appartenance ethnique, de leur pays d’origine, de leur âge, de leur religion et de leur préférence sexuelle. On pourrait ajouter à cette liste la ségrégation économique mais c’est un trait commun à presque tous les prisonniers, quel que soit leur sexe, puisque le système pénal américain est fortement discriminatoire envers les classes défavorisées et cultive le phénomène des « travailleurs pauvres ». Même les législations visant à réduire la disparité entre hommes et femmes se révèlent préjudiciables à l’égard des femmes dans l’univers carcéral. Victimes à la fois de la crise économique et d’une politique récente d’emprisonnement massif les prisonnières assujetties à des critères discriminatoires multiples sont devenues « une main-d’œuvre en or ».

Entre los empleos precarios y mal pagados, se hallan los reservados a las mujeres, en particular aquellas que están en la cárcel y cuya trágica situación es siempre olvidada. Estudiaremos el caso de las prisioneras americanas que acumulan criterios de discriminación en función de su pertenencia étnica, de su país de origen, de su edad, de su religión y de su preferencia sexual. Podríamos añadir a esta lista la segregación económica pero ello es un rasgo común a todos los prisioneros, cualquiera que sea su sexo, ya que el sistema penal americano es altamente discriminatorio hacia las capas desfavorecidas y cultiva el fenómeno de los “trabajadores pobres”. Hasta las legislaciones que tratan de reducir la disparidad entre hombres y mujeres son al fin de cuentas perjudiciales hacia las mujeres en el universo carcelario. Víctimas a la vez de la crisis económica y de una política reciente de encarcelamiento masivo, los prisioneros sujetos a criterios discriminatorios múltiples se han convertido en una “mano de obra de oro”.

Texte intégral

Introduction

Statistics and prevailing patterns

  • 1 Hudson M., 2011, The Experience of Discrimination on Multiple Grounds, ACAS.

1In a context of world economic crisis, the participation of women in the American labor market has significantly risen in recent years in a specific area: American prisons for women. Thanks to a recent American television series, Orange is the New Black, this tragic story has come to public attention, as illustrated by Kerman’s testimony, a white woman and former federal prisoner:

  • 2 Kerman P., 2010, Orange is the New Black, Abacus. United Kingdom.

The United States has the biggest prison population in the world — we incarcerate 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, though we are only 5 percent of the world’s population. This reliance on prisons is recent: in 1980 we had about 500,000 Americans in prison; now we are more than 2.3 million people locked up. A huge part of that growth is represented by the people like the women I did time with — low-level offenders who made serious mistakes but pose little threat of violence. Most of the women I know from prison have lived lives that were missing opportunities many of us take for granted.2

  • 3 Piper Eressea Kerman was born September 28, 1969.
  • 4 Mauer M., 2010 “Sentencing reform amid mass incarcerations: Guarded optimism”, Criminal Justice, 26 (...)

2The series, based on the recently-released memoir of Piper Eressea Kerman who was convicted on felony money-laundering charges, provides an intimate view through life experience, bringing meaning to statistics which, in themselves, are startling3, as documented by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): the U.S has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world at 754 persons in prison or jail per 100,000, as of 2008 (as compared to 148 per 100,000 for England or 66 per 100,000 for Norway for instance), with a rate of incarceration and racial disparities that can vary notably by state as reported in Mauer’s study: “… from a high of 867 per 100,000 people in the population in Louisiana to a low of 148 per 100,000 in Maine in 2010… and a range of black/white disparity from a high of 13.6 to 1 to a low of 1.9 to 1 (2005 statistics)”.4

  • 5 Habitual offender laws (commonly referred to as three-strikes laws) are statutes enacted by state g (...)
  • 6 Mauer M., R.S. King, M.C. Young, 2004, « The Meaning of Life » : Long Prison Sentences in Context » (...)
  • 7 Ab « Incarcerated America », 2003, Human Rights Watch.

3As mentioned by Kerman, violent crime was not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population from 1980 to 2003 (nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prisons were convicted of non-violent crime), the greatest force behind that growth being the national “war on drugs” launched by Reagan’s administration in the eighties. The subsequent public policy change has resulted in more prison sentences and lengthened time served through mandatory minimum sentencing, such as “three strikes” laws5 or reductions in the availability of parole or early release. Consequently, the growth in life prison sentences has increased by 83% between 1992 and 2006 with a number of incarcerated drug offenders increasing by twelvefold since 1980.7 This paper aims to study these phenomena through the prism of the “multiple discrimination” which victimizes women in American prisons. It begins by presenting the implacable data, which demonstrates the existence of gender and race/ethnicity discrimination in U.S. prisons. As in the formal workplace, these realities are written into a discriminatory political and business culture. The notion of multiple discrimination then presents new dimensions of unequal treatment and perceived from more holistic viewpoint. In a second part, the status of women at work in the 21st century prison-industrial complex is then analyzed within this demeaning framework.

Gender and Race/Ethnicity Discrimination

  • 8 Kerman, ibid., p. 322.
  • 9 Ab « Incarcerated America », 2003, Human Rights Watch (“44 percent of all prisoners in the United S (...)
  • 10 Braman D., 2004, « Doing Time on the Other Side: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America », (...)
  • 11 Alexander M., 2010, The New Jim Crow, The New Press, New York, Preface.
  • 12 Kerman P., ibid., p. 339.

4The office of Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data ascertains, without a shadow of a doubt, the overrepresentation of non-white in American prison population. Kerman is perceived like an oddity in her federal prison and when cuffed by two young Customs agents she notices: “I’m not sure what they were expecting, but it wasn’t me… In the worldview of these burly clean-cut young guys I was clearly not supposed to be resident in this fortress. I probably looked too much like their sister, their neighbor or their wife”.8 According to BJS data, 70 percent of the inmates in the U.S. prisons and jails are non-white9 and “the racial dimension of mass incarceration is its most striking feature. No other country in the world imprisons a larger percentage of its racial and ethnic minorities”10. This comes as the consequence of political shifts of the 1980s such as market globalization, the deindustrialization of the U.S economy, this in relation — in the name of flexible labor markets — to the dismantling of such social service programs as Aid to Families and Dependent Children, better known as “welfare”.11 These changing economic fundaments led to transformation in American society as a whole, including the veritable criminalization of the most vulnerable: prisons and jails operate like “revolving doors between poorest communities and correctional facilities… creating perverse financial incentives to keep those prisons full, at tax-payers’ expense”.12

5Another consequence has been the prison construction boom, which modified the institutional and industrial landscape. The case of California is greatly significant in the national picture, as exposed by African-American activist Angela Davis who documents a first prison built, in Saint Quentin, 1852, then a second one in Folstom in 1880; the first prison for women opened in 1933 in Tehachapi. Altogether, there were nine prisons in the whole of California in 1955. In the 1980s, during Reagan presidency, nine more prisons were built, including the Northern California Facility for Women. And in 2002, a total of “thirty-three prisons, thirty-eight camps, sixteen community correctional facilities, and five tiny prisoner mother facilities in California” could be counted, with a racial composition of prison population as follows:

Latinos […] account for 35.2 percent, African-Americans 30 percent and white prisoners 29.2 percent.13 There are now more women in prison in the state of California than there were in the entire country in the early 1970s […] California can claim the largest women’s prison in the world, Valley State Prison for Women with more than thirty-five hundred inhabitants and located in the same valley […] and the second largest women’s prison in the world — Central California Women’s Facility […] with around thirty-five hundred in 2002.14

6Among this prison population, the fastest-growing group has been women prisoners:

  • 15 Greenfield L.A & Minor-Harper, S., 1991, Women in prison, Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statist (...)
  • 16 Guerino P., Harrison P.M. & Sabol W.J., 2012, Prisoners in 2010, NCJ 236096. Data on race/ethnicity (...)

