Adaptation of prisons for women prisoners; Essay

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you read ‘women prison cells?’ The Netflix series ‘Orange is the new Black’? , well...How true do you think it is? The mere depiction of women offenders, moulding their crimes to attract interest! Fitting them in a structural set of episodes. Snapping out of the bubble lets understand; sneaking in cigarettes and hormonal pills aren’t the first world problem a prison faces! Ever wondered how prisons adapted to the increasing rate of women offenders in past, making the lives of the present women offenders so much easier that it was during the 18th and 19th century. The existence of women inmates was ignored by historians, sociologists and specialists of criminal justice for a good long period in the history of prisons. Take this for instance, when you hear the word ‘prison inmates’, the image that pops up in your head is probably a guy in orange or striped white and black clothes staring at you. Ever wondered why you never imagine it to be a female offender; Women were viewed as the moral face in society; them falling into immorality was though as an instant jeopardizing the very foundation of society. Hence a female offender having committed the same level of crime as a man was considered less deserving. What’s important to understand is that treating the female and male offenders equally doesn’t work either. The two user groups have different needs! So in past when the women were provided similar facilities as men, it didn’t really benefit them in anyway. Being aware of the needs of these female offenders was primary to create a better and more adaptive space for these women. Well let’s break it down to 3 stages; 1. When the women and men were both imprisoned together. 2. When the segregation took place; the hierarchy developed. 3. The current scenario. Physical isolation: There was a need to segregate the prisons among the user groups. Unlike the common halls in past, were every incarcerated citizen of the country was put together in a room. So ideally there were no prisons for just the men, it was always for everyone. For Instance the jail operated by Philadelphia held “In one common heard by day and by night prisoners of all colours, age and sexes” This lead to several internal nuances within the prison, these prisons were soon treated as brothels, there was physical and sexual abuse by both the male inmates and the male guards. “The American Correctional Association even has records of liquor-vending bars inside the jails of early America” (Thompson, p. 30) Hence for administrative conveniences a physical segregation of gender developed to prevent sexual scandals. This segregation started around late 18th century and went around till the early 19th century. The concept of creating individual cells came up. Thought the segregation wasn’t equal in the way the two groups were treated, while Men were locked in individual cells at night and kept in common room by day and given 2 meals. Women were still confined together in a single room, usually in an attic above the kitchen, with no provisions for exercises and given 1 meal a day. Confined in this sticky atmosphere, which was crowded and less sanitised, it was believed that; to be a male convict in this prison would be quite tolerable; but to be a female convict, for any protracted period, would be worse than death. Another classic example demonstrating this hierarchical goes like, “The campus plan is recognizable mostly by its lack of obviously oppressive physical structures such as walls, high guard towers, heavy locks, and security windows. Such a minimum-security plan is frequently seen in women's Prisons” (Thompson, p. 69) Figure 1: Overcrowded halls filled with men and women by day and night, instigating an unhealthy environment. Figure 2: The segregation of male and female offenders. The first Female prison; Mount Pleasant female prison, New York Building the Mount Pleasant female prison was the first step towards establishing a penal institution for women. Unlike before, this was the first time that women beyond the wall came in and were involved in taking care of the prison as matrons. The prison had an elevated platform used for chapel services, and had a nursery above it. These facilities for female prisoners were increasing but they weren’t the best. Even though the prison did have a female warden the administrators were still men. Again it saw cases of sexual abuse and pregnancy among these female inmates. Additionally the prison was too small to accommodate the increasing rate of female offenders coming in, causing overcrowding. The Reformatories; Around 1830’s the reformatory model for women was introduced by Elizabeth Fry1 , the notion of a prison with female inmates, handled by the female to reform the offenders by giving them moral and domestic training. This became the nucleus of the female reformatory movement, with several reformatories set up around the world in the following years. The reformatories had inmate nurseries allowing these female offenders to remain with their infants while they served their sentence, and an on-site hospital to address the inmates’ health care needs. Additionally, several opportunities were provided to increase these women’s self-esteem, gain an education, and develop a positive quality of life during their sentence. Tough the unfortunate but predictable fact in the field of corrections is that the smaller the inmate population, the higher the cost per inmate to build and manage the prison/ reformatory. 1 Elizabeth Fry was particularly concerned at the conditions in which female prisoners (and their children) were held. After she presented evidence to the House of Commons improvements were made. In 1858, the interior was rebuilt with individual cells. Figure 3: The Mount Pleasant female prison; first female prison Image 4: Newgate Prison in London during the early 19th century served as the inspiration for the American women’s prison reform movement. “1973 figures for the state of Wisconsin show that while the annual cost of maintaining a male prisoner at the Correctional Institution for Men at Fox Lake was $4",500, a female prisoner at the women's reformatory at Taycheedah cost over $10",000 per year” (Thompson, p. 117). During the 20th century the 2 models of women institutions existed; The Reformatory and the Custodial institutions. The reformatory model was new and starting to develop popularity among women around America, it was also leading to a racial segregation among women. Plan of Newgate prison published in 1800 Plan of Newgate prison published in 1856, after it was rebuilt, adding the infirmary for the women and their children. Switch in the women ward to insert the infirmary. BEFORE AFTER While the reformatories were clearly better in terms of hygiene and the environment they provided to these incarcerated women, only ‘white’ women were submitted there. All ‘coloured’ females were taken to the custodial units as they were believed to be incapable of ‘reforming’. We’re sitting in the 21st century and the hierarchy still exists, even after creating reformatories, these custodial institutions are continuing to work in a way they used to a century ago. Women in prison have never been treated equal to the male offenders. Movies and series might not depict the former, it’s because when the hierarchy’s been set for this long, we subconsciously ignore certain details, details that are as big as not creating identical spaces for men and women offenders. The following is an interview session done by Elisabeth Fransson, of an inmate in a prison in America in 2014; I bring up how I recently read an article that stated that prisons are built for men by men, and I ask Nina her opinion. Nina says that she wishes they had a female doctor at the prison. “When you need to see a gynaecologist you are sent outside the prison. It would be easier if it was the same person, a female doctor. This is a Nazi prison. It’s restraining, no perfume, and only fifteen hygiene products. We are girls, may only shop for 500 a month. Unnecessarily strict.” Nina continues by saying that the type of work they do here is restricting; either sewing, making cards, or ceramics. “Only because you are a woman. It’s an old-fashioned prison, stuck in the 20th century",” Nina states. “Men’s prisons are more lenient, it’s very ‘boxy’ thinking here",” says Nina. “Prison isn’t for pussies. You have to be tough. Strong women can be very mean to each other.” (Elisabeth Fransson) Architecture has shaped prisons, and the entire journey of balancing out security and the dimensions of spaces necessary anthropologically for the inmates. Though it never understood the two genders of inmates. They were somehow never considered.

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