We seek to broaden the thinking, conceptualization and understanding of the lives of incarcerated women. The idea for this project began in the Netherlands in 2011 when we received an NWO grant to study all of the women currently incarcerated in the Netherlands. Data collection encompassed both surveys and life history interviews with 397 Dutch women and took 16 months to complete. As we came close to completion, we realized that we needed to learn more about how the women we were studying compared to other female offenders. Much has been written about the carceral lives of women in the United States and England and we found some of our results were comparable to findings from these nations. But it was also clear that the Dutch context created some different avenues to, and exits from, offending. As a result, we decided that it would be important to consider a more global perspective on women offenders and their carceral lives. In the spring of 2013, we convened an international group of scholars to present their work on the lives of incarcerated women. This volume includes some of the papers presented at that conference, as well as others that came to our attention when we put out a call for research that could contribute to this volume. Our thinking was that by focusing on data from a range of countries, and data that encompasses the range of experiences women encounter in their pre-and post-carceral lives, we might be able to expand upon the erstwhile assumptions about the gendering of crime and punishment. Current monographs on the imprisonment of women span a number of important topics, including, but not limited to, the politics of punishment and related neo-liberal developments that have impacted penal practices and the development of gender-specific programs (e.g., Bosworth and Flavin 2007; Carlen 2002; Corcoran 2006; Phillips and Webster 2014); women’s conditions of confinement and the deprivations they face in the context of harsher penal policies (Cook and Davies 1999; Kruttschnitt and Gartner 2005; McCorkel 2012; Moore 2014); and, the well-worn difficulties of dealing with inadequate health care, sexual intimacy and identity, and mothering (Bosworth 1999; Solinger 2010). As important as these topics are, they reveal little about how these women ended up in prison, what happens to the children they leave behind and how they manage to craft new lives, particularly outside of the US context (e.g., Leverentz 2014; Owen 1998). We hope this volume contributes not only to this void in our
understanding of women’s pathways to and from prison but also to a deeper appreciation of their lives. More specifically, this includes their vulnerabilities and the social contexts that can serve to aggravate or mitigate these vulnerabilities, the intergenerational impacts of females’ carceral lives, and the variations that exist in the stimuli for desistance. In what follows we provide a brief roadmap to the chapters ahead and some reflections on the cumulative contribution of this volume to our understanding of the “lives of incarcerated women.” The first part in this volume focuses on women’s Pathways to prison. Each of the papers in the part begins with a review of the findings from the pathways literature, a literature that was primarily developed and tested in the US. By juxtaposing this body of research with the experiences of Dutch, Flemish and Ukrainian women, we begin to see how critical social and historical contexts are to our understanding of the trajectories of women offenders’ lives. Joosen and her colleagues analyze a sample of high-risk male and female Dutch juveniles, followed-up from ages 18 to 40, to see what factors both increase and decrease their risk for adult incarceration. They find, consistent with the extant pathways literature, that child abuse and running away from home are more common among disadvantaged girls than similarly situated boys. But these factors do not differentially impact the odds of adult incarceration for females and males. In fact the predictors of adult incarceration, while not entirely gender invariant, have many similarities. This underscores the need to reconsider the importance of “bread and butter” disadvantages in the lives of female offenders (see, e.g., Giordano 2010). However, by also examining how different life experiences shape the probability of obtaining employment and a serious relationship, two factors that increase the odds of resilience among offenders, they uncover an important gender difference: for women only, entering a relationship increases their odds of being violently victimized. The second paper by Nuytiens and Christiaens extends our understanding of the role of relationships in the lives of female offenders. Focusing on the life histories of 41 Belgian prisoners, they uncover vulnerabilities in women’s individual traits and their relationships, as well as a host of social deficits. While this finding, and the attention they draw to the role of women’s romantic relationships in their offending, is a familiar theme in the pathways literature (see, e.g., Richie 1996), what is unique to their study is the attention they draw to late onset offenders. The late onset offenders, who started offending after the age of 18, are a sizable proportion of their sample. They are comprised of women who had relatively positive childhoods and reported considerable economic stability in their early years of adulthood. For these women, it was their attachment to a criminogenic partner that fostered a significant turning point in their lives. This late onset trajectory of offending has been given relatively little attention in the pathways literature (e.g., Simpson et al. 2008) but it holds considerable import, not only in terms of our understanding of the role women play in co-offending (see, e.g., Jones 2008) but also, as Nuytiens and Christiaens show, in whether we characterize women as passive victims or active agents in their life course. The third paper in this part offers a closer examination of how structural differences in economic conditions can