Women have long represented a modest share of the overall population. In 1980, about 13,000 women were incarcerated in federal and state prisons combined representing 4% of the total population.15 Since that time, the rate of growth of women in prison has exceeded the rate of increase for men. As a result, in 2010 there were 112,000 women in state and federal prison and in 205,000 women overall in prison or jail; women now constitute 7% of the prison population.16

  • 17 U.S Department of Justice, BJS, July 2013, NCJ242467.
  • 18 Mauer M., 2013, « The Changing Racial Dynamics of Women’s Incarceration ». The Sentencing Project, (...)
  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 See Guerino, ibid.

7As apprised by recent BJS data, the incarceration growth rate has been declining since 200017 but, paradoxically, the 2000-2010 decade ended with an increased number of people in prison,18 notably an increased proportion of women in prison for drug-crimes: “In 1986, 12% of women in state prison were serving time for drug-offense compared to 8% of men… as of 2009, 25.7% of women were serving time for drug-offenses, as were 17.2% of men”.19 It should be noted that this recent decline in state prison population is greatly influenced by reductions in the prison population in California as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Plata decision in 2011. The court found that overcrowding in California state prisons produced unconstitutional conditions of health care and required the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 over two years, thus constituting 57% of total state decline in prison population nationally (minus 11,000 inmates).20

  • 21 Mauer M., ibid. The best proxy for criminal behavior is arrest data compiled by the FBI (UCR) but h (...)

8The conflicting public priorities are indicative of a public dilemma about the place of the most vulnerable, especially minorities, in US society ; since 2000 the “prevailing patterns” in incarceration rates among racial groups have undergone significant change21 although racial/ethnic disparities have remained substantial (in 2009, 60% of imprisoned offenders remained African American and Latinos):

  • 22 Mauer M., ibid.

From 2000 to 2009 the rate of incarceration in state and federal prisons declined 9.8% for black men and 30.7% for black women… Incarceration rates for white men and women rose by 8.5% and 47.1%, respectively from 2000 to 2009. For Hispanics the men’s rate declined by 2.2% while women’s rate rose by 23.3%. In 2008 black women were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at six times the rate of white women. By 2009 the ratio had declined by 53%. The shift was a result of both declining incarceration of African-American women and rising incarceration of white women. The disparity between Hispanic and non-Hispanic declined by 16% during this period.22

  • 23 Since 2004 the BJS has added a new category of “two or more races”. See Guerino P., Harrison P.M., (...)
  • 24 Already in 1982 the population of women’s prison was 50% black, 9% Hispanic and 3% Native American. (...)
  • 25 The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of gover (...)

9Therefore, pronounced change occurred in the female prison population, with black women experiencing a decline of 30.7% while white women a 47.1% and Hispanic women a 23.3% rise. Nevertheless, as observed by Guerino and Mauer, this data should be considered as “general estimates” because the data source used to estimate race and Hispanic origin changed in 2010, “BJS employing a revised methodology for these and future years, adding in 2004 a new category of “two or more races; 2.9% identified with that description would have previously been characterized as black thus accounting for a reduction in the black population”.23 Nonetheless, since the 1980s, women of color’s rate of incarceration had increased so fast that it has made them a major “black labor force”24 in the prison-industrial complex.25

Discrimination on multiple grounds

  • 26 Hudson M., 2011, The Experience of Discrimination on Multiple Grounds, Policy Studies Institute, Un (...)

10As Hudson depicts in a report entitled The Experience of Discrimination on Multiple Grounds, discrimination needs to be qualified on grounds that extend beyond typical ethnic/racial and gender criteria. The reference to discrimination on “multiple grounds” emphasizes that “social groups are not rigidly demarcated by race, age, disability, gender, class or other status. These social characteristics are not mutually exclusive and can interact with workplace experiences” and that discrimination is likely to be associated with “stereotypical attitudes and prejudice, myths and stigma and assumptions of inferiority towards people with a combination of identities”.26 Once again, Kerman’s experience is illustrative of this phenomenon when commenting on ethnic interaction and what is called the “tribal ritual” of her new life environment:

  • 27 Kerman, ibid., p. 55.

there was a tribal ritual that I would see play out hundreds of times. When a new person arrived, their tribe — white, black, Latino…would immediately make note of their situation, get them settled, and steer them through their arrival. If you fell into that ‘other’ category — Native, American, Asian, Middle Eastern — then you got a patchwork welcome… from the dominant tribes.27

  • 28 Ibid., p. 58.
  • 29 Ibid., p. 89.
  • 30 Ibid., p. 42.

11In other words, dominant social patterns are replicated behind walls. When white, middle-class Kerman “made small talk” to a young black woman from Brooklyn she took a liking to “[the black woman] seemed to think [she] was weird to talk to her”.28 Although Kerman had gone to school and worked with middle-class black people her whole life when she is “faced by a black woman who hadn’t ‘been where [Kerman] has been” she says: “I felt threatened, absolutely certain she was going to take something from me… I felt racist on every level of my being by picking ‘the black book’ from the stack for Rachelle” who happened to be “one the most pleasant people around”.29 Thus, prison or not, economic background interferes with ethnicity. The present case study of women’s prison as a workplace will primarily focus on the two main criteria, gender and race/ethnicity, which are most widely documented by BJS statistics, and how they can interact with prisoners’ multiple identities. These social realities take on a particular slant in the secluded field of prison research where the actors are “obsessing about the razor wire and the world beyond it from which [they] had been taken”.30

The gender issue

12Prison life is an exception to so many of society’s professed values and rules and is particularly degrading for women. From the outset, i.e. their “reception”, women prisoners enter a world which is every way “unnatural”:

  • 31 Ibid., p. 40.

Three minutes into my self-surrender and I already felt humiliated and beaten… ‘Kerman!’ As I was unaccustomed to being called like a dog, it took [the guard] a number of shouts before I realized that meant ‘Move.’… she led me to a room, where her coworkers were lounging. Both were bald, male and white… they both stared at me as if I had three heads. ‘Self -surrender’ my female escort said… I followed the guard… she handed me a pair of granny panties, a cheap nylon bra… She indicated a toilet and sink area behind a plastic shower curtain. ‘Strip’… all of [my clothes] she took from me. It was cold. ‘Hold your arms up’… ‘Open your mouth and stick out your tongue. Turn around, squat, spread your cheeks and cough.’ I would never get used to the cough part of the drill, which was supposed to reveal contraband hidden in one’s privates — it was so unnatural. I turned back around, naked. ‘Get dressed’… In minutes I was transformed into an inmate… The ID card was red, with a bar code and the legend ‘US. Department of Justice federal Bureau of Prisons — INMATE.’… it also bore my new registration number in large numerals: 11187-424… Just as I had been taught to memorize my aunt and uncle’s phone number when I was six year old, I know silently tried to commit my reg number to memory. 11187-424.31

13The entry fee is even more humiliating in a state prison:

  • 32 Watterson K., 1996, Women in Prison, revised edition, Northeastern University Press p. 65. C. Power (...)

What really happens is that, when you come in, they search you and poke you. They give you fourteen needles, pull what teeth they think need pulling, dump you in the shower with your mouth full of blood, shave all your public hair and dump a lye disinfectant over your head […] they strip you of any dignity or self-respect you have as a woman. When they brought me in county jail […] they stripped me stark naked and made me jump up and down on the floor in a squat position — while they all stood around watching. They have to forget we’re human beings to treat us that way […] if you refuse, they lock you in the hole and they don’t let you out until you consent to be searched internally.32

14Even male guards acknowledge the tremendous consequences of the “reception” on women prisoners:

  • 33 Watterson K.,ibid., p. 65.

