When we talk about crime in America, and when we talk about prisons, we are talking about power and powerlessness. We are talking about hopelessness and helplessness.
The one thing prisons do very well is punish prisoners, especially women prisoners. Prisons strip them of their dignity, their health, and whatever self-esteem they once might have had (Watterson 12).
There are over 90,000 women in prison today. The majority are in prison for economic crimes. The most typical convictions resulting in imprisonment for women are property crimes, such as check forgery and illegal credit card use. Of women convicted of violent crimes, the vast majority were convicted for defending themselves or their children from abuse. Average prison terms are twice as long for killing husbands as for killing wives (Women's Economic Agenda Project).
According to interviews conducted by the Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project, findings indicate that being a women prisoner in United States prisons can be a terrifying experience (6). Sexual misconduct and various forms of abuse and neglect of women inmates so pervade the U.S. correctional systems that human rights violations are virtually a daily part of prison life (Rights For All). Incarcerated women in the U.S. prisons suffer far in excess of their state imposed sentence. At the hands of correctional officers they face widespread sexual abuse ranging from unauthorized body frisks to rape. .
Since 1980 the number of women entering U.S. prisons has risen by almost 400 percent. According to current estimates, at least half of all female prisoners have experienced some form of sexual abuse (Human Rights Watch). Custodial oversight of women is largely assumed by male guards. Male prison staff routinely conduct strip and pat searches, scrutinize women in showers, and monitor female inmates by video. The imbalance of power between inmates and guards involves the use of direct physical force and indirect force based on the prisoners" total dependency on officers for basic necessities and the guards" ability to withhold privileges.