How much has prison really changed for women?

Aug 26, 2015

Credit flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Almost six years ago, Michigan’s only women’s prison settled a huge lawsuit after officers raped multiple female inmates.

Changes have been made since then, but are they enough?

Gina Fedock is an assistant professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, and her studies focus on the way women interact with the criminal justice system.

Fedock tells us that sexual abuse against women in prison is a problem nationwide, but, “There’s no other class-action lawsuit that has been of similar nature across the country, so Michigan is really unique in terms of this lawsuit.”

While changing prison policies has found some success in mitigating abuse against women, Fedock says that in order to create deep and lasting change, more has to be done at a system-wide level.

She tells us that during the lawsuit it was discovered that as many as 30% of correctional officers were involved in sexual abuse. But it seems they might not be the only ones at fault.

“During the lawsuit it came out that some officers knew that other officers were being abusive,” she says. “These officers didn’t want to speak out against them because of this sort of culture of loyalty, this culture of silence and protection amongst officers.”

Her concern is that the policies that have been implemented aren’t really addressing that culture, and that the only way to really change conditions for the prisoners is to alter the way we view them as a society.

“Part of the reason this abuse happened is because we view prisoners as second-class citizens,” Fedock tells us. “We had this idea that this was based on a few rogue officers, when in fact it's about a culture that allows abuse to happen.”