Women’s Health Issues in Prison
Health issues facing women in prisons
A look at prison systems worldwide reveals that most or all of the systems were primarily built for, inhabited, and governed by men. Little has changed over the years when it comes to men’s inhabitation and governorship of global prison systems. However, what has changed over the years is the number of women being criminalized and those being incarcerated (Loury, 2010). In the US, for instance, women of all races, ages, economic levels, and education levels are now being imprisoned at a rate almost similar to that of men. According to research, the number of women incarcerated in the US has increased significantly over the last 15 years by a whopping 92 percent. Unfortunately, women are in correctional facilities that were not in any way housed or modified to house them, and as such, most needs of women are largely ignored or overlooked. Healthcare services fall among the most fundamental needs of incarcerated women, although this has been a big challenge for women because of the control that men have in prison systems (Haywood et al., 2000). These perspectives in mind, one of the serious health issues facing incarcerated women is gender inequality in healthcare. As compared to their male counterparts, criminalized women face more health problems, and this is worsened by the fact that the latter has less access to and receives inferior healthcare. This paper will focus on gender inequality in healthcare in prison systems as one of the health issues faced by incarcerated women.
Scope and significance of the issue
As already mentioned, female inmates, especially in the US, compose a much smaller portion of the correctional population as compared to men, and as such, they warrant less attention from state governments and the federal government. With the considerable growth of the female inmate population, gender inequality, especially in healthcare, has increasingly become problematic. This issue is likely to become salient in coming years unless necessary interventions and measures are out in place to curb the same. Several studies give a suggestion that female inmates are likely to have more serious health problems than their male counterparts because of their problematic lifestyles, chronic poverty, and lack of access to medical care (Anderson, 2003). It is argued that in the US, for every ten inmates with access to healthcare services, only one is female, highlighting the rising problem of gender inequality in healthcare in prison systems. Neglect is one of the possible reasons for the current deficit of healthcare provided to women prisoners in the US.
Another reason for this is economic challenges faced by prison systems. From an economic perspective, the costs of maintaining and operating prisons have exploded in recent years in the US because of punitive crime control policies that have increasingly led to the incarceration of more criminals. According to the American Correction Association, 41 percent of correctional systems spent a whopping $83 billion, accounting for 10 percent of their budgets between 1997 and 2000 on inmate healthcare (Anderson, 2003). These amounts have been invested in healthcare systems in prison sectors with incarcerated males only in mind, overlooking the increasing number of incarcerated females. The issue of gender inequality in healthcare in prison systems is significant as it brings into focus the problems faced by women not only in the free world but also in prison and criminal justice systems. The modern world has shifted attention to the problems faced by women, and every intervention has been put in place to ensure these problems are addressed. A focus on gender inequality in healthcare in prison systems will pave the way for the formulation of more and better policies and enactment of legislations that will see equality in the delivery of healthcare services to incarcerated men and women.
Theoretical explanations for gender inequality in healthcare in prisons
With gender inequality in healthcare in prisons gradually becoming a widespread social issue that adversely impacts women, attention and focus have been on figuring out why and what causes gender inequality in prison systems. Various theories give explanations to why gender inequality in healthcare in prisons is becoming more prevalent. One of the theories that have sought to explain why there is gender inequality in healthcare in prison systems is the feminist theory (Lorber, 2001). Feminists argue that society is not in any way the same for men and women and that the differences between the two run very deep and are always very subtle. According to this theory, for a long time, women have been regarded as inferior or secondary to men justifying the argument that society primarily serves male interests, and it is run by men (Lorber, 2001). Male dominance in society has been extended to prison systems and other correctional facilities, and this has seen incarcerated women degraded, treated in subservient ways, and denied access to healthcare.