Being in jail is harder on a woman than a man […] men grow up together taking showers, sleeping together, they’ve been in the army […] Women are taught to undress in private […] She comes in here and we undress her and tell her ‘bend over, lady’, to look for contraband […] Right off that gives them mental problem that are hard to handle […] that sort can break your spirit.33

  • 34 Amanda George made this comment in the video Strip Search, produced by Simmering Video and Coalitio (...)

15In 2001 at a conference on women in prison held by the association Sisters Inside “several women seized control of the stage and some playing guards, others playing the roles of prisoners dramatized a strip search” with the aim of making guards realize that “without the uniform, without the power of the state [the strip-search] would be sexual assault”.34

  • 35 Talvi Silja, 2007, Women Behind Bars/The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System. Emeryville: Sea (...)
  • 36 Brown S., April, 2011, « Working with Women who are Survivors of the United States ‘Corrections’ Sy (...)
  • 37 Bader E., 2013, Women’s Incarceration Rate Soars By 600 Percent as They Face Abuse Behind Bars, htt (...)
  • 38 Kaiser D. & Stannow L. (24), « Prison Rape and the Government », New York Review of Books : 1-19. B (...)
  • 39 Ibid.
  • 40 « Women in Prison: A Fact Sheet », http://webarchive.org/web/20090625090012. See Kerman’s experienc (...)

16Whereas in most of the Western World, guards in women’s facilities are exclusively female,35 the US is, in this sense once again, an exceptional case. As a consequence of the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act, in federal women’s correctional facilities 70% of the guards are male.36 Allowing male guards to oversee female prisoners is ‘a recipe for trouble’ says Laura Whitehorn, a former political prisoner, “having male guards sends a message that female prisoners have no right to defend their bodies”37 and exposes women to sexual aggression and abuse by male prison staff: “In 2008 more than 216,600 people were sexually abused in prisons and jails”38 (sexual offenses can include rape, assault and groping during pat frisks). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics “when authorities confirmed that corrections staff had sexually abused inmates in their care, only 42% of those officers had their cases referred to prosecution; only 23% were arrested, and only 3% charged, indicted or convicted. Fifteen per cent were actually allowed to keep their jobs.”39 This system of abuse is all the more institutionalized as women are fully dependent on the guards for their basic necessities and privileges (jobs included) and guards have usually access to inmates’ personal files which can empower them to threaten prisoners and their families if the women retaliate.40

  • 41 Bader E., 2012, Women’s Incarceration Rate. Dori Lewis & Veronica Vela work for the Legal Aid Socie (...)

17To stem the overt sexual abuse of prisoners a new legislation has been recently passed and should be implemented in the coming years: the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) which will be the first law in US history to address the sexual abuse of those in lock-up although advocates remain skeptical about its impact: ‘there’s the issue of corroboration and whether prison officials will believe incarcerated complainants or side with their own colleagues. Lewis and Vela (legal Aid Society) are dubious that coworkers will turn one another in”.41

Ethnicity and social status

  • 42 The name has been changed to protect the woman’s privacy.

18In addition to this gender-based organizational abuse, black women prisoners have become prime victims of what minority-rights activists have labelled to be two-tiered justice in the US, founded upon institutionalized racism. Thus the portrait of Emma Faye Stewart, a detentioner (someone jailed while awaiting trial or sentence),42 displays a full picture of how discrimination on multiple grounds plays out for women who are caught up in a web of injustice due to lack of social or financial means to ensure their defense:

  • 43 The vast majority of criminal convictions arise from plea bargains, an agreement made between prose (...)
  • 44 Alexander M., ibid., p. 95.

Imagine you are Emma Faye Stewart, a thirty-year old, single African-American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African-American. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to go home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge43, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation and ordered to pay $1000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs. You are also now branded a drug felon. You are no longer eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put in foster care. A judge eventually dismisses all cases against the defendants who did not plead guilty. At trial the judge finds that the entire sweep was based on the testimony of a single informant who lied to the prosecution. You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children.44

  • 45 Kurshan N., 1995, Women & Imprisonment in the United States: History and Current Reality, Monkeywre (...)

19In the case of Emma Faye Stewart, being incarcerated comes as the combination of being a woman and a mother and being poor and black and uneducated. Davis, Killian or Kerman remain exceptions in women prison, rare characters who have the stamina to fight back and report on discrimination and sexual harassment. The most common profile that emerges in study after study is that of young single mothers like Emma Faye Stewart, with a few marketable job skills, a high school dropout who lives below the poverty-level. Seventy-five percent, aged between 25 and 34, are mothers of dependent children and were unemployed at the time of the arrest. Many left home early and have experienced sexual and physical abuse. Ninety percent have a drug or alcohol-related history.45 Assata Shakur, imprisoned in the 70’s, corroborates this political commentary which qualifies women inmates not as criminals but as victims:

  • 46 Shakur A., 1978, « Women in Prison: How we are », The Black Scholar, Vol. A, No. 1, p. 9.

There are no criminals here at Riker’s Island Correction Institution for Women (New York), only victims. Most of the women (over 95%) are Black and Puerto-Rican. Many were abused children. Most have been abused by men and all have been abused by the ‘system’ […]. There are no big time gangsters here, no premeditated mass murderers, no god mothers. There are no big time dope dealers, no Watergate women. There are virtually here no women charged with white collar crimes like embezzling and fraud. Most women have drug related cases. Many are charged as accessories to crimes committed by men. The major crimes women are charged with are prostitution, pickpocketing, shop-lifting, robbery and drugs. Women who have prostitution cases […] make up a substantial part of the short term population. The women see stealing or hustling as necessary for the survival of themselves or their children because jobs are scarce and welfare is impossible to live on.46

A discriminatory judiciary system

  • 47 See Brown A. and Williams K., 1987, « Resource Availability for Women at Risk », unpublished paper (...)
  • 48 Ibid., p. 14.
  • 49 Rovner S., 1987, ‘Abused Women Who Kill’, Judgement, Vol. 10, N° 2.

20Another dimension of multiple discrimination demonstrates how black women are more mistreated than even black men before the law, and this after having been submitted to mistreatment as women in their private lives. Studies have shown that women are less likely to be involved in homicide than men (14% of all homicides in the years 1980-84)47 and yet, when such is the case, they “are much more likely to kill a male partner than kill anyone else […] and much more likely to kill in self-defense in response to their male partners’ physical aggression and threats and the recidivism rate for such crimes are extraordinarily low”.48 Nevertheless they have to face a penal system much harsher on them than on their male counterparts. Social psychologist Angela Brown’s study reveals how “women often faces harsher penalties than men who kill their partners”.49 Convicted Killian, a former law school student and former inmate recounts how:

  • 50 Killian G. ibid., p. 212.

she knew nothing about battered person syndrome or about how the law didn’t allow testimony about the victim’s abuse of the person who killed him. She didn’t know that a woman and her children could be beaten for years…and when the woman took up arms against the abuser, the history of abuse wasn’t allowed to be entered at her trial”.50

  • 51 First built in the 1870s, prisons for women opted for a bifurcal system: reformatories in the North (...)
  • 52 Citing Theresa Derry, Watterson K., ibid., p. 328. See Killian and “the ‘battered person syndrome’ (...)

