Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Lori Marso




penal system, female prison population, female incarceration


This paper investigates how the contemporary U.S. penal system impacts women given that female imprisonment rates have skyrocketed over the last several decades. Notably the U.S. has increased the rate of female incarceration at double the rate of male incarceration. However female prisoners have been rendered largely invisible under the umbrella of the criminal justice system in both scholarly discourse and policy. Drawing on the broad characteristics and trends that encapsulate the female prison population it is examined that women face unique challenges within the system. Pathways of crime illustrate the interlocking nature of poverty abuse mental illness and drug abuse in relation to female criminality. It is noted that in an era defined by the war on drugs and tough-on-crime policy the "criminalization" of women's survival strategies has become a main symptom of female imprisonment. Through analyzing policy it is evident that the criminal justice system often discounts the societal and institutional forces that influence female criminality. Instead policies have adopted a perspective that is predominantly male- oriented given the lack of research and literature on women in prison. Consequently this so- called "gender-neutral" framework has not succeeded in its attempt to equalize the male and female prison populations. In designing policy and legislation to prevent crime it is necessary to grasp the context in which female offending and imprisonment originates. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how the use of mass incarceration as a method of control over female criminality has been largely inappropriate when contextual evidence is considered and overall ineffective at ridding society of lawlessness.