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The number of female inmates; though still low compared to men, has been increasing worldwide at an alarming rate. Jenks (2010) approves of this increase when he showed that in 1977, the United State’s federal and state prisons housed eleven thousand two hundred and twelve female inmates. By 2004, this figure had doubled nine fold reaching a total of ninety six thousand one hundred and twenty five female inmates. Cameron (2004) additionally supports this increase by asserting that, the number of women incarcerated in Australia has doubled from six hundred and seven in 1991. This paper discuses this increase of females in correctional facilities.
Frost & Greene (2006) have argued that the increase in the number of female inmates in America has increased by seven hundred and fifty seven percent from 1977 to 2004. They further claim that this rate has increased from the then ten women per one hundred thousand female residents to sixty four women per one hundred thousand females.
Additionally, Dolan (2010) shows that Thailand’s total female inmates accounts for twenty five percent of the total number of prisoners. In his study of HIV in Thailand’s prisons, Dolan (2010) has argued that Thailand is ranked the highest in the number of female inmates in the world. Thailand’s high rates go against the normal beliefs, given that the increased rates of female inmates have exceeded the increase in male inmates. Apparently this rate continues to increase and is not bound to change unless immediate action is taken.
Moreover, England and Wales too have seen an increase in the number of female inmates by more than two hundred percent since 1990. Moore (2011) has shown in his study that, the English and Wales courts have jailed nearly eight thousand eight hundred and sixty two females in 2008 alone. This figure is the highest in total record so far, and indicates an increase of fifty percent since 1998. They further assert that in 2008, only five thousand eight hundred and forty nine female offenders were jailed and majority of them being older females.
This increased number of female inmates has raised a lot of concern given that it is not the nature of women to be found on the wrong side of the law. According to Cameron (2004), Australia alone has seen the number of female inmates rising in all its jurisdictions. This rise has not only been seen in the state of South Australia which apparently has not seen any increased number of female inmates. Cameron (2004) further asserts that in New Zealand, female offender’s incarceration has risen by nearly one hundred and sixty two percent between 1896 and 2000.
This increase has also been experienced in the Eastern nations like Japan and Malaysia. Frost and Greene (2006), argue that Japan which is assumed to have one of the most stable prison populations, has seen a forty four percent increase in the number of female inmates for the last six years. In addition, they note that Malaysia has also witnessed the doubling in number of its female inmates during the last two years. Frost and Green (2006) note that it is only in Cambodia that an increase in the number of female inmates has nor been experienced. According to their analysis, this has been possible for Cambodia because it suspends most of its sentencing cases involving women.
Moore (2011) asserts that prisons were generally built and operated to cope with the needs of the majority inmates who were males. This has led to emergence of problems in these prisons since they lack the facilities to accommodate the increasing number of female inmates. In some instance, some correctional centers had to opt for the use of male facilities to meet the need of the rising number of female offenders. This apparently has affected the female candidates psychologically, physically, emotionally and health wise.
According to Moore‘s (2011) assertion, prisons and correction centers were a domain for the men, and they were specifically constructed to rehabilitate male offenders. So the question arises, what has made women to increasingly fill these correction centers just like the statistics above show? Frost & Greene (2006) suggest that even though women do not commit the same offences as their male counterparts, a pattern of similarity of crimes has appeared of late. It has become common today for women to be arrested for committing offenses long viewed to be male related. Such offences include serial murders, robbery, and homicide or grievous assault.
Frost & Greene (2006) have shown in their study that in the United States, violent female offenders make up forty percent of the total female inmates population. Property offenders make up twenty six percent and drug related criminals make up twenty percent of all female inmates. In particular, a greater degree of violence related crimes are now associated with women than it was a few years ago. They further assert that a common crime associated with women in a number of nations, is the possession and trafficking of illegal drugs. An example is Japan where forty six percent of women who are admitted in prisons have been charged for offences that are related to illegal drugs.
Studies by Cameron (2004) in New Zealand’s prisons also support this fact by showing that fifty percent of women in their prisons are victims of drug offenses. Further studies by Moore (2011) reveal that thirty four percent of the women in prison are also victims of non violent crimes like fraud, larceny and burglary. This research shows that eighteen percent have been convicted for violent crimes ranging from murder of intimate partners, abortion, or murder of their children. Another seven percent are there because of public disorder offenses like vagrancy, violation of the liquor law and even drunk driving.
The factors that are leading to these increased rates of women offenders in prisons vary from nation to nation. Moore (2011) using England and Wales as examples show that a tendency exists of incarcerating low level offenders, majority of who are women. Apparently, in this nations, more than two thirds of the women in prisons are serving for non-violent offences like shoplifting. The remaining third are there because of mental problems and being drug addicts.
In the United States the issue of initial mandatory sentence to all initial drug offenders in the view of Frost & Greene (2006), has increased the number of female inmates. This mandatory sentence is for about five to ten years, and since women are the majority drug offenders, they fill these prisons. In addition, the prison terms in the United States are unusually longer than in any other country in the world. For example, the mandatory drug offender sentencing is six to ten years while in the majority of other nations it is six months.
Another longer sentence is seen in burglary sentences which are sixteen months in the United States and seven months in England and five months in Canada. These longer prison sentences in the views of Frost, & Greene (2006), increases the rates of incarceration and inflates the rate of women imprisonments. The increased number of female offenders in prisons is further attributed to the augmented number of prosecutions of less severe offenses. For example, in the United States, female law breakers have been frequently jailed since other modes of rehabilitation are lacking or are not well defined.
The saddening bit is that two thirds of female inmates in the United States are mothers of minor children and thirty percent of them are black women. The increasing rate of female inmates hampers many families. According to Jenks (2010), it has been estimated that the eighteen percent decline in marriage rates is attributed to the increased number of female inmates. Apart from affecting families negatively, it also affects the economic sphere of many nations. The only way to reduce this increasing number of female inmates is to provide alternatives to women imprisonment.
Women- as compared to men pose no risk to the public, and on the contrary they are the vulnerable lot. Jenks (2010) claimed that prisons cause more damage and disruption to the lives of female inmates. Normally, women are incarcerated so many miles a way from their homes. Consequently they lose their family, homes, their mental health and their relationship wit their children. In addition, prisons only make the women’s lives more miserable. This means that with the increase in imprisonment of female offenders, there will always be an increased troubles and problems for the society. It is better if government agencies reduce the use of prisons and instead encourage the use of community alternative and other forms of rehabilitation.
In conclusion, the rise in number of female inmates is matter of global concern. It might have been sparked off by the increased crime rates in society or the careless use of incarceration by many nations across the world. This increase has caused more harm to families, economies and should be reduced by all means. The increasing number of female inmates shall continue to rise unless the governments act swiftly by employing other alternatives to imprisonment.
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