Institutional Management of Female Offenders Essay Sample

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The correctional services in the US have experienced a surge in the proportion of female offenders in the past few decades. In 2021, female prisoners comprised 12.3 percent of the federal offenders sentenced in the fiscal year (FY) 2020 (United State Sentencing Commission, 2020). The proportion of female offenders in jails and prisons is increasing at a faster rate compared to that of male offenders. Female offenders in prison and jail have some unique needs that are quite distinct from those of male offenders, which partly result from uneven victimization from physical or sexual abuse and, in part, from their general responsibility for children. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of State prison inmates revealed that in 2016, approximately 45 percent of the female inmates said they had been sexually or physically abused before being admitted to the prisons. Females imprisoned for a violent offense were approximately twice as likely as their male colleagues to have committed the offense against an individual near them.

Over two-thirds of female offenders had children under 18 years, and among them, only a quarter stated that their children were being left under care of the other partner. These varied circumstances and the rise in the number of female offenders in prison and jails highlight the need for changes in the institutional management approaches to ensure equality and provide inventions that reduce relapse. To achieve gender parity in the institutional management of female offenders, they must be provided with a range of opportunities, same as those accorded to male offenders. The standard is extremely challenging to achieve since female offenders comprise just a lower percentage of the entire population of inmates. Their needs may easily be ignored when approaches are being drafted and resources are being allocated.

Historical Perspective

Over the past two decades, the knowledge and understanding of women’s lives have increased dramatically. These discovery has influenced and improved services for women in almost all aspects of life, including in fields such as employment, mental health, education, trauma treatment, health, and substance abuse (Wright & Cain, 2018). Currently, there is both a need and an opportunity to draw knowledge from various fields and improve the criminal justice system to develop effective institutional management of female offenders in prisons and jails. Until recently, research and theory on criminality emphasized crimes committed by male offenders and thus has been basing their profile on male criminality. However, these approaches that primarily focus on many male offenders in the correction system usually fail to acknowledge options that would be gender-responsive to the unique needs of female offenders.

Specific Needs of Female Offenders

Women comprise an at-risk group in jails and prisons because of their gender. Despite their issues variating between varied countries, the reasons for and severity of their exposure, and the related needs, several factors are frequent at most. Some of these factors which can affect their institutional management and may not also apply to male offenders include safety in the prisons, pregnancy and female offenders with children, and accommodation and family contact.

Safety in the Prisons

In most countries, female offenders and sexually humiliated and abused by law enforcement officials in jails and prisons. Such abuses vary from insidious humiliation to rape. The abuses can include forceful improper touching during searches, verbal abuse, unnecessary spying, and searching on offenders when they are taking baths and while in their living rooms. Rape occurs in the form of sexual offers. Female offenders are coerced to engage in return for favors or enjoy their basic human rights. In most cases, male prisoners abuse female offenders take place within the complicity of guards. In recognition of the vulnerability of female offenders to sexual impugn, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners enacted regulations that forbid the engagement of male staff of any kind in the searches and supervision of women’s jails and prisons (UNODC, 2014). However, the regulation is not implemented in some countries in most cases due to inadequate staff and in other cases due to concerns of having equal opportunities of employment. The regulation can lead to a high level of risk for female offenders, particularly when male staff is responsible for directly supervising the female inmates.

Experts have noted that even in the situation where there is no actual sexual impugn, male staffs generally treat female inmates disrespectfully, which has a varying impact compared to a situation where a female staff is acting disrespectfully to male inmates. Acts of disrespect by male officers towards female offenders are more likely to be sexual in implication, and females who have a history of experiencing sexual by their partners or males are more likely to experience retraumatization. Female offenders who have experienced traumatic episodes in their life before imprisonment might prefer not to be supervised by male staff, and they would wish to choose to stay in a face place. However, they are forced to live in a situation where their entire imprisonment life is monitored by male staff. The male staff can intrude into their private and personal activities at any moment.  Abuse and torture of prisoners when being held in custody is a common norm in the majority of the countries. In this situation, female offenders’ vulnerability to abuse is extended. During this period, female offenders are at high risk of sexual and physical abuse, including rape, which in most cases it is used as a tool to coerce them to confess (Jenness et al., 2019).

