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Harsh Discipline Reveals Sexism for Women in Prison

Women who have spent time in prison are opening up about the harsh discipline they faced behind bars, revealing the sexism women in prison often face.

Three women, Monica Cosby, Tyteanna Williams, and Celia Colon, recently spoke with NPR about the punishments they faced during their time in women’s prisons in Illinois. They revealed a great deal of sexism that exists in the prison system.

Often, these women received punishments for incredibly minor occurrences.

For example, when a prison guard noticed Monica Cosby playing Scrabble and questioned what she was doing, she sarcastically remarked, “What does it look like I’m doing?” She was written up for both “insolence” and “contraband.”

Williams was once written up for cursing at a guard who was slow to help when her cellmate passed out due to her diabetes.

Research shows that women in prison do face discipline more often than men – two to three times more, to be exact. Often, women face these punishments for smaller infractions.

In an investigation done by NPR, women in 13 out of the 15 analyzed states received more punishments than men did. In Vermont, women are more than three times more likely than men to be disciplined for derogatory comments. In California, women receive more than twice the typical amount of disciplinary tickets for “disrespect.” Additionally, women get three times the amount of tickets for “disobedience” in Rhode Island.

With men making up approximately 93 percent of the population in prisons throughout the nation, this imbalanced system of punishment gets little to no attention. Why is it that women suffer more punishments than men?

According to experts, it has to do with the fact that prisons are often designed to control violent men. The system that has been created in the United States does not work well for women prisoners.

Many women in prison are serving time for nonviolent crimes and are not particularly violent once behind bars. Additionally, women are more likely to be battling mental health issues, and 80 to 90 percent of women in prison have been victims of sexual or physical violence.

When corrections officers yell orders at women who have faced trauma and violence in the past, they might react defensively or completely shut down due to their experiences. Ignoring an officer or talking back could result in a woman being written up for a disciplinary violation.

“Women right now are being punished for coping with their trauma by a workforce that doesn’t understand them. There is a deep, dark secret around discipline and sanctions in women’s prisons,” stated consultant Alyssa Benedict, who is working to change the way women are treated in prisons.

In order to address this issue of unfair discipline towards women in prison, the state of Illinois is implementing a training program that will better teach officers how to appropriately work with women inmates.

Programs like these have been difficult to begin on a broader level because of costs, but they are so crucial in a system that proves discriminatory against women. Training officers would not only reduce the amount of unnecessary discipline that occurs behind bars, it would also give women from a variety of backgrounds and experiences the treatment they deserve.

Featured image by Hédi Benyounes on Unsplash

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