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What Are Common Problems for Women in Prison?

By S. Ashraf
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The common problems for women in prison generally come from both the lives they led before being imprisoned as well their actual incarceration. As a result of their gender, women arrive in prison usually with a different set of problems than male prisoners do. After being imprisoned, a woman might encounter different problems than a male inmate because most prisons are set up to deal exclusively with young male offenders. Generally speaking, the critical problems faced by women priosners are being separated from their children and partners; inadequate or substandard physical and mental health care; sexual abuse; a lack of vocational or educational programs; and an unsafe prison environment. Although some male offenders might face somewhat similar problems, the problems faced by women in prison differ significantly in terms of the effects on the women and their lives both in and out of prison.

Research indicates that a substantial majority of female prisoners are mothers, with most having children who are not yet 18. Women tend to bear most of the responsibility for raising their children, so the resulting separation from their children during incarceration can be an overwhelming additional burden to the woman, as well as to her children and other family members. Prisons in most countries make an effort to house inmates within a reasonable distance from their family, but females are far more likely to be housed at greater distances from their homes because so few prisons can accommodate women. This can make visitation much more difficult.

The number of women in prison is far less than the male prison population, so females routinely receive little or substandard medical attention. Most prisons do not offer mammograms, pelvic examinations or other services that are needed exclusively by women. It is not unusual for women who are pregnant to enter the prison population. Prenatal care is not routinely given and, in fact, women in prison often remain shackled when in labor, which can cause excessive bleeding and serious brain damage to the baby. In many countries, women are immediately separated from their babies after birth — to the detriment of both mother and child.

Women in prison might be subjected to sexual abuse or assault by the correctional officers who serve in these institutions or by other inmates. Research has established that female prisoners have been raped, groped or victimized through other types of sexual coercion. Often, these incidents go unreported because of fear.

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Discussion Comments
By anon951304 — On May 14, 2014

Women in prison have experienced victimization, unstable family life, separation from children, lack of substance abuse treatment, absence of physical and mental health care, sexual abuse, no vocational and educational programs.

By irontoenail — On Mar 31, 2012

I think that the situation of women in prison in movies is often shown as worse than it is in real life. I think in real life the boredom is the real problem.

Not that prison is a complete walk in the park, by any means. I know that pregnant women in prison, in particular, face all kinds of problems. Stress and pregnancy don't mix.

And any time you have one person subjected to another person's near total authority you are going to get problems.

But generally I think that there are more problems after prison than during it. People who have not been permitted to work for months at a time and who have to admit to a prison sentence every time they apply for a job aren't exactly going to be at the head of the cue when it comes to job applications.

It wouldn't be the prison sentence that would bother me so much as the conviction. It could ruin the rest of your life.

By Mor — On Mar 30, 2012

@umbra21 - I've never been in prison, but I have been stationed overseas in difficult circumstances and I can tell you that sometimes a small gift can make all the difference, particularly if it's something that wouldn't otherwise be available to you.

Another way in which people can help is by writing letters. I imagine being in prison can be very lonely.

I know there are quite a few websites online which are dedicated to helping people to be connected to women who would appreciate a pen-pal and it can be very interesting for the volunteer who gets a letter back as well.

It's something I've always meant to do, but haven't been able to get around to it yet.

By umbra21 — On Mar 29, 2012

One of my friends is a nurse and she occasionally visits the local female prison in order to help out their in house medical team.

She told me before she goes she always visits the local $5 shop in order to pick up a pile of nail polishes, lipsticks and other things of that sort.

It can be difficult to get them past the guards sometimes, but the women always really appreciate it.

I know it seems trivial compared to some of the other problems women prisoners might face, but my friend says that nothing can make them feel more human like being able to do something to make themselves look pretty.

I guess dressing all the same and being unable to distinguish themselves can feel very dehumanizing after a while.

And I'm sure the fact that my friend is kind enough to bring them any kind of present is also something they appreciate.

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