21In addition, they are likely to face longer sentences for homicide if they are black (or up to the 1950s sent to Custodial Institutions whereas white women would go to Reformatories).51 Already discriminated on gender and ethnic criteria these women who bear the “stigma”‘ of being a “felon” are likely to lose whatever self-esteem they could have before entering jail and are more inclined than men to accept “the guilt for what happened to them.”52

  • 53 Ab Law, Victoria, 2009, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Oakland : PM P (...)

22As single parents of young children they fall victim to yet another form of discrimination, as mothers, being labelled “incompetent” mothers; 64% of women were primary guardians for their children prior to men (only 44%). “One third of incarcerated mothers live alone with their children and over two thirds of women prisoners have children under the age of 18; among them only 28% said that their children were living with the father while 90% of male prisoners with minor children said their children were living with their mothers”.53 Also, once declared felons, these incarcerated single mothers are subsequently, almost inevitably, characterized as inadequate, incompetent and unable to provide for their children during and after imprisonment although they are more likely to plead guilty and lose the right to be reunited with their children because they are single mothers and primary guardians. And they have to deal with the consequences of Family Act (1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act):

  • 54 Ravis J., 2003, Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Famili (...)

It authorizes the termination of parental rights once a child has been in foster care for 15 or more months of a 22-month period. Incarcerated women serve an average of 18 months in prison. Therefore, the average female prisoner, whose children are placed in foster care could lose the right to reunite with her children upon release. Termination proceedings involving incarcerated parents increased from approximately 260 in 1997 - then year of the ASFA’s enactment - to 909 in 2002.54

  • 55 Ravis J., 2003, ibid., p. 77.
  • 56 Kerman, ibid., p. 68.

23The need to protect their family and overcome the obstacles of the separation exposes mothers in prison to the threat of confessing crimes they did not commit, as in the case of Emma Faye Stewart. Due to geographical distance, lack of transportation, inability to cover travel expenses and inappropriate environments of correctional facilities “54% of mothers in state prisons, as of 2000, have had no personal visits with their children since their admission”55 thus increasing the risk of sexual vulnerability and victimization from prison guards. And the mandatory strip-search, before and after each visit, can function as a deterrent: “some women found strip-searches so humiliating that they would forgo visits in order to avoid it”, notes Kerman and she adds: “I would never have survived without my visits so I would grit my teeth and rush through the motions. It was the prison system’s quid pro quo: You want contact with the outside world? Be prepared to show your ass, every time”.56

“Crime or Illness?”57

  • 57 Watterson, ibid., p. viii.
  • 58 ACLU briefing paper: The shackling of pregnant women and girls in U.S. Prisons, jails & youth deten (...)
  • 59 Ferszt, G.G., 2011, “Who will speak for me?: Advocating for pregnant women in prison”, Policy, Poli (...)
  • 60 No more recent statistics are available.

24Giving birth in prison is yet another form of discrimination: against motherhood as such. Nine per cent of women give birth while completing their sentence58: they are watched and shackled during labor and delivery and when returning to jail or prison her infant immediately enters foster or kinship care.59 Exceptional rates of late term miscarriages are documented in a 1985 California Department of Health study revealing that a third of all prison pregnancies end up in late term miscarriage, twice the outside rate.60

25This brutal treatment is combined with the fact many have health problems before being arrested. In New York State in 1994, one of every five women who entered prison was HIV-positive:

  • 61 In 2004, 2.4%, 1 in 42, of women in American prisons had HIV;1.7%, 1 in 59, of men had HIV. “Women (...)

… increasing numbers of women arrive at prison malnourished, with sexually transmitted diseases and unaddressed gynecological problems. Because of their poor health conditions — and the strain and anxiety brought on by being arrested, indicted, tried and sentenced to prison, away from their children and their families — women are particularly susceptible to tuberculosis and other communicable diseases that run rampant in crowded, poorly ventilated prisons.61

  • 62 Kerman, ibid., p. 57 & 60.

26As soon as she was locked up Kerman became aware that prison was the worst place to be sick: “I was beginning to suspect that the most dangerous thing you could do in prison was get sick… I silently gave thanks that I was blessed with good health. We were fucked if we got sick”.62

27Watterson comments upon the “confusion about treating people for illnesses or punishing them for crimes”:

  • 63 Watterson, ibid., p. 272.

We punish people for being addicts by making possession of drugs a crime. We treat them by locking them in prison for long periods. We imprison many others for behavior caused by mental disorders and often induce or exacerbate serious emotional and mental problems by locking people into confinement where they receive no effective, educational, medical or therapeutic intervention. At the same time, we slap psychiatric terms on prisoners for reasons that have to do more with social, economic, racial or gender factors than anything remotely medical.63

  • 64 Davis Y., 2014, ‘Deepening the Debate over Mass Incarceration’, Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 28, N (...)

28Over three-quarters of imprisoned women, as compared to half of men, have been diagnosed with symptoms of mental health problems. This points to how women — especially poor women of color who have no access to health care — disproportionately suffer from the criminalization of mental illness: “it has been pointed out by a number of scholar-activists… that the three largest psychiatric institutions in the US are county jails: Cook County, Rikers, and LA County”.64

Women Prison Labor and the Prison Industrial Complex

  • 65 Davis, Y., 2003, Are Prisons Obsolete, Pacific Grove, CA Brooks/Cole Publishing, p. 3.
  • 66 Abu-Jamal M. & Fernandez J. ‘Locking Up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor: The Roots of Mass (...)

29“Correctional Facilities for Women”, as prisons for women are officially called, are presently providing a noticeable labor force for the prison industrial complex (PIC),65 a term, as aforementioned, used to describe the overlapping interests of government — that uses surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems — and business; they have jointly turned prison building and management into one of the most prosperous industrial sectors of the US economy as “[PIC] is now the third largest employer in the nation”.66 Mass incarceration have made the department of corrections one of the fastest growing budget items in virtually every state budget, thus diverting money from education, housing, and social services. These spending priorities have had nothing but negative results: not only has crime not decreased, but the policy switch has helped to increase gender, economic and racial disparities. And this fast-growing rate in women incarceration is definitely costly and detrimental:

  • 67 Ibid., Preface, p. xviii.

The expense of providing separate prison housing for women is often said to be higher than average […] tax-payers are paying operating costs of more than $5.5 million per day simply to lock up adult women prisoners in America (1995 Criminal Justice Yearbook) […] hidden costs added this means they are actually spending from $7 to $9 million everyday to keep adult women locked in prison and jail in this country […] authorities are still scrambling to find more space for women prisoners by constructing more jails and prisons […] at the cost of $100,000 per cell to build […] or take a unit in men’s prisons and put them there […] where women are much more restricted in their movements.67

30To understand how the prison industrial complex functions, in particular with regards to female prison labor, it is necessary to focus on the legislation which has mandated the system, the realities of the jobs involved and how this operation has become big business.

A discriminatory labor system

  • 68 Killian G., 2012, Full Circle, New Horizon Press, USA.

31The legislative deck is stacked against women prisoners in many respects. Gender discrimination has been amplified by a penal system which, until the recently-passed legislation Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), had excluded most women from the right to self-defense, even when molested by their partners.68 An overview of current legislation enforced creates the following women prison labor regime.

32The racial dynamics of American prisons have their institutional roots, which comes as no surprise, in slavery. Under the Slave Emancipation Act of 1865, slavery and involuntary servitude were abolished for everyone except convicted criminals; it is thus perfectly within the law to force prisoners to work for no pay.

  • 69 Watterson, ibid., p. 230.