Pregnancy and Female Offenders with Children

Research conducted in most countries reveals that when males in a family are imprisoned, the woman in the relationship continues to take of the children. However, in the context where females are imprisoned, the family in most cases breaks up, and a guardian to the children has to be identified, which may include surrendering them to the welfare institutions of the state. Studies also indicate that the kids of the imprisoned parents are at a higher risk of future imprisonment themselves. For example, in the UK, it is approximated that out of the 150,000 kids who have a parent in jail or prison, about 75 percent of them later in life will be convicted of a crime (UNODC, 2014). Outside the prison, children who are left under the are of state welfare institutions cause huge distress to their mothers, who in most cases are worried about them being separated from their children or who is left in their custody. Research on the children of prisoners usually reports that children suffer from a wide range of psychological problems when their parent is imprisoned, including aggressive behavior, clinging behavior, withdrawal, eating problems, sleep deprivation, and truancy.

Female offenders who are imprisoned at the same time when they are carrying pregnancy rarely receive required antenatal and postnatal care. Health care services in the jails and prisons in most countries are understaffed and under-resourced. The health care providers are usually trained to deal with general health issue in the prisons, such as Tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and dealing with HIV/AIDS. Generally, prisons are congested, and general hygiene is usually poor. The specific dietary needs of pregnant women may be overlooked, and the food they are served with may lack sufficient nutritional requirements for pregnant women. In low-income countries’ prisons, the pregnant women inmates may be helped to deliver their babies in unhygienic conditions or by staff with little medical expertise, often resulting in severe health risks to the baby and the mother (Howland et al., 2021). Another issue in the imprisonment of women offenders is dealing with women with children at young ages. In varied countries, female offenders must stay with their children until the child reaches a certain age. The condition in which the mothers with young children live is not that much different from the overall conditions of the jail or prison, thus exposing the young children to severe health risks.

Accommodation and Family Contact

The small percentage of female offenders imprisoned in the state jails and prisons worldwide and the implications of resources of building enough prisons specifically for women to ensure that female offender are imprisoned near their homes leads to a situation where female offenders may either be imprisoned in annexes or with the male offenders near their homes, or in prisons for women which are in most cases located far from their homes. Housing them in annexes or with the male offenders poses great safety risks for the female offenders. Also, in such an approach, their special needs may be overlooked as the general prison management in the wider context focuses on the needs of the male offenders who are the majority. The majority of the countries usually have a combination of prisons for women and separate wings for the female offenders in the prisons for men. In practice, this means that majority of the female offenders are imprisoned far distances from their residences, reducing the chances of family contact.

The situation is specifically problematic in countries with vast geographical locations where individuals have to travel long distances before accessing or reaching prisons for women. For instance, the Russian Federation only has 40 female penal colonies for female offenders and only three for young girls. The female offenders are usually imprisoned at very far distances from their residences (UNODC, 2014). After female offenders are sentenced, they are forced to travel for long distances, usually travel that takes about two months with several stopovers along the way. The costs of such travel are quite huge. Thus, it may be challenging for some female offenders’ families to visit them in such locations, meaning their contact is cut. The same issues are experienced in Asia, Latin America, the US, and Africa. In addition, female offenders who have been convicted with immorality charges are at higher risk of being forsaken by their families, meaning they are cut from the important support of family during their period of imprisonment and after they are released.


Women remain to make a lower proportion of the entire prison population globally. However, studies show that besides the fact that most countries are experiencing a surge in the proportion of female offenders, their number is rising at a much higher rate than that of men. Although the number is only a small percentage of the entire prison population, female offenders represent an at-risk group in jails and prisons because of their gender. The reasons for their exposure and related needs are promoted by various factors connected to the general gender parity in the world. Female offenders may have specific needs which cannot be found in male offenders. These factors include the safety of female offenders in prison, pregnancy and female offenders with children, accommodation, and family contact.


Howland, M. A., Kotlar, B., Davis, L., & Shlafer, R. J. (2021). Depressive symptoms among pregnant and postpartum women in prison. Journal of midwifery & women’s health66(4), 494-502.

Jenness, V., Sexton, L., & Sumner, J. (2019). Sexual victimization against transgender women in prison: Consent and coercion in context. Criminology57(4), 603-631.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). (2014). Handbook on women and imprisonment.

United States Sentencing Commission. (2020). Women in the offender population.

Wright, E. M., & Cain, C. M. (2018). Women in prison. The Oxford handbook of prisons and imprisonment, 163-188.