shape pathways to prison. Klochko and her colleagues analyze a unique data set on offenders held in the largest prison for women in the Ukraine. While they uncover some of the pathways that are salient in the extant Western literature on women’s imprisonment (e.g., drug-connected women, harmed and harming women), these pathways, and others, are not ahistorical; they are linked to specific social and economic conditions. The oldest women in their sample, who grew up in the Soviet Union before the economic collapse and breakdown of state-supported existence, had few childhood traumas; their pathways to prison related to alcohol and violence directed toward an abusive partner. By contrast, the youngest cohort who came of age in the post-Soviet era, experienced unstable environments that were characterized by parental substance abuse and homelessness. Taken together, then, these three papers substantially expand our understanding of women offenders’ pre-carceral lives. They suggest that we have much to gain by explicitly considering how women’s pathways to prison differ from their male counterparts, the timing of atypical pathways and of course the social and historical contexts that shape these pathways. In the second part of this volume, Imprisoned mothers and their children, two papers provide insights into the effects of maternal imprisonment on children. Olsen and Frederiksen take an aerial approach to this subject, mapping the trajectories of maternal imprisonment for two cohorts of Danish children and their parents. Their findings reveal some important differences in the duration and frequency of women’s carceral experiences, as well as relatively greater vulnerabilities for children who experience maternal as opposed to paternal incarceration. Nevertheless, they find that the devastating economic impact of maternal imprisonment is invariant across women regardless of their carceral sequence. But this reveals only part of the story about variations in women’s prison lives. The second, and equally important, part relates to how different carceral sequences affect the likelihood that children will be removed from their homes. And here we find that it is the children whose mothers experienced numerous short periods of incarceration that are most likely to experience out-of-home placements. Hissel and her colleagues’ research complements that of Olsen and Frederiksen. Taking a more fine-grained approach to this issue, they interviewed Dutch women in prison, their children and their caregivers to examine the effects of caregiver disruption and residential changes on children. Unlike the United States where sentences are unusually long and welfare benefits are meager, in the Netherlands sentences are usually short and social welfare benefits are relatively generous. This suggests that if the effects of maternal imprisonment on children are noteworthy in this context they should be even more aggravated in the US context. Drawing on data from the mothers, the children themselves and their caregivers, Hissel provides empirical data and case summaries from her interviews that vividly demonstrate the devastating effects of maternal incarceration on children. On average these Dutch children had a new primary caregiver every three years and they changed residence every two years. While some of these changes occurred prior to their mother’s imprisonment, the imprisonment itself contributed significantly to the instability of roughly one-half of the
children’s lives. For the remaining children, stability remained unchanged (due to the fact that their mother was not their primary caretaker prior to her imprisonment), or it actually improved. Both of these papers provide substantial platforms for subsequent scholarship on the life course trajectories of these children, considering both these prison-induced changes as well as other pre-existing family risk factors. In the final part of this volume, Desistance, we draw on a wide body of literature to paint a picture of the factors that affect women’s probability of reoffending. Two papers engage with the procedural justice literature and two with the now classic work on desistance. Both of the papers on procedural justice note the lack of research that has been conducted with law violators and, especially, female law violators. Perceptions of the legitimacy of criminal justice officials, we believe, has an important impact on how women view their sanctions and their subsequent likelihood of desistance. However, as these first two papers demonstrate, such perceptions are context-specific. Novich provides an unusual setting for testing the theory of procedural justice. She looks at sex workers’ perceptions of police legitimacy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Given the extent of police corruption in Sri Lanka, it is perhaps not surprising that she finds that most sex workers described the police as unfair, disrespectful, untrustworthy and indifferent to their plights. However, what is surprising is that in the face of these negative views many of the women still complied with the police demands in a kind of quid pro quo transaction. This suggests, as others have noted, that women offenders can be strategic, particularly in the context of severe economic and social disadvantage. If we move from Sri Lanka to the United States, where, presumably, police corruption is less visible but where there is ample evidence of “gendered policing” practices (see, e.g., Carbone-Lopez et al. 2015; Cottler et al. 2014), we find women offenders have somewhat different perceptions of their encounters with criminal justice agents. Cobbina and Morash demonstrate that the bulk of female parolees feel they are treated fairly by both the police and the courts. However, what is particularly noteworthy in their findings is the fact that many women attributed these feelings to their own behavior rather than the behavior of the police or judges. This suggests, as Novich’s findings do, that the elements of procedural justice can be co-constructed. While the police and the courts can do much to encourage re-offending or law-abiding behavior, women offenders have the ability to actively contribute to this process and weigh the pros and cons of doing so in different ways in different contexts. The final two papers in this part on Desistance, approach it from a more classical perspective, albeit with different methodologies and within different social contexts. Rodermond and her colleagues use a sample of women in the Netherlands, all of whom were released from prison in 2007. Data on these women are combined with data from the Municipal Registry that contain information on their marriages and the number of children they have. With a 72-month follow-up period, they are able to show both the survival curve for re-incarceration and whether the timing of marriage and children affects desistance. Notably, they find that desistance emerges only in the context of “the full respectability package” or
being both married and having children. McIvor’s qualitative study of 24 persisters and desisters in Scotland does much to flesh out these findings. Her interviews suggest that women’s partners are often central to their persistent offending and that while children may provide the initial incentive to desist from crime, their presence is insufficient for sustained (or “secondary”) desistance. What appears to be critical for maintaining a law-abiding lifestyle, then, is a prosocial relationship that bolsters a cognitive transformation that includes a central concern for the well-being of your children.