The majority of prisoners at Arizona State work only for time off their sentences […] At Los Angeles County Jail Division, inmates, sentenced or unsentenced, get no pay for their work. [ …] they work for reward. They get five days off their sentences for working five days for good conduct […] ‘reward is an excellent means for us to gain compliance to rule’, says Chief H.B. Creamer.69

33Thus reference to prison labor as current-day slave labor is no empty charge.

  • 70 Ibid.
  • 71 See Kerman, ibid., p. 87: “From the commissary you pay $42.90 for a ‘cheap little portable headset (...)

34Prison labor legislation specifies that it is legal to force a sentenced prisoner to work but it is illegal to force a detentioner to work; local jail may offer work as the privilege to be “unlocked an extra hour a day [have] a couple of packs of cigarettes a week and [is] an alternative to being locked in a cell twenty-four hours a day”.70 Detentioners are not forced to take a job but how can they survive in jail? Like most women who have no funds from the outside they depend on the work for their essential commissary items, from toothpaste to cigarettes to underwear.71

35Hiding behind the legality of involuntary servitude, the term ”reward”, not wage, is often used as a means to gaining compliance to rules. At the Sybil Institute for Women no prisoner is paid for her daily labor (65% are detentioners), still almost everyone works; women do all the janitorial work, including trash collection […] the garment factory makes shrouds for the coroner’s office and gowns for the county hospitals and so on…

  • 72 Ibid., p. 229.

36When prisoners do get paid wages are extremely low. In Arizona State Prison, the 107 prisoners selected among the 1,263 men and 45 women prisoners chosen for “a wage incentive pay plan” were paid twenty cents an hour in 1971; out of 107, only six of the paying jobs were held by women inmates72.

  • 73 Watterson, ibid., p. 240, Marysville Institution.
  • 74 Id.

To get paid, you have to be really good at what you are doing […] they will give you like two people’s jobs to do on your shift […] and they work eight hours a day six or seven days a week […] At the Federal Reformatory for Women, Alderson, West Virginia, after three months on the job, a woman can get ten dollars a month, this amount can be increased […] but most people do not get it […] It is hard to get paid and most people don’t know how to get around […]And once you get paid , then this is an excuse to load everything on you, call you up at five and say, “Hey, report at six,’ and all this kind of stuff […]You gotta do manual labor for six dollars a month […] we go through hell and there is nothing we can do”.73 Top salary for inmates was ten dollars a month […] six dollars into the woman’s commissary fund and four dollars into her savings account to be given her on release. That’s five cents an hour: three cents for commissary and two cents for savings […] when they leave the prison they leave with a minimum of twenty-five dollars and a maximum of three hundred […] at the time they reach the maximum amount they stop earning that extra two cents […] from that point they get only three cents an hour.74

37Alongside work, it is authorized for inmates to try to earn money for commissary by selling crafts in the prison craft shop or by selling blood in the Cutter Blood Program. They get six dollars for each bleeding and can do this once a week.

  • 75 Ibid., p. 242-3.
  • 76 Ibid., p. 244.

38What appears to Watterson to be still more direct exploitation than the indecent prisoners’ wages is the use of prisoners in the personal service of prison administrators as “an accepted custom”, the household servants come hand in hand with the administrative position75. She quotes the case of Leslie Sims, recovering from miscarriage at a detention center, who was asked to work at the superintendent’s home together with other three black girls, in their prison uniforms. Exhausted by the long-working hours, one morning Leslie refused to work as a “house-nigger”; the warden came over and told her “it was ‘extreme disobedience’ […] she should go over to avoid being put in the ‘hole’”; “I could have handled the concrete floor and the one meal a day. What I couldn’t dig was the solitude […] In fact I would probably have gone crazy at that point,”76 said Leslie.

  • 77 Ibid., p. 77.
  • 78 Kerman P., ibid., p. 47.

39Breaking one any of these prison rules is a terrifying experience : “some days I barely spoke…” comments Kerman, “I was afraid less of physical violence (I hadn’t seen any evidence of it) than of getting cursed out publicly for fucking up, either breaking a prison’s rule or a prisoner’s rule”.77 For intimidation is ever-present, such as in what is called the “count” which takes place in every prison and jail: “They count us five times a day, and you have to be here or wherever you’re supposed to be, and the four o’clock count is a standing count, the other ones are midnight, two A.M., five A.M, and nine P.M.78 Such practices, in addition to sleep deprivation, badly impairs prisoners’ physical and mental health.

Prison jobs

40There is a paradox — if not a distortion — in the way some notions meant to improve the plight of women, such as gender equality, have the opposite effect as they are currently applied in so-called correctional facilities. Prison-jobs are basically “non-gendered” as prisoners engage in all the various tasks necessary to “run” the institution.

  • 79 In Davis A.Y., ibid., Philadelphia Daily News, 26 April 1996.

41Since the noxious byproduct of the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act referred to above, male guards have been allowed to oversee women’s lives in prison, dictating their daily actions and prompting them to compete for the least bad jobs. Another example of notions meant to improve the status of minorities like “gender equality”, but which are distorted in prison to the detriment of women inmates, is the case of the women gang-chained by Sheriff Arpaio in Arizona in 1995 which came as a response to lawsuits by male prisoners charging that male chain gangs discriminated against them by virtue of their gender.79 Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopo County justified his decision at a press conference:

  • 80 K. Watterson, ibid., p. 77.

… because [Sheriff Joe Arpaio] was ‘an equal opportunity incarcerator’, he was establishing the country’s first female chain gang […] newspapers throughout the country carried a photograph of chained women cleaning Phoenix’s streets […] since the population of women in prison now consists of a majority of women of color, the historical resonances of slavery, colonization, and genocide should not be missed in these images of women in chains and shackles.80

42The experiment was short-lived and the framing of it as a “gender equality issue” disregarded.

43Commonly, in most county jails where both populations are present, male prisoners are often assigned to heavier jobs while women remain cramped in segregated areas, frequently locked in their cells or kept from being idle by “keeping the place clean”, assigned to meaningless make-work tasks such as scrubbing floors an excessive number of times each day or scrubbing bars on cells. Still, as the institution is “run” by its prisoners women are commonly seen doing “male” jobs, physical jobs, carrying loads of laundry, bags of potatoes… and men will be seen in prisons and jails endlessly busy cleaning the same floors and scrubbing the same windows. For women prisoners like Barbara, from the Cook County Jail, having the mop job is considered to be a “privilege”:

  • 81 Ibid., p. 230.

I’m a hall girl. That’s supposed I’m a trustee. Trustees get to stay in the day room one hour later at night and get extra food. We work in the beauty shop, do the corridor and sweep and mop…that extra hour means a lot to me… Usually the job is appointed to someone. Most ask the matron, but I got the job different. A girl got shipped to the penitentiary. So I just picked up her mop and started mopping, and I had the job.81

44However, few of these “non-gendered prison jobs” are likely to increase their chances of making a living once they are released:

  • 82 Ibid., p. 237.

How many women do you know on the outside who drive trucks, and how many women plumbers do you know on the streets?” asked one of them; “here we are waisting time and energy on these type of jobs running the institution when they could be in some kind of training programs […] that could benefit these people when they get out […] There is a cosmology program that is sixteen hundred hours long […] but there is no guarantee you’ll be able to get a license because they don’t give license to felons or ex-convicts […] It could never make up for the mental pressure that the people undergo. There is no rehabilitation. They offer nothing.82

  • 83 Kerman P., ibid.
  • 84 See Watterson, ibid., p. 248-9.
  • 85 Ibid.

