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Gendered Justice in the American West: Women Prisoners in Men's Penitentiaries

NCJ Number
A M Butler
Date Published
279 pages
This study of women prisoners in men's penitentiaries from 1865 to 1915 in the American West shows that the women, already faced with gender disadvantages within western society, were subjected to intense physical and mental violence while in prison; for women of color or of lower social class, the violence was even greater and more frequent.
This cross-cultural account drew on prison records and the words of the women themselves. The author explores how 19th- century criminologists constructed the "criminal woman"; the elements of age, race, class, and gender in women's court proceedings; the kinds of violence encountered by women inmates; their diet, illnesses, experiences with pregnancy and child- bearing; prison work systems for women; and women's own strategies for response. For over five decades in western prisons, women found little provision made for their incarceration. In the early years considered in this study, prison administrators settled for makeshift accommodations in every aspect of prison life for women. Women inmates confronted poor housing, debilitating health conditions, and few work opportunities outside of domestic and sexual service. Although certain practices changed over time -- women did not continue to share cells with men, some States eliminated the most shocking punishment, and a staff of matrons replaced male guards -- substantive advances did not occur. All in all, the experiences of women in western male penitentiaries reinforce the importance of race, class, and gender as components in understanding the past. A 273-item bibliography and a subject index