Another theory that best explains the issue of gender inequality in healthcare in prison systems is the functionalist theory. According to this theory, gender inequalities in whatever context often exist as an efficient way to create a division of labor. The theory also argues that gender inequalities exist as a way through which a social system is created, in which a particular segment of the population holds the responsibility for certain acts of labor and another segment holds the responsibility for other labor acts (Holmwood, 2005). This idea supports the fact that most of the roles in prison systems, especially in the US are left for men, with women having few roles to play in the systems. The result of the creation of the division of labor has resulted in men becoming dominant in prison systems thereby treating women in the systems as inferior or secondary to them. These perspectives play a major role in the gender inequalities witnessed in healthcare in prisons where women have lower access to healthcare services in prison systems as compared to their male counterparts.
Effects of gender inequality in healthcare in prisons
Clearly, the issue of gender inequality in healthcare in correctional facilities results in adverse effects especially on the side of incarcerated women. Research indicates that there are considerable and observable discrepancies and differences between men’s and women’s physical health conditions in correctional systems. This means that one of the adverse effects of gender inequality in healthcare in prisons is physical health problems, which is often more observable in incarcerated women than men. Women inmates are also likely to experience mental health problems such as trauma, victimization, depression, and substance abuse as a result of gender inequality in healthcare in prison systems (Reviere & Young, 2004).
Policy responses and effectiveness
The focus on gender inequality in healthcare in prisons has seen the formulation of various policies in the US to help curb the same. One of the policies that have helped address the issue of gender inequality in healthcare in US prisons is the Women’s Integrated Treatment. The US government’s emphasis on this policy has seen the creation of trauma-informed environments and use of multi-dimensional strategies to help women access, retain, and benefit from services such as healthcare in prisons (Covington & Bloom, 2000). Since the formulation of this policy, gender inequality in healthcare in US prisons has reduced significantly, underlining its effectiveness.
Policy and practice implications
Gender inequality has become one of the most researched social issues in recent years, but it still lacks a proper policy and practice response from stakeholders in the government and the field of social work. Even though the US has pushed for the implementation of the Women’s Integrated Treatment in its prison systems, more should be done to help curb the ever-increasing cases and victims of gender inequality in correctional facilities. With the funds allocated to prisons in the US, more training should be provided to prison personnel on how to implement the Women’s Integrated Program. Besides, the funds should be channeled to the formulation of better and improved policies and enactment of legislations that will see gender inequality in healthcare in prisons abolished completely (Belknap, 2003). From the social work practice perspective, female victims of gender inequality are still overlooked, and as such, it is the responsibility of stakeholders in social work practice to push for the implementation of formulated policies, which in the long run will create friendly environments for women in prisons.
Women, despite racial backgrounds or age groups, are the primary victims of gender inequality in healthcare in prisons. Some of the effects of gender inequality in healthcare include physical and mental health problems such as trauma, victimization, and depression among women. Although policies such as Women’s Integrated Program have been formulated and implemented, the social issue is far from being eradicated completely, and thus, the formulation of better policies is essential. Every stakeholder in the social work perspective should play a role if success is to be achieved in its complete eradication.
Anderson, T. L. (2003). Issues in the availability of health care for women prisoners. The incarcerated woman: Rehabilitative programming in women’s prisons, 49-60.
Belknap, J. (2003). Responding to the needs of women prisoners. The incarcerated woman: Rehabilitative programming in women’s prisons, 93-106.
Covington, S., & Bloom, B. E. (2000). Gendered justice: Programming for women in correctional settings. In Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology, San Francisco, CA.
Haywood, T. W., Kravitz, H. M., Goldman, L. B., & Freeman, A. (2000). Characteristics of Women in Jail and Treatment Orientations A Review. Behavior Modification, 24(3), 307-324.
Holmwood, J. (2005). Functionalism and its Critics. Modern social theory: an introduction, 87-109.
Lorber, J. (2001). Gender inequality. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.
Loury, G. C. (2010). Crime, inequality & social justice. Daedalus, 139(3), 134-140.
Reviere, R., & Young, V. D. (2004). Aging behind bars: health care for older female inmates. Journal of women & aging, 16(1-2), 55-69.