45And fear is part and parcel of the workday as well, for inside walls intersectional tensions are heightened by both penal system (‘crime and punishment practices’) and the population diversity: “I was afraid” says Kerman, to “be at the wrong place at the wrong time… and you’d get called out and bawled out in a hurry, either by a terrifying prison guard or a terrifying convict (sometimes in Spanish)”.83 Prisoners know administrators have the power to make their lives miserable by denying privileges or locking them in solitary for long periods of time (SHU, solitary confinement or “the hole”). The power of the parole board is equally ominous. Without a good work record and a clean behavior record there is not much chance of early parole.84 Because work and gaining “good time” are connected, women end up in desperate situations: “We ran into somebody who had been washing pots and pans seven days a week for over a year, because she just didn’t want to do anything that would mess up with her parole.”85

  • 86 Kerman, ibid., p. 64. « there is snow duty… Get your coat and shovel » yells the CO. « What about b (...)

46Kerman knew she had to accept any assignment, be it “snow duty”86 at 4 a.m. or a job at the electric shop for which she had no expertise, no more than her ”convict buddies”:

  • 87 Kerman, ibid., p. 101.

I thought for a moment about the safety requirements of the job and looked around at my coworkers with some concern. There were a couple of old hands like Joyce who was Filipina and sarcastic as hell. Everyone else was like me new: in addition to Little Janet, there was Shirley, an extremely nervous Italian who seemed to think she was going to be shanked at any moment; Yvette, a sweet Puerto Rican who had… (at most) seventeen words of English at her command; and Levy, a tiny French-Moroccan Jew who claimed to have been educated at the Sorbonne… However, simple self-preservation demanded that I read and remember the explanations of how to control electric current without frying myself.87

  • 88 Ibid., p. 100.
  • 89 Ibid., p. 62.
  • 90 Ibid., p. 43.
  • 91 Ibid., p. 64, « With no job, no money, no possessions, no phone privileges, I was verging on a nonp (...)
  • 92 According to a recent study there may be as many people suffering from mental illness who are in ja (...)

47When exposed to the threat of prison-guard DeSimon’s sexual harassment, Kerman realized how he totally controlled women’s lives at work: “Break the rules, you’re going to SHU” yelled DeSimon, the first working day…88 “Clearly sex and power were inseparable behind prison walls… I would be in more danger from the guards than the inmates”.89 Only because Kerman was white and middle-class — a “pretty unusual case”90 — her white counselor, Mr. Butorsky, will shield her from DeSimon’s sexual harassment; the overwhelming majority of women prisoners who bear the “stigma” of both gender and race, are treated as “non-persons”91 and represent, fundamentally, a vast source of “cheap labor”: poor, uneducated, ageing and/or sick, black or Hispanic, they are relegated to the hardest, lowest-paid job, powerless, just ready to accept any job that can help them survive as women and mothers and shorten their sentences. The situation is even more tragic for those who suffer from mental illness and end up in prisons instead of hospitals where they are kept in solitary confinement (the hole) as no effective treatment is available.92

Prison is big business

48This labor force which is submitted to ideal conditions of exploitation is a gold mine for big business looking for a quick buck. And it’s with the complicity of public authorities that well established business take advantage of this situation.

  • 93 Golberg Linda & Eve, cited in A.Y. Davis, ibid., p. 84.

For private business prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No health benefits, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation to pay. No language barrier, as in foreign countries. New leviathan prisons are being built on thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservation for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, and make circuit boards, limousines, waterbeds, and lingerie for Victoria’s Secret, all at a fraction of the cost of ‘free labor’.93

  • 94 See Watterson K, ibid.: “San Francisco sheriff R. Hongisto’s testimony: ‘No one seemed to know wher (...)
  • 95 See Watterson K., ibid., p. 226.

49While these operations are officially above-board, when prison systems recover profits these amounts are seldom reported or deducted from prison budget expenditures: “prisoners pay more taxes in labor than any citizens in the ‘free world’… And they do pay — not to victims of crime — but to the state general fund.”94 In addition, in the 1990s, some prisons and jails have started charging prisoners for room and board, which is also a source of income.95

  • 96 Ibid., p. 225.
  • 97 Watterson, ibid., p. 234-5. See Kerman who works at the electric shop and can drive around and Kill (...)
  • 98 Ibid., p. 234.

50The Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia, runs a multimillion-dollar-a-year industry for the federal government; if the government had to pay for the same services at minimum wage, state budget expenditures would skyrocket.96 For instance, many state-provided goods used everyday in the U.S. are made by prisoners such as roads signs, license plates, garments for patients in state hospitals and state schools, state and national flags; prisoners also make the cloth from which they sew their uniforms; they make shoes which they and other prisoners wear; they sew the uniforms for state troopers and prison guards. Among other jobs they work as butchers, truck loaders, janitors and maintenance men. They do printing and computer print outs for government agencies, raise and harvest their own food and run canneries. They make soap for state and county jails; they make furniture […] for prisons and offices. They work six or seven days a week and are rewarded or their good work with only a pittance - two dollars a day was the going rate in 1995 and was still the rate in most prisons fifteen years later. Some states pay nothing at all, the incentive being a good work record which may contribute to an earlier release on parole. Women with a certain level of education can work at computer jobs for the Bureau of Prisons, army, navy, Veteran’s Administration and other federal agencies yet are only paid nineteen cents an hour. A very few women make top grade prison industry wages of up to fifty-two cents.97 At Alderson the women prisoners working in the garment factory make clothing for other federal prisons; they are expected to have a tremendous production output annually, even though the industrial sewing machines they work on are out of date for commercial use: “Even if you wanted to get a job in a garment factory on the streets you wouldn’t know how to operate the machines […] it’s a real sweatshop, and the superintendent of industries is a real ogre about production”,98 says a woman prisoner. Another woman, confined at Terminal Island, a federal prison for women in California, working also in a garment shop adds:

  • 99 Ibid., p. 245.

I worked […] just because I wanted that twenty dollars a month to buy my coffee and cigarettes […] I did it though I used to pass out from the heat […] they’d give me some smelling salts and brings me some water and I would go back to work […]It’s so insane […] I didn’t have no outside source of funds. Not many people did have any outside source of funds.”99

51At the end of their working day prisoners may earn some money by doing extra work:

  • 100 Ibid., p. 231.

A few women at the Sybil Brand Institute for Women can earn some money for commissary items by washing or making blouses for officers, or washing cars on occasion after they have finished their regular industrial and maintenance jobs […] Prisoners selected by officers to make blouses are also paid three cents per piece. The three cents are divided up between the cutter, the sewer and the buttonholer. This means each woman would have to make nearly fifty blouses to buy one pack of cigarettes. The women don’t make money individually for the things they make in craft shop programs. That money theoretically goes into the inmate welfare fund to pay for the various activities and to provide occasional cigarettes, soap or toothpaste for destitute women who don’t have anyone to bring them money from the outside.100

52The prison business is definitely big business: since the 1990s a small but increasing percentage of American prisons have been built and run by private companies. Many of the for-profit prisons are operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group. According to the company they “save tax payers money” by offering a stock option plan; according to the New York Times the firm’s profits rose by 57% in 1993. As for 2015, Private Prison companies foresee increased profits:

Just before a federal court in Washington granted a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt the Obama administration’s policy of incarcerating asylum-seeking mothers and children as a deterrent to other potential migrants, two major private corporations released their projections for 2015 earnings, and are betting on increased profits this year… GEO Group reported fourth quarter 2014 net income earnings of $38.1 million, up from $27.6 million in 2013, and while CCA’s profits dropped from $47.7 million last year to a reported $30.01 million in fourth quarter earnings this year, both companies are expecting increased profits by 2015 as for-profit immigrant jails expand across South Texas and nationally.101

  • 102 Watterson, ibid., p. 251.
  • 103 Kerman, ibid., p. 337.
  • 104 Davis, “Deepening the Debate over Mass Incarceration”, Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 28, N° 3, Nov. (...)

