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Women, the Law, and the Justice System: Neglect, Violence, and Resistance (From Women at the Margins: Neglect, Punishment, and Resistance, P 347-374, 2002, Josefina Figueira-McDonough and Rosemary C. Sarri, eds. -- See NCJ-197190)

NCJ Number
Deborah LaBelle
Date Published
28 pages
This chapter discusses how judicial neglect and gender bias combine to create conditions of incarceration that violate basic precepts of fairness and humane treatment.
The rate of female incarceration in the United States continues to increase at a faster pace than the male incarceration rate. With nearly two-thirds of all women prisoners reporting having children under the age of 18 and the majority of those being single mothers, the incarceration of women in the United States significantly impacts the lives of minor children. The vast majority of female inmates are unable to afford the services of a private attorney at the time of their arrest and are represented by assigned criminal defense counsel. The disparity between assigned counsel and private counsel is reflected in the conviction rates of people charged with crimes who rely solely on often overworked and underskilled appointed counsel. Women defendants and their children are additionally victimized by a justice system that does not recognize their needs, including access to attorneys for purposes of maintaining family integrity. The typical conditions of confinement impede most women from making decisions regarding the placement and alternative care of their children during their incarceration. The right to establish and maintain family relationships has long been recognized as a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution. Inmates do not lose their parental entitlements nor forfeit their status as a parent simply by virtue of a criminal conviction; however, a right to counsel to protect these rights has yet to be recognized. Moreover, women in prisons experience unequal treatment and services compared with male inmates; and prison conditions for females often involve sexual abuse and harassment by male staff. At last count, over 20 prison systems were involved in litigation that challenged some form of sexual misconduct against female inmates. The majority of class-action litigation filed on behalf of inmates has sought primarily injunctive relief. The damage and harm caused to incarcerated people and their families by violations of statutes and the U.S. Constitution should also be compensated. This chapter concludes with a discussion of how international norms for human rights might be applied in framing and implementing the rights of female inmates. 39 notes and 16 references


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