Women in Prison Take Home Economics, While Men Take Carpentry

The Victoria County Jail and Courthouse in Victoria, Texas

The Victoria County Jail and Courthouse in Victoria, Texas Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Decades after a government report on deep inequity in the vocational offerings of the nation's criminal-justice system, little has changed.

The Government Accountability Office did not mince words in the top line of a 1980 report to Congress on inequitable treatment of women in prison: “Women in correctional institutions are not provided comparable services, educational programs, or facilities as men prisoners.”

Incarcerated women had been filing lawsuits—and they had been winning. Their conditions, they argued, violated their constitutional rights: Indifference to medical needs was cruel and unusual punishment, courts found. In some instances courts found that male guards’ contact with women constituted an extreme invasion of privacy. And at a more fundamental level, courts said that failing to provide parity in vocational programming was a Fourteenth-Amendment violation. Those victories forced the government to take notice. That unfair treatment, the GAO said, required action.

Today, nearly four decades after that GAO report, the disparity in educational offerings between women and men is still immense. The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), an advocacy group, released a report last week on the treatment of women in Texas’s criminal-justice system showing how the needs of incarcerated women continue to go unmet. One of its findings: The state offers 21 job-certification programs for men, and just two for women. The programs are as different in kind as they are in number. Men are offered programs such as construction carpentry, electrical technology, and advanced industrial design. Meanwhile, women are offered office administration and culinary arts.

Prison programs that reinforce gender roles have been around as long as women have been a part of the prison population, Brenda Smith, a law professor at American University, told me. “In the earliest prisons,” she says, “women washed, sewed, cooked, and cleaned—more often than not for the male staff, and also for male inmates.”

The number of women in state prisons has ballooned since the late ‘70s, but it is still small compared to the amount of incarcerated men. The fact that there are fewer women than men does contribute to the difference in programming available, according to Smith. After all, it makes financial sense to offer the bulk of programs to those who makes up the majority of the prison population. However, by not offering similar educational programs at women's facilities—particularly those that provide skills that are useful to potential employers—women's prospects once they are released from prison are hampered. So advocates argue that prisons should come up with another approach, perhaps, at the very least, allowing women to take vocational courses at the men's prisons.

But critics have argued—in court, and elsewhere—that it would be dangerous to have women go to men’s facilities to participate in vocational coursework. As a former warden of one of the men’s prisons in the District of Columbia, Vincent Gibbons, put it to the court in the early ’90s when incarcerated women in D.C. filed a class-action lawsuit against the district, it would be “an absolute nightmare” for women to be escorted to the men’s prison for educational programs. His main objection was, he said, the security concerns that come with the mixing of men and women. However, when remarking upon his staff’s reaction to the presence of women at the facility for vocational training, Gibbons said, according to court records, everyone was “very impressed with how few problems there have been.”

Still, the inequity in men’s and women’s educational offerings in prison has persisted—and not only in Texas. In Louisiana, men are offered certificate programs such as collision repair and carpentry, while the women’s prison offers marketing management and upholstery, among others. And in Mississippi, men are offered 13 programs, while women are offered five, including one exclusively for them called “family dynamics.” According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ website: “The focus is similar to a Home Economics class, but the curriculum is broader.”

The differences in educational programs in prisons is not only bad for women, Smith told me, but it is also bad for men. For example, many men would benefit from parenting programs, but they rarely have access. A report last year found that just 15 percent of men took parenting classes while incarcerated.

It was clear to the GAO nearly 40 years ago that prison reform needed to work towards eliminating inequities between men and women’s facilities, including in educational offerings. And government-funded research has shown that prison education has a significant impact on whether or not someone will return to prison. But there has been little targeted action to fix the problems, and, as the TCJC report shows, that means not much has changed.

Adam Harris writes for The Atlantic, where this article was originally published.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Forecasting Ambulance Needs for the City of San Diego
San Diego, CA, USA
A large urban park creates a "connected" visitor experience with SMART.NODEs™
Sydney NSW, Australia
Community feedback increases 13x in Lancaster, PA with both offline and online engagement methods
Lancaster, PA, USA

NEXT STORY: New Research Shows 9/11 First Responders Are Twice as Likely to Develop Blood Cancer

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.