53As already exposed in Watterson’s research, in the late 90s, profit-making prisons are based on the numbers of inmates served; therefore it is not in the interest of corporations or stockholders to rehabilitate prisoners. Although the problem has been regularly addressed by human rights activist and NGOs and charities and religious groups like the Quakers, the main goal for the prison lobby remains “to keep a constant flow of bodies in the institutions and increase the numbers every year, a sure way to increase revenues”.102 Certainly, there are programs and educational initiatives around the country and in each state aimed at rehabilitating prisoners for them to be able to make a new life. But ‘for most people, checking the felony conviction box on a job application ends their shot at employment’,103 writes Kerman. Sent back to the outside world with $28.30, the “gratuity” granted to every prisoner on release, women without family and friends’ support, no longer able to depend on welfare “are [mostly] compelled to participate in underground economies and thus subject to instant criminalization when they are penalized for their poverty”.104 “The public expects sentences to be punitive but also rehabilitative” concludes Kerman statistics show that this ambition more often than not does not come to fruition:  

In 2014, the Sentencing Project pointed out…that if one includes the women held in city and county jails around the country, the number of women in prison rose to 205,000, with more than 712,000 on probation and 103,000 on parole.105 So that at any given moment there are more than one million women under the direct control of correctional agencies.106

  • 107 Kerman, ibid., p. 338.

54Kerman adds: “I was only one of the more than 700,000 people who return home from American prisons and jails every year but I was hyperconscious of my opportunities ‘on the outs’, in stark contrast to most of those other men and women”. Unlike most inmates she had a safe place to live, a network of family and friends and a precious job with health insurance and, she says, she “often thought of the plans other women from Danbury [prison] had been making: homeless shelters, family court, uncertain prospects for work.”107

55Nevertheless, given the scenario presented here, and especially in the for-profit sector which is becoming the new norm, is there any major incentive to reduce women’s incarceration rate?

Conclusion

  • 108 Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? p. 78.
  • 109 Female inmates’ nickname for Bedford Hills Correctional Institution.

56“Being a woman prisoner in U.S. State prison can be a terrifying experience… few people outside the prison walls know what is going on or care if they do know. Fewer still do anything to address the problem”.108 From the “Concrete Womb”,109 prisoner Jean Harris defines prison work as follows:

  • 110 Cited in Watterson K., ibid., Preface, p. xxi.

In here, God Knows, life is not a rose garden […] Nothing lovely flourishes here […] What grows here is hypocrisy, obscenity, illness, illegality, ignorance, confusion, waste, hopelessness. Life in prison is a garden of dross, cultivated by those who never check to see what their crop is.110

57Discriminated because they are women, because they are poor, because they are African-American, Hispanic, because they are mothers, because of a penal American system which does not generally respect fundamental human rights and is harsher on women than on men, women prisoners experience discrimination on multiple grounds.

58Kerman says: “We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer. Fortunately, there are many people around who are working to change our criminal system”.111 When incarcerated Killian used her law skills to become a jailhouse lawyer and, since her release, has committed her life to exposing the discrimination which pervades the penal system and the Department of Corrections.112 And Kerman concludes: “I had watched hundreds of women leave prison with optimism… some are married with quiet lives…some are activists who are determined to change the criminal justice system, and some have gone back into the system, back to prison”.

59Despite these many efforts, in 2015 America, discriminated against and frightened women prisoners still remain, in large numbers, “bargain labor” in a land of business.

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Notes

1 Hudson M., 2011, The Experience of Discrimination on Multiple Grounds, ACAS.

2 Kerman P., 2010, Orange is the New Black, Abacus. United Kingdom.

3 Piper Eressea Kerman was born September 28, 1969.

4 Mauer M., 2010 “Sentencing reform amid mass incarcerations: Guarded optimism”, Criminal Justice, 26. American Bar Association.

5 Habitual offender laws (commonly referred to as three-strikes laws) are statutes enacted by state governments in the United States which mandate state courts to impose harsher sentences on habitual offenders who are previously convicted of two prior serious criminal offenses and then commit a third. They are designed to counter criminal recidivism by habitual offenders through physical incapacitation via imprisonment; 24 states have some form of “three-strikes” law.

6 Mauer M., R.S. King, M.C. Young, 2004, « The Meaning of Life » : Long Prison Sentences in Context » (pdf), p. 3

7 Ab « Incarcerated America », 2003, Human Rights Watch.

8 Kerman, ibid., p. 322.

9 Ab « Incarcerated America », 2003, Human Rights Watch (“44 percent of all prisoners in the United Sates are black although blacks account for only 12 percent of the U.S population”).

10 Braman D., 2004, « Doing Time on the Other Side: Incarceration and Family Life in Urban America », Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 3, citing D.C. Department of Correction Data for 2000.

11 Alexander M., 2010, The New Jim Crow, The New Press, New York, Preface.

12 Kerman P., ibid., p. 339.

13 www.cdc.state.ca.us/facility/factsht.htm

14 Ibid.

15 Greenfield L.A & Minor-Harper, S., 1991, Women in prison, Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

16 Guerino P., Harrison P.M. & Sabol W.J., 2012, Prisoners in 2010, NCJ 236096. Data on race/ethnicity and gender should be interpreted as general estimates of the race/ethnicity and gender proportions within the prison population. BJS is currently employing a revised methodology for estimating race/ethnicity for these and future years.

17 U.S Department of Justice, BJS, July 2013, NCJ242467.

18 Mauer M., 2013, « The Changing Racial Dynamics of Women’s Incarceration ». The Sentencing Project, p. 1.

19 Ibid.

20 See Guerino, ibid.

21 Mauer M., ibid. The best proxy for criminal behavior is arrest data compiled by the FBI (UCR) but has limitations: the ethnicity of arrestees is not documented, so all Hispanic arrestees are characterized only by race, with the vast majority classified as white. Whereas the BJS treats white, black and Hispanic as mutually exclusive categories. As for the changes over time in offenses and time served data for gender and race BJS reports on estimates as states use different methods to categorize individuals by race/ethnicity. Therefore figures provide a general overview rather than a precise accounting of the racial/ethnic composition of prison populations. See Mauer, p. 12.

22 Mauer M., ibid.

23 Since 2004 the BJS has added a new category of “two or more races”. See Guerino P., Harrison P.M., Sabol WJ., 2012, Prisoners in 2010 (NCJ 236096).

24 Already in 1982 the population of women’s prison was 50% black, 9% Hispanic and 3% Native American. Pollock-Byrne J.M., 1990, Women, Prison and Crime, Pacific Grove, CA Brooks/Cole Publishing, p. 3.

25 The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems. Davis A., 2003, Are Prisons Obsolete?, Seven Stories Press, New York, p. 65.

26 Hudson M., 2011, The Experience of Discrimination on Multiple Grounds, Policy Studies Institute, University of Westminster.

27 Kerman, ibid., p. 55.

28 Ibid., p. 58.

29 Ibid., p. 89.

30 Ibid., p. 42.

31 Ibid., p. 40.

32 Watterson K., 1996, Women in Prison, revised edition, Northeastern University Press p. 65. C. Powers, p. 68. See Davis A., ibid., p. 62, Killian G., Full Circle p. 66, Kerman p. ibid., p. 40.

33 Watterson K.,ibid., p. 65.

34 Amanda George made this comment in the video Strip Search, produced by Simmering Video and Coalition Against Police Violence. Quoted in Davis A. Are Prisons Obsolete, 2003, Open Media, p. 83.

35 Talvi Silja, 2007, Women Behind Bars/The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System. Emeryville: Seal Press, p. 56.

36 Brown S., April, 2011, « Working with Women who are Survivors of the United States ‘Corrections’ Systems: Challenges for Social Service Workers », Lecture at University of Massachusetts, Amherst MA. Male guards are also hired in jails and state prisons.

37 Bader E., 2013, Women’s Incarceration Rate Soars By 600 Percent as They Face Abuse Behind Bars, http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/womens-incarceration-rate-soars-over-600-percent-they-face-abuse-behind-bars?akid=9852.110731.qbMhZ9&rd=1&src=newsletter766491&t=12

38 Kaiser D. & Stannow L. (24), « Prison Rape and the Government », New York Review of Books : 1-19. B.J.S.

39 Ibid.

40 « Women in Prison: A Fact Sheet », http://webarchive.org/web/20090625090012. See Kerman’s experience of sexual harassment at work by DeSimon or male inmates at MCC Chicago, p. 326.

41 Bader E., 2012, Women’s Incarceration Rate. Dori Lewis & Veronica Vela work for the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project. http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/womens-incarceration-rate-soars-over-600-percent-they-face-abuse-behind-bars?akid=9852.110731.qbMhZ9&

42 The name has been changed to protect the woman’s privacy.

43 The vast majority of criminal convictions arise from plea bargains, an agreement made between prosecutors and defense counsel for the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge for a lesser sentence than they would receive if found guilty at trial.

44 Alexander M., ibid., p. 95.

45 Kurshan N., 1995, Women & Imprisonment in the United States: History and Current Reality, Monkeywrenchpress, Philadelphia, p. 18.

46 Shakur A., 1978, « Women in Prison: How we are », The Black Scholar, Vol. A, No. 1, p. 9.

47 See Brown A. and Williams K., 1987, « Resource Availability for Women at Risk », unpublished paper presented at the American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting, Chicago.

48 Ibid., p. 14.

49 Rovner S., 1987, ‘Abused Women Who Kill’, Judgement, Vol. 10, N° 2.

50 Killian G. ibid., p. 212.

51 First built in the 1870s, prisons for women opted for a bifurcal system: reformatories in the Northeast and Midwest with a majority of white women incarcerated and custodial institutions for black women both in the North and in the South where they were kept in horrendous conditions. Prison camps emerged in the South after 1870 with a majority of black women working in the fields.

52 Citing Theresa Derry, Watterson K., ibid., p. 328. See Killian and “the ‘battered person syndrome’ or about how the law didn’t allow testimony about the victim’s abuse of the person who killed him”, p. 212.

53 Ab Law, Victoria, 2009, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Oakland : PM Press, p. 45.

54 Ravis J., 2003, Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families and Communities. Washington, D.C.:The Urban Institute Press, p. 25.

55 Ravis J., 2003, ibid., p. 77.

56 Kerman, ibid., p. 68.

57 Watterson, ibid., p. viii.

58 ACLU briefing paper: The shackling of pregnant women and girls in U.S. Prisons, jails & youth detention centers. Re.from http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/antishackling_briefing_paper_stand_alone.pdf

59 Ferszt, G.G., 2011, “Who will speak for me?: Advocating for pregnant women in prison”, Policy, Politics & Nursing Practice, 12(4), p. 254-6.

60 No more recent statistics are available.

61 In 2004, 2.4%, 1 in 42, of women in American prisons had HIV;1.7%, 1 in 59, of men had HIV. “Women in the Criminal Justice System” (http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/womenincj_total.pdf), see Killian, p. 204-205.

62 Kerman, ibid., p. 57 & 60.

63 Watterson, ibid., p. 272.

64 Davis Y., 2014, ‘Deepening the Debate over Mass Incarceration’, Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 28, N° 3, Nov. 2014.

65 Davis, Y., 2003, Are Prisons Obsolete, Pacific Grove, CA Brooks/Cole Publishing, p. 3.

66 Abu-Jamal M. & Fernandez J. ‘Locking Up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor: The Roots of Mass Incarceration in the US’, Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 28 n°3, ISSN-4300.

67 Ibid., Preface, p. xviii.

68 Killian G., 2012, Full Circle, New Horizon Press, USA.

69 Watterson, ibid., p. 230.

70 Ibid.

71 See Kerman, ibid., p. 87: “From the commissary you pay $42.90 for a ‘cheap little portable headset radio [that] would have cost $7 on the street. At the base pay for federal prisoners, which is $0.14 an hour that radio would represent more than three hundred hours of.”

72 Ibid., p. 229.

73 Watterson, ibid., p. 240, Marysville Institution.

74 Id.

75 Ibid., p. 242-3.

76 Ibid., p. 244.

77 Ibid., p. 77.

78 Kerman P., ibid., p. 47.

79 In Davis A.Y., ibid., Philadelphia Daily News, 26 April 1996.

80 K. Watterson, ibid., p. 77.

81 Ibid., p. 230.

82 Ibid., p. 237.

83 Kerman P., ibid.

84 See Watterson, ibid., p. 248-9.

85 Ibid.

86 Kerman, ibid., p. 64. « there is snow duty… Get your coat and shovel » yells the CO. « What about breakfast?… I put on… the ugly stadium coat with the broken zipper and headed out to meet my compadres in the whipping, icy wind, clearing the walks », says Kerman. 

87 Kerman, ibid., p. 101.

88 Ibid., p. 100.

89 Ibid., p. 62.

90 Ibid., p. 43.

91 Ibid., p. 64, « With no job, no money, no possessions, no phone privileges, I was verging on a nonperson ».

92 According to a recent study there may be as many people suffering from mental illness who are in jails and prisons than there are in all psychiatric hospitals in the U.S. Davis, ibid., p. 10.

93 Golberg Linda & Eve, cited in A.Y. Davis, ibid., p. 84.

94 See Watterson K, ibid.: “San Francisco sheriff R. Hongisto’s testimony: ‘No one seemed to know where the money had gone’. In New York City, the million-dollar commissary fund from combined jails somehow filters into the general fund for the city”, p. 226-229.

95 See Watterson K., ibid., p. 226.

96 Ibid., p. 225.

97 Watterson, ibid., p. 234-5. See Kerman who works at the electric shop and can drive around and Killian who works in the library.

98 Ibid., p. 234.

99 Ibid., p. 245.

100 Ibid., p. 231.

101 http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29345-private-prison-companies, Febr. 28, 2015.

102 Watterson, ibid., p. 251.

103 Kerman, ibid., p. 337.

104 Davis, “Deepening the Debate over Mass Incarceration”, Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 28, N° 3, Nov. 2014, p. 17.

105 http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/cc_Incarcerated%20womenFactsheet_Sept24sp.pdf

106 Davis, ibid.

107 Kerman, ibid., p. 338.

108 Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? p. 78.

109 Female inmates’ nickname for Bedford Hills Correctional Institution.

110 Cited in Watterson K., ibid., Preface, p. xxi.

111 Kerman, ibid., p. 342. See www.piperkerman.com/justice-reform.

112 Killian chairs the Action Committe for Women in Prison (ACWIP). Kerman has listed organizations helping improving the U.S. Justice system on her website www.piperkerman.com/justice-reform. Both have released books on the topic.

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